The pathways to the Presidency and control of the Senate

Sara Carlsen, a 2020 KU graduate, created an election spreadsheet calculator to examine the pathways to victory.  I want to thank Sara personally for sharing it with Consider the Politics followers as well as 200 students in my Introduction to American Politics class.    

Sara’s spreadsheet highlights the fundamental role states play in determining the winner of the presidential race.   Her work also allows us to examine the Senate races and develop scenarios for control of the upper chamber. 

First, let’s learn a bit about Sara and then present brief instructions on how to use the spreadsheets. 

Sara’s perspective on the election

Sara graduated with a degree in Film and Media Studies and currently edits documentaries for the Army University Press.  As Election Day approached, Sara felt she had to put her mind and energy toward something constructive.   

I knew which states were toss-ups but couldn’t do the mental math of how they fit together to form a win for either candidate.

So, she created the spreadsheets to visualize different scenarios.

Like millions of other Americans, Sara is also anxious about this election. 

“I am a 22-year-old with student loans, rent, a new job, and a car that’s almost as old as me. My creating this spreadsheet is not something to admire because I am such an active participant in democracy. It is a product of anxiety.”

While Sara follows politics, she does not always enjoy it.  She knows well that democracy requires vigilant citizens willing to go the extra mile to hold politicians accountable. That takes work.    

“I “enjoy” politics in the same way that I “enjoyed” making it on time to my 8 AM in college. I’d really prefer to not be in the situation at all, but when so much is on the line, I’m going to show up and pay attention.”

After teaching many 8am classes, I certainly understand Sara’s point of view! 

Finally, Sara emphasized that her spreadsheet calculator should not advance the belief that politics is a game. 

“People lives are at stake. The “winner”, whether they are announced Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, or a month from now, is going to have to lead a country that is in physical and emotional turmoil. The whispered talks of “an inevitable civil war” or “riots no matter who wins” seem to increase daily.”

Indeed, elections are not a game.  They are, nevertheless, a competition.  Both sides are competing, and the stakes are high.  As Sara did, exploit that anxious energy within and dedicate time to understanding and participating in elections.     

Click here for spreadsheets:  Pathways to Victory   (works best on desktop or laptop)


Once open, click the President Calculator at bottom of page:  The spreadsheet will appear as shown below.  The page is a calculator that determines the winner based on Electoral College votes. The states with check marks will most certainly vote Republican in red or Democrat in blue.  The states in bold are toss-ups – they could go either way.   As you select a winner for toss-up states, the total Electoral College count at the bottom will change. Once the candidate passes 270 votes, they win the election.  Double click on the re-set button to clear your choices and create yet another path to victory. 

In addition, you can click on the Senate Calculator tab at the bottom of page and follow the same steps.  Finally, Sara also provided a comprehensive page for the timing of results, when the last polls will close, type of ballot that will be reported first, and the date when properly postmarked ballots can be counted (click Order of Results tab bottom of page).     

Give it a try! Use it as the results are reported tomorrow.   Pathways to Victory   (works best on laptop or desktop)

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