(Author’s note: My last check-in with electoral math occurred at the six-month mark. Here are Parts 1 and 2 of that edition, which introduced some of the concepts of electoral math calculations. Read them if I lose you below.)
Three months ago, Presidential Politics for America projected a 276 to 262 result in the Electoral College in favor of Hillary Clinton. The distance to Election Day has since been halved — an appropriate fraction considering that this interminable election cycle feels like it might qualify for one of Zeno’s Paradoxes. In the meantime, things have quite obviously taken a favorable turn for the Democratic nominee. In most national polls, she’s opened up her widest margins of the summer. Donald Trump now looks up at a polling mountain so high and treacherous that even the best sherpas might describe it as an impossible ascent.
Still, we can never forget that national polls don’t matter. It’s the Electoral College that elects a president. Is Trump looking any better in those projections? Today, we find out.
I’m not taking any stones away from the Blue and Red walls, despite polls suggesting some traditionally reliable states are remarkably competitive: Oregon for the Democrats and Utah (and Georgia) (and Missouri) (and Arizona) for the Republicans. I’ll need to see those polls remain tight into the fall in order to believe those numbers are anything more than mirages in underpolled states largely ignored by the campaigns.
However, I do want to add a state to each of the walls: Indiana and Virginia. They were already trending toward their respective parties as it was; now they have the running mates, Mike Pence of Indiana and Tim Kaine of Virginia. (Boy, I almost fell asleep just writing those names.) Each state is now solid.
As a result, in the race to 270, we now start with Clinton 235, Trump 191. The remaining Presidential Politics for America Purple Playing Field (or PPFA PPF) consists of nine states worth a combined 112 electoral votes:
The Purple Playing Field: Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Iowa (6), New Mexico (5), New Hampshire (4).
Florida (29 electoral votes)
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 46.5, Trump 42.2 (Clinton +4.3)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 44.7, Trump 42 (Clinton +2.7). (For each of today’s polling averages I’ll only use two-way polling unless a three- or four-way with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein provides a sizable discrepancy. The reason is because there are more two-ways available, as there was in May, which reduces the margin of error. Since Clinton and Trump lose a similar amount of points in three- and four-way polling, I think this is the better method when projecting the Electoral College.)
Miscellaneous: Trump was looking great until the last poll, which had Clinton up six points. In the four previous polls, Trump won two and there was a tie in another. Still, those four polls came before the conventions. The only post-convention poll shows Clinton in control.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally (which started at 235 – 191, Democrats): 264-191, Democrats. What a great reminder about Florida’s importance. If Clinton takes the state, she’s up to 264 and one state from victory. But if Trump had won it, we’d be sitting at a tight 235 to 220.
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.8, Trump 38.8 (Clinton +7.0)
Current polling average: Clinton 49.3, Trump 41.3 (Clinton +8.0)
Miscellaneous: There was a Quinnipiac poll in early July that had Democrats freaking out — Trump was leading in Pennsylvania. Considering it’s the only PPFA PPF state to vote one way in each of the last four elections, a Trump win there would really scramble the map. Many expected Trump to make this state his number one target, and if you were to tell me that Trump wins Pennsylvania in November, I’d assume he won the election. Since that Quinnipiac poll, however, Clinton has boasted margins of 9, 4, and then 11 in the last three polls. She’s widening her lead in Pennsylvania, just as she is across the country.
Running tally: 284-191, Democrats. No drama today.
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.5, Trump 42.5 (Clinton +3)
Current polling average: Clinton 42.6, Trump 41.8 (Clinton +0.8)
Miscellaneous: Incredibly, four of the last five polls show a TIE. If we get a competitive Electoral College, will this state be like 2004 all over again?
Current edge: Four polls show a tie, the RCP average shows it’s within one point… but no polling has been done since the Democratic National Convention. This near tie goes to the candidate with momentum: Clinton.
Running tally: 302-191, Democrats. The Clinton Campaign goes in for the kill.
North Carolina (15)
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.8, Trump 42.5 (Clinton +3.3)
Current polling average: Clinton 44.0, Trump 43.5 (Clinton +0.5)
Miscellaneous: Trump has closed the gap, and he even won the only post-DNC poll by four points.
Current edge: Trump has held on. It’s worth noting that if Clinton wins in North Carolina, a Romney state, she’s almost certainly winning this election. It is to her as Pennsylvania is to Trump. (Now that I’ve said this, she’ll win North Carolina and Trump Pennsylvania.)
Running tally: 302-206, Democrats
Six Months Out polling average: We had no relevant polling (only a November one).
Current polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 35.5 (Clinton +9.5). After that dearth of Colorado polling, we had five in July alone. The two most recent show double-digit leads for the Democrat.
Miscellaneous: Pot smokers and Latinos.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally: 311-206, Democrats
Six Months Out polling average: None.
Current polling average: Clinton 43.0, Trump 40.7 (Clinton +2.3)
Miscellaneous: Three polls give us our average here. The first was conducted in early July and had Clinton up four. The second was conducted late in July after the conventions, and it had Clinton’s lead down to one. Then CBS released one from last week, and Clinton’s lead was still only two. In other words, since the convention, Trump has lingered in Nevada. Once the DNC bump fades for Clinton, he should overtake her.
Current edge: Trump gets his first flipped state from three months ago.
Running tally: 311-212, Democrats
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45, Trump 41 (Clinton +4)
Current polling average: Clinton 41.3, Trump 40.8 (Clinton +0.5)
Other factors: Trump has almost totally eaten into Clinton’s lead here. It’s one reason why Clinton considered putting its former governor, Tom Vilsack, on the ticket. It doesn’t feel like rural America is with Hillary Clinton and the Democrats this time around.
Current edge: Another Trump flip
Running tally: 311-218
New Mexico (5)
Six Months Out polling average: None
Current polling average: Just one May poll, which has Clinton ahead, 41 to 33. (That’s with and without former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.)
Other factors: High confidence in New Mexico, nearly half Latino, sticking with the Democrats. It’s a contender for the Blue Wall once we see post-Kaine and -DNC polling.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally: 316 – 218, Democrats
New Hampshire (4)
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 44.8, Trump 35 (Clinton +9.8)
Current polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 38.0 (Clinton +7)
Other factors: Trump has shaved Clinton’s average lead, but now Sanders is on board, and it’s still New England. Plus, the only post-DNC poll conducted in the Granite State showed Clinton with a 17-point lead. It’s another Blue Wall contender.
Current edge: Clinton.
Running tally: 320-218, Democrats win.
1) Don’t forget: I already answered, “What If It’s a Tie?”
2) However, with electoral projections like today’s, it looks like I wasted my time analyzing a tie scenario. If this 320 to 218 result holds up, Clinton would fall jut short of President Obama’s 332 to 206 2012 re-election.
3) But don’t count out Trump just yet! When things go poorly for a campaign, the press likes to pounce. Small gaffes turn into big gaffes, and big gaffes chew up 48 hours or more of the media’s attention. Since the media and Trump already had an antagonistic (if often symbiotic) relationship, this negative coverage has been exacerbated, resulting in Trump’s worst two weeks since Wisconsin.
It’s times like these, however, that we can find value in taking one deep breath and two steps back. We should remind ourselves that Trump came this far with no election experience, hardly any staff, pathetic state and local organization, remarkably few ads, and among the emptiest campaign treasuries in modern electoral history:
And despite all his incompetence, he had a polling lead on the country’s most connected political family as recently as two weeks ago. Just last week his campaign revealed a huge breakthrough in July fundraising, netting $80 million, only $10 million short of the much more organized Clinton Campaign. If he can start converting those dollars into effective battleground ads — and he’s just starting to attempt those — we could be back to an even ballgame in September. Remember, after he lost Wisconsin, he ran the table. To write him off is to invite karma, doom, and, I assume, locusts.
4) It’s also worth nothing that if we compare Trump’s deficit to my electoral math of three months ago, he’s still, even though he lost more states than May’s projection, trimming leads in the big picture. To illustrate, check out this exclusive PPFA table, which charts how each candidate’s polling average changed from May 8 to August 8. From those numbers we can calculate who has had more relative improvement.
To clarify, let’s look at Florida. I gave it to Clinton today, but her numbers faded a bit, while Trump’s almost stayed even. Even though Trump fell by 0.2 points, he had a 1.6 improvement relative to Clinton. In fact, Trump has gained in five of the six states where we had acceptable May polling. In four of those states, Clinton’s average has fallen, and each of them by at least 1.7 points. Trump, meanwhile, only had numbers fall in three states, and each of those were by 0.7 or less, smaller drop-offs than all of Clinton’s. In other words, over these three months, Clinton regressed and Trump improved.
The national polls dating back to March show a similar picture:
Clinton held an 11.4 point lead on March 23, and now it’s down to just 7. Moreover, Trump has twice come back from numbers worse than he has now. Clinton should have pulled away, but alas, the country’s aversion to her continues.
In short, this isn’t over. There’s plenty of time to reverse each candidate’s momentum. Indeed, there are still an infinite number of halfway points between now and November 8. Zeno could have told you that.