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The US swing states world leaders are (really) watching

Art by Gabriella Turrisi

As American political news junkies get ready for what is expected to be a very long US election night, around the world a select group of world leaders will also be refreshing the FiveThirtyEight homepage with their own interests in mind, scrutinizing incoming results from the electoral college battleground states that will determine whether President Donald Trump is reelected or Joe Biden wins the White House. Let's put you in their shoes.


If you're Vladimir Putin, this year feels different. You're not as involved as you were in 2016, and you don't hate Joe Biden nearly as much as you despise Hillary Clinton. But still, you'll be keeping an eye on Pennsylvania, which will likely be the last swing state to count all its votes, because at the end of the day you don't want either candidate to win outright. You crave confusion, chaos, and court battles that'll further erode trust in the US election system.

On the other hand, if you're Xi Jinping, you don't want civil unrest to delay the result. You like your five-year plans, and you want to know ASAP which US leader you'll be working with for the next four years. Although it won't make much of a difference these days now that Democrats and Republicans agree that you're bad for America, you've spent weeks analyzing demographic shifts in the Atlanta suburbs to figure out whether the GOP will hold Georgia. If it does and Trump gets reelected, you know he'll be tough(er) on China. But he won't bring many European and Asian friends to the fight, unlike Biden who plans to get everybody who has a beef with you on the same page.

If you're Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, in Great Satan's election you're rooting for Biden — the devil you've known longer, the one you know you can make a new (nuclear) deal with. That's why you'll be tracking turnout in Arizona's Maricopa County, the exact spot you think might put Biden over the top. Then you'll have your own election to worry about next year (a hardliner victory will make that deal a bit harder to pull off, though).

Deal-making is also on your mind if you're Boris Johnson. As the UK's prime minister, you'll be watching — under lockdown in Downing Steet — early returns from Macomb County, where unexpected mass turnout by Trump voters could keep Michigan red. That may improve your odds of signing a trade agreement with the US in the near term, which Biden might not entertain unless you back down on a no-deal Brexit. On the flip side, do you really want four more years of Trump's diplomatic "capriciousness"?

Now, imagine you're Narendra Modi obsessing over voter turnout in North Carolina's "research triangle" in Chapel Hill-Durham-Raleigh, where many Indian Americans have landed top-notch IT jobs. Although almost three quarters of them will be voting for Biden, you're torn between the candidate who will give more H1-B visas to India's best and brightest, and a kindred spirit in your dislike of China and Muslims.

If you're Jair Bolsonaro, you'll be looking for the latest data from Florida's famously competitive Miami-Dade County, where you hope your fellow Latinos will come out in droves for Trump. After all you're one of only a handful of world leaders who have endorsed your buddy — and you've got a lot riding on his reelection. You're wary of Biden, who won't let you get away with destroying the Amazon rainforest, nor take kindly to your anti-LGBTQ tirades.

Finally, picture yourself as chain-smoking Kim Jong-un, bespectacled eyes glued to your ultrawide flatscreen TV in your sumptuous Pyongyang palace, hoping suburban women in Wisconsin won't abandon Trump like most polls say they will. You need someone to talk to, and don't expect Biden to respond to your letters, let alone meet with you like Trump (although Joe probably won't even try to talk you into giving up North Korea's nukes).

For more from our extremely nervous world leaders, follow us on Twitter, where we hear there may be a US election night hostile takeover by Puppet Regime....

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely available in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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