Donald Trump’s Path To Potential Victory Is Already Narrowing

Looking at the Electoral College, it's already apparent that Donald Trump's campaign faces a daunting, perhaps impossible, path to victory.

Trump Clinton

With the conventions over and the campaign for President entering its next phase, Donald Trump finds himself facing a daunting challenge in the Electoral College:

Donald J. Trump, confronting a daunting electoral map and a significant financial disadvantage, is preparing to fall back from an expansive national campaign and concentrate the bulk of his time and money on just three or four states that his campaign believes he must sweep in order to win the presidency.

Even as Mr. Trump has ticked up in national polls in recent weeks, senior Republicans say his path to the 270 Electoral College votes needed for election has remained narrow — and may have grown even more precarious. It now looks exceedingly difficult for him to assemble even the barest Electoral College majority without beating Hillary Clinton in a trifecta of the biggest swing states: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

President Obama won all three states in 2008 and 2012, and no Republican has won Pennsylvania in nearly three decades.

With a divisive campaign message that has alienated many women and Hispanics, Mr. Trump appears to have pushed several traditional swing states out of his own reach. According to strategists on both sides of the race, polling indicates that Mrs. Clinton has a solid upper hand in Colorado and Virginia, the home state of Senator Tim Kaine, her running mate. Both states voted twice for George W. Bush, who assiduously courted Hispanic voters and suburban moderates.

In addition, Trump allies have grown concerned about North Carolina, a Republican-leaning state that has large communities of black voters and college-educated whites — two audiences with which Mr. Trump is deeply unpopular.

While Mr. Trump is not ready to give up entirely on any of the major battlegrounds, advisers have become increasingly convinced that his most plausible route to the presidency, and perhaps his only realistic victory scenario, involves capturing all three of the biggest contested electoral prizes on the map, and keeping North Carolina in the Republican column.

Mr. Trump and his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, are expected to campaign intensively across those four must-win states, with Mr. Trump trumpeting a set of blunt slogans through mass media and Mr. Pence focused on shoring up support from conservatives and right-of-center whites.

There is no imminent plan, Trump advisers say, to match Mrs. Clinton’s spending on television ads. Instead, they intend to aim Mr. Trump like a battering ram at a small number of targets, to keep delivering his provocative message on trade, terrorism and immigration.


Each of the key states presents a mix of larger cities and less populated agricultural and former industrial areas, where Mr. Trump has most often gained traction. Mr. Trump’s message of clawing back lost jobs has resonate most in distressed manufacturing regions.

But with the exception of Pennsylvania, where joblessness is slightly higher, the unemployment rate in each swing state hovers near the national average of 4.9 percent or lower.

Democrats caution that they view Mr. Trump as a wild-card candidate with unpredictable pockets of support, potentially capable of warping the political landscape even late in the election season.

For now, though, Mr. Trump is grappling with a magnified version of the dilemma that threatens to stymie Republicans every four years. Democrats have won a consistent set of 18 states in every presidential election since 1992, giving them a base of 242 Electoral College votes even before counting some of the biggest swing states. As a result, the last two Republican nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, would have needed to capture nearly all the contested states on the map in order to win.

The idea that Trump, or indeed any Republican nominee, would face an uphill battle in the battle for Electoral Votes is hardly a new one, of course. The last several elections, including for that matter the two elections that George W. Bush won in 2000 and 2004, have shown that Democrats tend to start out a Presidential election with what basically amounts to a lock on states that amounts to anywhere between 217 and 247 Electoral Votes, while Republicans generally have a guaranteed win in states that amount to roughly 191 Electoral Votes. This means, of course, that a Democratic candidate would need somewhere between 23 and 53 additional Electoral Votes to win the election whereas a Republican would need no less than 79 Electoral Votes. In the past, I’ve noted that for a 2016 Republican candidate this would make the most likely path to victory one starts by winning all of the states that Mitt Romney won in 2012, winning Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, and winning one other state with at least four Electoral Votes. Among traditional swing states, that could mean winning New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, or Nevada. It’s a daunting task for sure, made all the more so due to the fact that there is quite literally no margin for error and that losing even one of the states that Romney won in 2012 would mean that any victories anywhere else that didn’t make up for that loss would mean the end of the game and victory for the Democrats.

The problem that Donald Trump faces is that his prospects do not look good in any of the states mentioned above even at this early stage in the process. In Virginia, for example, the most recent polling has Hillary Clinton leading Trump by 5.3 points, although its worth noting that all of that polling took place prior to either of the party conventions. Trump does have small leads in the polling averages in Ohio and Florida, but they are below 1 point in both states and, again, consist almost entirely of polling that took place prior to the national conventions. Trump also finds himself trailing in Colorado, New Hampshire, and Iowa. As the article notes, this is largely why the Trump campaign finds itself forced to find another path to Electoral College victory.

If you listen to the Trump campaign, the path to victory they’ve laid out seems to consist largely in the idea of becoming competitive in states that Republicans haven’t been competitive in for quite some time. One path that some Trump supporters talk about involves winning in the industrial Midwest, specifically in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which put together total 64 Electoral Votes and would put Trump within 15 votes of the 270 Electoral Votes needed to win the election. With the exception of Ohio, which is likely to remain close right through Election Day, this means winning in states that no Republican has won since 1988 in the case of Pennsylvania and Michigan, and since 1984 in the case of Wisconsin. Even taking into account the extent to which those three states have changed in the ensuing three decades, sweeping victory there for Republicans seems unlikely and the polls to date support that idea. Polling shows Hillary Clinton with a comfortable lead in MichiganPennsylvania, including two recent polls that show her with a nine point lead in the Keystone State, and in Wisconsin. Finally, in the past Trump himself has made the audacious claim that he will be competitive in solidly blue states like California, New York, and New Jersey. In reality, he is as a far behind the Democratic nominee in those three states as any Republican has ever been. If his campaign spends any money in states such as those, it will be a waste. While it’s obviously still early in the process, all of this suggests that Donald Trump is very close to lacking a viable path to 270 Electoral Votes. If that happens, then this race could be over before it really starts. 0

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    If he had Kasich he’d probably have a good shot at Ohio.

    He does not have Kasich.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    I hope the DNC is devious enough to get a few big names in places like New York and California make all sorts of remarks about how Trump is scared to campaign in those states.

    Trump is really, really easy to manipulate. No wonder both Putin and North Korea want him in office.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    Polling shows Hillary Clinton with a comfortable lead in Michigan, Pennsylvania, including two recent polls that show her with a nine point lead in the Keystone State, and in Wisconsin.

    That just proves that the idea that Trump is going to get all of these white working class votes in these states is just a mirage…

  4. CSK says:

    Trump claims to have the white male Christian blue-collar non-college educated vote locked up. Unfortunately for his prospects, that’s only 9% of the electorate.

  5. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist

    Accusing Trump of being chicken is like pointing out that he has teeny hands: guaranteed to send him into a frothing, gibbering, semi-literate Twitter frenzy.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds: If he had even the slightest grip on reality he’d have a chance at surviving this campaign. As is he will probably go completely bonkers around Oct 8 and thereby secure the entire South and Mountain West (except Utah).

  7. C. Clavin says:

    $20 says Trump doesn’t even know what the Electoral College is.

  8. C. Clavin says:


    he will probably go completely bonkers

    This guy is like watching a train wreck in real time.
    All the GOP’ers who are supporting him are spineless cowards more interested in their own power than the Republic.
    And then there are the dupes…Jenos, JKB, etc.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Heck, I’ll be surprised if he shows up for the debates, what with his present flailing and whining about the dates. (That were set 18 months ago, long before he jumped in the arena.)

  10. CSK says:

    @C. Clavin:

    It’s something he’ll say is rigged against him.

  11. David Coleman says:

    My book details how Donald Trump will win this election easily. He will lose the popular vote but win the electoral vote. He will win 32 states to only 18 for Hillary Clinton.

    ” Breaking News” How And Why Donald Trump Will Win The 2016 Presidential Election.”
    Authored by David Coleman

    List Price: $9.99
    6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
    Black & White Bleed on White paper
    120 pages
    ISBN-13: 978-1534772021 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
    ISBN-10: 1534772022
    BISAC: Reference / Consumer Guides

    Breaking News describes how Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States. It shows all the states that he will win and the amount of electoral votes he will receive
    CreateSpace eStore:

  12. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist

    Oh, I’m pretty sure he’s setting himself up to bail, on the grounds that the format, venue, and moderators will be biased in favor of Hillary.

    He can’t debate her, and if he doesn’t know that, his handlers do.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I’ll be surprised if he shows up for the debates

    Imagine what Clinton will do to him in a debate

  14. steve s says:

    appealing to less-educated white southern christian bigots was a great strategy 50 years ago. Nixon got >60% of the popular vote in 1972.

    Here in 2016, the GOP has lost the popular vote 5 of the last 6 times, and they’re about to lose again, bigly.

    Someday, they’ll cut the bigots loose. Someday.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @C. Clavin:

    All the GOP’ers who are supporting him are spineless cowards more interested in their own power than the Republic.

    I have to say I don’t think it is power they are hanging onto, but the last shreds of their present grift. They know their voters and they don’t dare insult them by denigrating the Donald. After this election (and the next 2) we will see just exactly what gerrymandering gets them. (here in Misery, damn near everything)

    @grumpy realist: He will never get up on the same stage as Hillary. His ego could not survive getting beaten by a girl but on some subconscious level he knows she will beat him like a red headed step child.

  16. Mister Bluster says:

    @David Coleman:..My book details how Donald Trump will win this election easily.

    See The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale titled Clever Hans.
    …the story ends when he misunderstands his mother’s advice (“Cast your adoring eyes at her”) and gouges out the eyes of the livestock he owns to throw at Gretel.

  17. Mr. Prosser says:

    @steve s: Ah, “bigly”; a Trumpism that pollsters should adopt.

  18. MikeSJ says:

    I’m guessing (hoping) that the Democrats are working hard on voter registration drives in Florida.

    If the Hispanic media i.e. Jorge Ramos works it hard Hillary should bring in significant numbers of new voters.

    Traditionally the Hispanic community does not vote in mass.

    If Trump doesn’t get them motivated then I don’t know what will.

  19. Andre Kenji says:

    If Hillary wins CO, NV, FL and VA, Trump would HAVE to win Michigan and Pennsylvania.

    By the way, Trump is attacking the f* MOM of that soldier. Hispanics have a huge affection for mothers, that´s an easy way of alienating them.

  20. stonetools says:


    Think Hillary will take Missouri, OH?

  21. stonetools says:

    Dunno if I’m overconfident or jinxing myself , but frankly I’m more worried about the Dems taking the Senate than the outcome of the Presidential election. When we see polling on that?

  22. J-Dub says:

    @David Coleman:

    Breaking News” How And Why Donald Trump Will Win The 2016 Presidential Election.”
    Authored by David Coleman

    List Price: $9.99
    6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)

    I didn’t know we could sell stuff here. I have a never-used Honeywell generator for sale. First $400 gets it. Must pick up in MA.

  23. gVOR08 says:

    @Andre Kenji: It my be a bigger thing in Hispanic/Catholic culture, but who is there that doesn’t love mothers? And a gold star mother, Marine Captain, hero? And behind me the news is saying Trump’s now apologizing. They’re also playing Mrs. Khan’s tearful interview.

    How TF stupid is Trump?

  24. Lit3Bolt says:

    At this point, Trump should be assessed as a Russian agent. As Putin bootspittle, Trump’s mission in the USA would be to create maximum chaos more than actually “win” the election.

    As such, Trump and Manafort’s mission will be to discredit the democracy of America at every turn, demand pointless recounts, insist on the election being rigged, and calling upon their white nationalist supporters to riot and assassinate.

    Don’t believe me? Wanna take that bet?

  25. grumpy realist says:

    @David Coleman: Ah, the slush pile of conspiracy theories.

    Dude, why do you think anyone even CARES about your dimwitted bletherings about the hirsute talking yam?

    And if you’re that great at predictions, hike yourself over to somewhere with legalized horse betting and make a mint, mmmkay? Much more useful than trying to hawk your little treatise on unprotected blogs all over the internet.

    You do follow Trump in many ways, I have to admit….

  26. Jen says:

    @stonetools: Republicans must have some internal polling that is giving them some confidence in that respect. My hunch is that they are polling to see if voters are holding Senators accountable for Trump’s remarks, and are finding that they either aren’t or aren’t heavily.

  27. Mister Bluster says:

    “I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers or candidates.” John McCain

    I do not understand Mr. McCain. Citizen Trump is the Standard Bearer of the Republican Party. He does too represent “the views of our Republican Party.” You and all the other Republicans will not be able to wash the stench of Donald Trump from the GOP for years to come.
    Quite frankly I think the current Republican Party wants to wallow in it.

  28. Surreal American says:

    @David Coleman:

    List Price: $9.99

    No thanks. I’ll wait until your book hits the remainder bin after November 8.

  29. Pch101 says:

    @David Coleman:

    List Price: $9.99

    Be serious. If you want me to read your book, then you’ll have to pay me more than that.

  30. steve s says:

    The conventions were illustrative. Who wins in 2016, the inclusive party of people making america better, or the scared party of older white guys raging against the world?

  31. gVOR08 says:

    @Mister Bluster: Balloon Juice quotes Paul Ryan’s tweet:

    A religious test for entering our country is not reflective of America’s fundamental values. I reject it.

    and Charles Johnson, Little Green Footballs, reply:

    So just to be clear, you’re supporting a presidential candidate who stands against America’s fundamental values?

    And Jon Favreau:

    They’re honestly hoping that when a clinically unstable demagogue gets power, he’ll sign some of their bills.

    And I see John McCain is somehow getting props for saying the same thing, that Trump’s statement is unacceptable, but I’ve accepted him as our nominee and will support him.

    Party over country. Woohoo. I hope the Dems are archiving all these spit weasel statements by GOPs.

  32. steve s says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    We’re now at a point where the Senate says it won’t even hold hearings on a presidential Supreme Court nominee, in clear defiance of custom and the Constitution. We’re now at a point in which politicians live in fear if they try to compromise and legislate. We’re now at a point in which normal political conversation has broken down. People feel unheard, which makes them shout even louder, which further destroys conversation.

    And in walks Donald Trump. People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.

    -david brooks

  33. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @C. Clavin: Nonsense, he will tell you he was awarded a full scholarship there, but decided to go to Penn instead.

  34. Rafer Janders says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Hispanics have a huge affection for mothers,

    Um, which group DOESN’T? Seriously, is there one group on Earth that doesn’t revere mothers? It hardly sets Hispanics apart from everyone else.

  35. grandpa john says:

    @Mister Bluster: “There are more fools than knaves in the world, else the knaves would not have enough to live upon.”
    ―Samuel Butler (poet)

  36. CSK says:


    I can’t stop laughing. That was beautiful.

  37. steve s says:

    @Rafer Janders: French motherhood always seemed deeply deranged to me.

  38. Kylopod says:

    @An Interested Party:

    That just proves that the idea that Trump is going to get all of these white working class votes in these states is just a mirage

    Exactly. I’ve been making this point for a while (such as last week, after Michael Moore argued that Trump will win by eating into white working class support in the Rust Belt). If this were going to happen, we’d already be seeing evidence from the polls. But the simple fact is that we aren’t.

    Take Michigan. We need to be a little cautious in interpreting the results since there have been only been nine polls there all year, but for what it’s worth, not only has Clinton led every single one, her leads have mostly been sizable ones and have never dipped below +3, not even during those times when Trump was leading nationally.

    I was curious so I looked back at the 2012 polls, and I found that Romney was actually more competitive than Trump in Michigan during this period. He was even in the lead several times. He went on to lose the state by nearly 10 points, despite winning the white working class vote by more than 26 points.

    As I always emphasize, I believe there are scenarios where Trump can win the election. There are even scenarios where he wins Pennsylvania. But as Nate Silver has noted, due to demographic shifts that state has been moving in a Republican direction for years, a process that was in effect long before Trump became a candidate.

    The fact is, whether he wins or loses there are simply zero signs that Trump is going to produce some bizarre electoral map where he loses several of the traditional battlegrounds but wins the election by picking up support in supposedly “safe” states like Michigan. People attached to this notion are basing it simply on the fact that he’s engaged in rhetoric pitched toward the white working class in defiance of GOP orthodoxy. What they haven’t done is presented evidence that it’s actually affecting the electoral map in the way they assume it will. If there’s any candidate who has shown surprising strength in certain states, it’s Clinton–with the polling results in places like Arizona and Utah earlier this year. It probably won’t amount to much in the end, but it’s been the only hints we’ve had of a possibly wacky electoral map.

  39. Andre Kenji says:

    @Rafer Janders: Minorities, specially Hispanics, are even more sensitive to that.

  40. Michael says:

    @CSK: It is rigged against him. He will have to face Clinton alone on a stage.

  41. Jeremy R says:


    I was just watching him on the stump. Just minutes ago he said he’s afraid Hillary’s going to rig the November elections. I’m starting to think he’s probably not going to concede gracefully. Instead of a concession speech in Nov, we’ll instead get some sort of destabilizing rant about election fraud & cheating.

    Trump: “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest.”

  42. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @stonetools: No way in H3LL she takes Misery or the other Kansas from which I just returned. Down here in the Ozarks they hate her with the undying heat of a thousand suns. Still, when the time comes I will vote for her with great glee and a giant middle finger to all my neanderthal neighbors.

  43. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andre Kenji: Males of all races and ethnicities are especially sensitive about there mothers. Say anything bad about my sons’ lying fraudulent crackhead mother who stole from them will get you an aswhuppin’ by either one of the 2. They can talk bad about her but don’t you dare.

  44. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jeremy R: Well of course it’s going to be rigged. Democrats are still allowed to vote.

  45. dmhlt says:

    The Bible offers a pretty good analogy WRT his chance of winning:
    Trump is going to need either a helluva bigger needle, or a helluva smaller camel.

  46. DrDaveT says:


    Trump is going to need either a helluva bigger needle, or a helluva smaller camel.

    …or faith even as a grain of mustard seed — which is the least likely of the three.

  47. Mikey says:

    @J-Dub: what’s the kW capacity?

  48. Rafer Janders says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Minorities, specially Hispanics, are even more sensitive to that.

    Oh, please. What stupidity. Who do you even pretend to measure that? Who isn’t sensitive to slurs against their mothers? Do Hispanics love their mothers more than Germans do? Than Arabs? Than Chinese? Than Indians? Than Brazilians? Than Russians? Than Jews? Than Nigerians? Than Italians? Than Persians? Minority, majority, black, white, brown, who cares? Everyone loves their mother, and no one, no one, has any tolerance for seeing the grieving mother of a dead hero son slandered by a cowardly orange yam.

  49. Pch101 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Spend 15 minutes reading the comments and “articles” at The Blaze, Breitbart and Newsmax, and you’ll retract that statement.

    As I understand it, Khan is some kind of Muslim operative and part of the great Clinton conspiracy to force Americans to take in refugees when they aren’t being oppressed by access to healthcare. The nicest thing that they can say is that Khan was a dupe who was manipulated by the evil Democrats and their leftist media.

    Either way, not much sympathy for mom or respect for the kid. Some folks ain’t too fond of doing the decent thing.

    There is a segment of this society that does not see these things as you do. They’re pleased to have a presidential candidate who speaks for them.

  50. CSK says:

    @Jeremy R:

    He’s doing one of two things: A) Excusing himself in advance for losing (and it’s an excuse his fans will buy) or B) Setting the stage for walking off it in the next few weeks.

  51. Mikey says:

    @Mikey: Hey, bub, that name’s taken.

  52. JohnMcC says:

    @CSK: I expect he is preparing for a post-election career leading whatever band of formerly-known-as-Republicans he can gather in a campaign to delegitimize Pres Clinton 45. That’s bound to be a wise financial decision as well a good for his ego. Call it the Trump Rump.

  53. Concerned UK Citizen says:

    @steve s:

    “….. cut the bigots loose.. ” – they’ve nominated one as thier Presidential Candidate!

  54. Concerned UK Citizen says:

    Why hasn’t anyone taken out a civil/criminal case, preferably a class action suit) for inciting racial/religious hatred (or whatever the US equivalent is)?