Electoral Math: ONE MONTH OUT

At six months to go before the election, Presidential Politics for America projected a 276 to 262 Electoral College result in favor of Hillary Clinton. Three months later, Clinton extended her projected win to 320 to 218. Since then, however, Donald Trump significantly closed the gap. With only one month left, just how close is it?

I’m not taking any stones away from the Blue and Red walls, though I considered doing so. Trump has expanded the map, challenging in the Democratic-leaning states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Maine. Heck, two of the last three New Jersey polls had Clinton up only four and six points. The Democrats are also threatening in a few reliably red states, Georgia and Arizona chief among them. Still, it’s the Democrats that have, according to Real Clear Politics, lost more “leaners” to the “toss-up” column.

That being said, I fully expect all the states listed in the previous paragraph to stick with recent history. The polls might be closer than we expect in each of them, but for the most part they show consistent leads that are unlikely to evaporate in the last month, barring a game-changer. Since winning a state by one vote gives the candidate all its electoral votes, we shouldn’t get caught up in smaller-than-normal margins. In the immortal words of Vin Diesel, “It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.”

In an election where both sides despise their opponent, we should expect no surprising flip-flop from states that have voted for one of the parties in every election this century. I’ll need to see those polls tighten deep into October in order to believe those numbers are anything more than mirages in underpolled states largely ignored by the campaigns. The only exception to everything I just said is that I’m giving Trump one of the electoral votes from Maine, which is one of two states (with Nebraska) that allows Congressional districts to cast an electoral vote. Maine’s second Congressional district loves Trump.

As a result, in today’s race to 270, we start at Clinton 234, Trump 192, with nine battleground states in play. I call those states the Presidential Politics for America Purple Playing Field (or PPFAPPF), and it has 112 electoral votes up for grabs. Here are those states and their electoral value:

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).

And below is a prediction of how they’ll vote on November 8:


Florida (29 electoral votes)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
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).
One Month Out polling average: Clinton 46.6, Trump 43.4 (Clinton +3.2). (Like last time, 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 I think most Johnson/Steiners willing to offer a preference in a two-way race will end up going with one of the two major parties. Otherwise, they’d be listed as undecided in the two-way.)
Miscellaneous: Trump continued to shave Clinton’s lead up until the end of September. In fact, a couple September polls had Trump up four points. Then we had the first debate, and now Clinton is back in front. However, for a couple of reasons, Democrats shouldn’t celebrate quite yet. First, it’s hard to imagine the next two debates going much better for Clinton. If anything, Trump’s bar has been lowered even further. It’s not unreasonable to think that Trump regains Floridian momentum as the first debate fades from memory. Second, with more than 2.5 million early voting ballots mailed in, Republicans outpace Democrats.
Current edge: Trump
Running tally (which started at 234 – 192, Clinton): 234-221, Clinton

Pennsylvania (20)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Democratic
2000: Democratic
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.8, Trump 38.8 (Clinton +7.0)
Three months out polling average: Clinton 49.3, Trump 41.3 (Clinton +8.0)
One month out polling average: Clinton 49.0, Trump 41.5 (Clinton +7.5)
Miscellaneous: At the beginning of this week, I started gathering the polling for today’s column. Pennsylvania’s said Clinton 45.4, Trump 43.0 (Clinton +2.4). What a different a debate and a week of polling makes! Clinton has regained control of a state that has voted Democratic in the last six elections. It’s always tight, but the Democrats find a way to turn out more of their voters. They will again in November.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally: 254-221, Clinton.

Ohio (18)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.5, Trump 42.5 (Clinton +3)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 42.6, Trump 41.8 (Clinton +0.8)
One Month Out polling average: Trump 45.2, Clinton 44.0 (Trump +1.2)
Miscellaneous: We have a new leader in Ohio. Trump won six of the last eight Ohio polls, and Clinton’s two leads were by just 1 and 2 points. Even with a good couple weeks for the Democratic nominee, Ohio still wants to MAGA.
Current edge: Trump
Running tally: 254-239, Clinton.

North Carolina (15)
2012: Republican
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.8, Trump 42.5 (Clinton +3.3)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 44.0, Trump 43.5 (Clinton +0.5)
One Month Out polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 43.7 (Clinton +1.3)
Miscellaneous: Trump was leading this state up until a trio of early October polling came out showing Clinton with leads, though they were all within the margin of error. This state looks to be the closest of the election. As such, we have to trust in recent history. With the exception of 2008’s Obamamania, North Carolina has been a solid Republican state.
Current edge: Trump.
Running tally:  Good God, it’s tied: 254-254.

Colorado (9)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: We had no relevant polling (only a November one).
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 35.5 (Clinton +9.5).
One Month Out polling average: Clinton 44.3, Trump 40.8 (Clinton +3.5)
Miscellaneous: Clinton has stumbled badly in what was supposed to be a blue leaner all the way. (I could make a joke about her stumbling into her van, but I’m not going to do that. You know what I’m talking about. I didn’t bring it up, though. I didn’t say it. I’m too nice. But I can be nasty, believe me.) Trump even led a couple recent polls out of the state. This polling swing, however, is misleading, since not many polls were done of Colorado until recently. It’s more likely the state was always close and that she never truly enjoyed a 10-point lead in the first place. Still, she bounced in post-debate polling.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally: 263-254, Clinton

Nevada (6)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: None.
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 43.0, Trump 40.7 (Clinton +2.3)
One Month Out polling average: Clinton 44.2, Trump 43.0 (Clinton +1.2)
Miscellaneous: Amazingly close race at this point. In the last seven polls, each candidate leads three, and the most recent one is a tie. If Clinton couldn’t show well in Nevada by now, she might never.
Current edge: Trump
Running tally: 263-260, Clinton

Iowa (6)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Democratic
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 45, Trump 41 (Clinton +4)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 41.3, Trump 40.8 (Clinton +0.5)
One Month Out polling average: Trump 45.3, Clinton 40.5 (Trump +4.8)
Miscellaneous: Dare I say this state is becoming safe for Trump? I sensed his momentum two months ago when giving the state to him, and now that prediction looks even better. Hillary Clinton does not play well in middle America. We actually have no post-debate polling from the Hawkeye State, though, so we might see Clinton show a bit better in the next Iowa survey.
Current edge: Trump, for now
Running tally: 266-263, Trump takes the lead with two states to go. If he wins either one, he wins the election.

New Mexico (5)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Republican
2000: Democratic
Six Months Out polling average: None
Three Months Out polling average: Just one May poll, which has Clinton ahead, 41 to 33.
One Month Out polling average: With the third party candidates, including former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, it’s Clinton 40.5, Trump 32, Johnson 19, and Stein 2. Without the third parties, it’s Clinton 45, Trump 33.5.
Other factors: Johnson offers an interesting quirk here, which I’ll mention in my general thoughts at the end of the post, but New Mexico remains safely Clinton. It’s a leading candidate for the Blue Wall next time around.
Current edge: Clinton
Running tally: 268-266, Clinton back into the lead. The winner of our final state — tiny New Hampshire, which already has way too much power over the primary process and now might decide the general election, too — is the next president.

New Hampshire (4)
2012: Democratic
2008: Democratic
2004: Democratic
2000: Republican
Six Months Out polling average: Clinton 44.8, Trump 35 (Clinton +9.8)
Three Months Out polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 38.0 (Clinton +7)
One Month Out polling average: Clinton 45.0, Trump 39.8 (Clinton +5.2)
Other factors: It’s not just that Clinton has a 5.2-point lead, but also that Trump has never led a general election New Hampshire poll over her. There was a tie back in May, but in the other 26 polls dating back to July 2015, Clinton is ahead. With Bernie Sanders as an ally, he can secure the state for her in the final week before the election.
Current edge: Clinton.
Running tally: 272-266, Clinton wins. Barely.


General Thoughts

1) Such a close projection gives me a great excuse to link to my “What If It’s a Tie?” piece. While we’re there, FiveThirtyEight recently ran a column exploring the improbable but not impossible prospect of Gary Johnson winning his home state of New Mexico and keeping both candidates under 270. The tiebreaker scenarios would still go into effect, though Johnson, having earned electoral votes, would then also be eligible to be elected president by the House as a compromise candidate.

2) Trump has momentum almost across the board if one looks at the big picture, though the last two weeks clearly helped Clinton. Still, if Trump holds his own in the next two debates, he can continue to erode her overall lead.

2a) Trump’s path to 270 is quite obvious. Today’s electoral projections can be seen as the best realistic case scenario for him. After all, he won Florida and Ohio, a combination which usually sews up victory. I also gave him North Carolina, Iowa, and Nevada. Odds are he doesn’t sweep all five of those states, but even if he did, he needs to find another state from Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, and New Hampshire. Each of those states has voted Democratic in at least the last two elections, and polls suggest Clinton with a clear lead in all of them. For Trump to hold onto his swing states and take one of those is a tall order.

3) My next electoral projections will come with a couple weeks to go. We’ll then see if we need to expand or contract the PPFAPPF.

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