Electoral College Wargames And Paths To Victory

A look at the Electoral College shows that It is far more likely that Hillary Clinton will win the election than that Donald Trump will.

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The national polls have been fluctuating all week in the wake of last Friday’s revelations about renewed F.B.I. inquiries into issues related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, as have several of the state polls. Additionally, as Steven Taylor notes his two posts this morning, there have been some wild fluctuations in the state-level polling and Electoral College projections by Nate Silver and other predictors. So, it’s worthwhile to get back to basics and take a look at what it would take for each of these candidates to get to the 270 Electoral Votes needed to win the election on Tuesday. As we shall see, things do seem to be much closer than they looked like they would be a month ago due to the fact that several states that appeared to be solidly locked for Hillary Clinton have moved into “toss-up” categories, or even appear to be slightly leaning toward Donald Trump in these final days.

First, we’ll start with what you might call the “bankable” states for each candidate, meaning the states that, based on polling and history it seems that each candidate will almost certainly win absent the unlikely event of a landslide. For example, here’s a map showing Hillary Clinton’s “bankables”:

Electoral Colllege One --- HRC Bankable

As you can see, these states include the entire Northeast with the exclusion of one Congressional District in Maine where there are some indications that Republicans might have a chance of winning a single Electoral Vote, most of the Mid-Atlantic with the exception (for now) of Pennsylvania which has been a battleground state this year which we’ll deal with below, the industrial Midwest including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois, the entire West Coast, Hawaii, and New Mexico. This puts Clinton starting out with 226 Electoral Votes, just 44 Electoral Votes short of an Electoral College majority. It’s worth noting that the Trump campaign had threatened to campaign in states such as Wisconsin and Michigan but, so far at least, there’s little sign that Trump is at all competitive there.

Now, we’ll add in the states that can be fairly counted as Trump’s bankables:

Electoral College Map -- HRC Bankable and DJT Bankable

The Trump states are the ones you might suspect. The South will most assuredly go for Trump, but Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia can’t be included in that total right now because the race there is simply too close or, in some cases, leaning toward Clinton. Additionally, Trump will most likely win the Great Plains states and the Mountain West easily, as well as Alaska. This gives Trump 148 Electoral Votes and puts him 122 Electoral Votes away from victory.To put this in perspective, this map means that Hillary Clinton needs to win 44 of the 164 remaining Electoral Votes (roughly 27 %) while Trump needs to win 122 out of those 164 votes, or just about 74%. Take note that I’ve excluded Utah from this collection of states. That’s largely because of polling there showing Trump in something of a three-way battle with Clinton and Independent candidate Evan McMullin. If Utah is included, as it normally would be, then Trump would have 154 Electoral Votes and would need 116 more (73%  of the outstanding total) to win. Suffice it to say that if either candidate ends up losing any of the states on the map above on Tuesday night, then their path to 270 would become orders of magnitude more difficult.

Now that we have the states that each candidate is most likely assured of winning, we can add in states where their current leads are such that it’s likely that they will win:

Electoral College Mao -- Step Two

In this map, I’ve given Clinton the following states:

  • Virginia: Clinton has led here in virtually every poll since before Labor Day. There have been some polls in the past week showing a smaller Clinton lead, and even one poll that showed Donald Trump with a one point lead, but all indications are that Clinton’s lead in the Old Dominion is strong enough that she should be able to pull off a victory there unless something changes drastically in the next three days. Additionally, the early voting numbers from Virginia have shown solid increases in early voting in Northern Virginia which is likely to deliver a significant number of votes for Clinton this year. So that puts 13 more Electoral Votes in Clinton’s column.
  • Colorado: This state is currently listed as a toss-up by RealClearPolitics but Clinton has led in the polls this fairly consistently. The last poll that showed a Trump lead was in September and that is one of only three polls all year that have shown him leading in the Centennial State. That would put another six votes in Clinton’s column.
  • Pennsylvania: Clinton’s lead here has shrunk from where it was as it has elsewhere, but it’s still fairly healthy and Trump has not led in a single poll here all year so it seems safe to put this in Clinton’s column for now. Many pundits are wondering if the fact that the Clinton campaign will be spending a good part of the next several days in the Keystone State, and that Clinton’s big final Election Eve rally will be in Philadelphia on Monday night is a sign that the campaign is worried about the state. The more likely explanation is tied to the fact that Democrats win Pennsylvania when there is big turnout in cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Harrisburg, and, most especially, the heavily Democratic suburbs around Philadelphia. The state also does not have early voting, so turnout on Election Day is key. Given that, last minute campaigning in Pennsylvania can be taken not as a sign the campaign is worried so much as a sign that it wants to make sure that voters are motivated to vote. That’s why the state is being hit between now and Monday not only by Clinton but by several of her top surrogates.

Trump, on the other hand, picks up these states:

  • Missouri: Over the past several elections, the Show Me State has been something of a battleground and has ended up being among the closer states at the end of Election Night. This year, though, it appears to have become redder and solidly in Trump’s corner. Clinton has not led in poll here since July, and Trump’s lead in recent polling has moved into the double digits. So, let’s give Trump these ten Electoral Votes.
  • Iowa: Winning Iowa would mean flipping a state that went for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012, but it’s also worth noting that George W. Bush won the state in 2004 and that Al Gore only won the state by ~4,000 votes in 2000, so it’s not entirely surprising. In several ways, this is the one Obama state tailor made for Trump. A largely white electorate combined with a strong and active Republican Party that has been fairly well unified even in the wake of the controversy surrounding Trump’s candidacy. Clinton hasn’t had a lead in the state since August, and hasn’t had a lead outside the margin of error since June. RealClearPolitics has Trump with a 2.4 point lead in the polling average, meanwhile So, let’s give this one and its six Electoral Votes to Trump as well.
  • Georgia: The polling in Georgia has been much closer than anyone expected it to be this year, and for a time it looked as though Clinton was going to take the lead. The reality is that Clinton’s lead in the polls only came in two polls in mid-August and that Trump has held onto a lead either inside or outside the margin of error ever since then. Eventually, Georgia is going to become a Purple State like Virginia and North Carolina, but it’s not going to be this year. Give Trump these 16 Electoral Votes. If Georgia goes blue, however, then the Election will likely be over.

This leaves us with a map that is very favorable to Clinton and quite daunting for Trump. Assuming she wins all of the states in blue, Clinton now needs to only win one other state to get to the 270 Electoral Votes needed to go over the top. It doesn’t matter which one since any one of them means winning more than the two Electoral Votes she would need to win It could be New Hampshire and its four electoral votes, Nevada and its six Electoral Votes, Florida, North Carolina, or any of the other states on the map. Also, as noted in the comments, Clinton could get to 270 from here if she won the 2nd Congressional District in Nebraska, which is basically the City of Omaha, and the outstanding Congressional District in Maine. Donald Trump, on the other hand, would need to every single one of the toss-up states remaining in the map above in order to just get to 270. The only way he could win otherwise would be if he somehow managed to win one of the Clinton states from the maps above, but that seems less likely than picking up any of the toss-ups to replace the loss of a toss-up. This is why Utah is so important for him. If Evan McMullin manages to win the state, which at least according to the polling looks like it could be possible, then that would be it for Trump. One scenario that a McMullin win in Utah would make possible, though, is this one in which Trump wins all the remaining toss-up states but loses Utah. In that case, no candidate would have a majority in the Electoral College and the election would be thrown into the House of Representatives for the first time since the Election of 1824. Such a scenario would ordinarily favor the Republican candidate, of course, but it’s unclear that Congressional Republicans would be all that eager to put Donald Trump in the Oval Office. Additionally, such a scenario is unlikely because if Trump finishes strong enough that he’s sweeping all of the toss-up states it’s likely that he will end up winning Utah even if it is by a much slimmer margin than any Republican has in recent memory.

What this all shows us, of course, is that notwithstanding the fact that we’ve seen the polls tightening on the national and state levels significantly over the past two weeks, and that Trump supporters are starting to believe that their candidate can win next Tuesday, the reality on the ground is quite different. Hillary Clinton has multiple paths to victory in the Electoral College while Donald Trump’s campaign would have to pull off a near perfect end to the campaign just to get to the narrowest of Electoral College wins. It’s certainly possible that this could happen, of course, but it doesn’t seem very probable. Whether it’s a narrow win with 272 Electoral Votes, or a massive win of more than 330 Electoral Votes, it is far more likely that Hillary Clinton will win than that Donald Trump will.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2016, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    It doesn’t matter which one since any one of them means winning more than the two Electoral Votes she would need to win It could be New Hampshire and its four electoral votes, Nevada and its six Electoral Votes, Florida, North Carolina, or any of the other states on the map. Donald Trump, on the other hand, would need to every single one of the toss-up states remaining in the map above in order to just get to 270.

    Man, just one electoral college vote away from Omaha being the most important city in the nation. (Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional district is mostly Omaha, and split from the rest of the state in 2008, going to Obama.)

  2. @Neil Hudelson:

    Clinton could win by winning that Congressional District and winning the one District in Maine where there are indications that the race is more competitive than the rest of the state (hence the reason I have it shaded in the maps above). So far, though, there hasn’t been an indication that the Nebraska District is competitive like it was in 2008. Remember, Obama did not win there again in 2012.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Thanks. I was thinking he had won it both times.

  4. JKB says:

    This will just make Trump’s win all the more historic. He said it was going to be huuge. Huge come is many varieties, not just electoral votes. It comes in how it changes the political landscape.

    But you are probably correct. Hillary wins, which means war by the end of 2017 to distract from the prosecutions and scandals.

  5. Pch101 says:

    @JKB:

    I don’t expect much from you, but I didn’t realize that you lacked basic arithmetic skills.

  6. Tyrell says:

    Some of these “news” people are just obsessed with the electoral “board” and pore over the map, going over every possible outcome right, left, upside down, inside out, and every which way but loose. That is what happens when you give them all these new tech toys.

  7. Aelio says:

    I really want to see how Florida will choose. Republicans really need it on their column. Not just in this election though. Demographically we’re told that non-white voters have had their vote share in Florida increase by 2% since 2012. Polls show that Latinos are supposed to favor Hillary by 30% there. Marco Rubio is lucky to be well-liked by the Latino community there and Republicans too. That’s a few % points right there. Without Florida, Republicans can’t win presidential elections, I’m afraid.

  8. Andrew says:

    Some of these “weather” people are just obsessed with the forecast “board” and pore over the map, going over every possible outcome right, left, upside down, inside out, and every which way but loose. That is what happens when you give them all these new tech toys.

  9. JKB says:

    @Pch101:

    What are you responding to. I see Doug’s assessment. Trump must thread the needle to win conventionally or there must be a Black Swan. Hillary just has to not screw up.

    Although, I have to day I agree with Slavoj Žižek’s rationale

  10. JKB says:

    @Aelio:

    In Florida, the dominant Hispanic community is Cuban Americans who are breaking for Trump. A gift from Obama when he went soft on Cuba.

  11. @JKB:

    Actually, the Puerto Ricans in Florida are outnumbering Cubans among Latino Voters in Florida. And second and third generation Cuban-Americans aren’t nearly as Republican as their parents and grandparents. The Latino Vote in Florida is not going to Trump.

  12. John D'Geek says:

    @Doug: I think you need to reread Nate Silver. (And here, here, and especially here.)

    This is not going to be a walk in the park for Clinton. Her firewall is appearing to break — the only question is if it will hold through Tuesday. I’m not saying it’s all Trump — I’m just saying it’s a lot tougher of a slog than you’re making it out to be.

  13. Anonne says:

    The Early Voting results, according to one pollster, are showing massive crossover from GOP voters toward Hillary Clinton, like 28% as of a couple of days ago. Crossovers of Democrats to Trump were only about 6%. Saw it on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show, but obviously things could change.

  14. @John D’Geek:

    I have read what Silver has to say. There’s nothing I’ve written that directly contradicts what he’s saying. If I wanted to contradict him, I’d start giving Clinton wins in states like Florida, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. I haven’t done that even though I think it’s likely she’ll win two of those three if not all three of them.

  15. @Anonne:

    That’s a point I’ve seen raised in several places. The fact that “Republicans” are voting early doesn’t necessarily mean they’re voting for Trump, especially in states like North Carolina and Florida.

  16. wr says:

    @JKB: “In Florida, the dominant Hispanic community is Cuban Americans who are breaking for Trump. A gift from Obama when he went soft on Cuba.”

    What’s the weather like back there in 1986?

  17. dxq says:

    Bill MitchellVerified account
    ‏@mitchellvii
    The betting markets, the stock market all trending Trump victory now. We can’t be stopped.

  18. dxq says:

    I really want to see how Florida will choose. Republicans really need it on their column. Not just in this election though. Demographically we’re told that non-white voters have had their vote share in Florida increase by 2% since 2012. Polls show that Latinos are supposed to favor Hillary by 30% there. Marco Rubio is lucky to be well-liked by the Latino community there and Republicans too. That’s a few % points right there. Without Florida, Republicans can’t win presidential elections, I’m afraid.

    The GOP is 89% white, which is bad news for them because of what you mentioned, but also nationally, every pres election the electorate gets 1.6% less white. You can’t win the presidency with 40% of the popular vote.

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @JKB:

    A gift from Obama when he went soft on Cuba.

    “Soft on Cuba.”

    Can you even hear yourself?

  20. Steve Verdon says:

    Predict Wise which uses debiased prediction markets, debiased polling data and other data shows Clinton’s chances around 85%.

  21. Todd says:

    I really hope that we get an early and fairly decisive result (for Clinton) from FL on Tuesday night/Weds morning. It would be nice if this potential nightmare is over quickly.

    That being said, even if she loses the close races in FL and NC, it sounds like the early voting that has already taken place in NV may be enough to put her over the top anyway: https://twitter.com/ralstonreports

    … but waiting for that result could lead to a long night … unless NH holds for Clinton (which seems likely), then NV doesn’t matter.

    In any case, I’m glad we’re only a couple of days away. I didn’t comment on Doug’s post from a few days ago, but I completely agree with the sentiment … I’m sooooo burned out on politics right now.

  22. SKI says:

    Good walk through Doug.

    I’m more bullish on Florida & especially Nevada given the demographics of the early voting but, as you lay out, the path for Trump is bordering on non-existent.

    One wrinkle is the freaking idiot elector from Washington State who is very publicly refusing to vote for HRC – meaning that she will need 271 to avoid insanity. She’ll get it but…

  23. Jen says:

    It of course won’t matter to Trump’s supporters, but Friday news drop last night was just another jaw-dropping moment in this campaign. The AP has pretty much confirmed that Melania worked here illegally on her initial visa, and the WSJ is reporting that Trump had a consensual affair with a Playmate in 2006 (a year after he married Melania) and the National Enquirer paid the playmate $150K and then killed the story.