National polls obscure the more crucial element of predicting who will win the presidential election: the states. The states really are the deciders.
Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton need to reach 270 electoral college votes, and based on current information the electoral map looks like this:
I recommend using 270towin (where I generated this graphic) to play around with the states. A state’s votes are roughly proportional to their population, though it’s a little more complex than that. Hillary Clinton has a clear advantage because of how the map shakes out (she has strong leads in population-rich states on the coasts and Midwest).
In this post Ohio and Pennsylvania will be examined, two crucial swing states with relatively large vote shares.
18 electoral college votes
Current polls: Donald Trump 1.2%+ (Last updated 09/10/2016)
So often a pivotal swing state in recent presidential elections, the eyes of the world will once again be trained upon humble Ohio in 2016. Like cities throughout the Midwest, Hillary Clinton has a good chance of running up the vote in densely populated urban areas around Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus.
The buckeye state is absolutely crucial for Donald Trump. After Florida, Ohio is possibly the most important swing state for Trump; losing either makes his path to 270 electoral college based on current data all but impossible. Added to which, Ohio is central to his strategy of appealing to voters in industrial states who have seen decline in local factories and dissatisfaction with international trade.
In the same way that Ronald Reagan persuaded a legion of ‘Reagan Democrats’ to turn on their party and vote Republican in 1980 and 1984, Trump is targeting potential ‘Trump Democrats’ in Ohio. However, polls do not currently suggest this strategy has broken through Clinton’s steep advantage in urban centres.
To make matters worse for Trump, he has a particular headache in the former of John Kasich. Kasich is the Governor of Ohio, a Republican who ran against Trump for the nomination this year and has refused to endorse Trump. Kasich is a prominent and relatively popular figure in Ohio, and comfortably won the state’s primary for the Republican nomination over Donald Trump. The governor’s refusal to get on board the Trump train may limit the billionaire’s turnout in conservative, rural areas.
Trump’s strategy will be to run up turnout in the southern and eastern counties, particularly focusing on small coal towns and declining industrial areas where he hopes to pick up disaffected Democrats and preach to his white, male base of support. Meanwhile Hillary is hoping to fight for these voters by tempering her economic platform with anti-Trans Pacific Partnership, populist rhetoric, while maintaining her lead in Ohio’s cities with high African American populations that almost unanimously swing for Clinton.
Obama won Ohio in both 2008 and 2012. In 2016, Ohio could very well be a make-or-break state for Donald Trump, so expect him to pile in ads and resources into the state to break the Democrats’ winning streak. Though the polling average gives Clinton a slight lead here, some outlets have the state as effectively tied; Ohio is very much in play for Donald Trump, and in tandem with Florida will be his primary focus.
20 electoral college votes
Current polls: Hillary Clinton 7.5%+ (Last updated 09/10/2016)
Republicans have long sought a crack in the ‘blue wall’, a group of 18 states that the Democratic Party has won for the past 6 elections and nets them roughly 240 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the White House. Pennsylvania, and its juicy 20 votes, is where the GOP hopes this crack will appear.
It hasn’t worked yet. Obama won Pennsylvania clearly in 2008 and 2012, and even the ill-fated John Kerry won by 2% in 2004 over Republican incumbent George W. Bush.
Yet for all the Democratic Party’s historic strength here, Pennsylvania is an odd state. As the map above shows, the state is almost a sea of red with two main islands of blue. Those would be the two P’s: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In a state of almost 13 million Americans, over half are located in these urban areas. Philadelphia, in particular is the 7th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and a Democratic stronghold.
Trump’s Pennsylvania strategy is similar to that of Ohio: rack up turnout in coal towns to the west of the state and siphon off as many blue collar Democrats as possible. The downside is that Donald Trump seems to be repelling suburban, white women around the main cities with his antics and controversies. For every blue collar Democratic man he’s winning, he may be losing a suburban Republican woman. Broadly speaking, commentators believe that those wealthier suburban voters who supported Mitt Romney and John McCain have not embraced Donald Trump this year, based on early data.
Donald Trump will keep Pennsylvania as a priority in 2016; it’s absolutely central to his plan to make inroads across the Rust Belt. After all, Donald Trump doesn’t just need to match the states that Mitt Romney won in 2012, he needs to win new states for the Republicans if he is to earn the keys to the White House. Yet with polls showing Clinton running a 8 to 9 percent lead, and Trump’s difficulty consolidating disparate parts of his support base, turning Pennsylvania red in 2016 seems a stretch. Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s advantage is actually building.
Trump knows he’s losing, too: he recently claimed the only way he will lose Pennsylvania is if there is ‘cheating’, a spurious and unsubstantiated claim laying the groundwork to delegitimise the level of defeat he is currently predicted to suffer. Given its importance and 20 electoral college votes, it’s unlikely that Pennsylvania will slip out of consideration for the Trump campaign, but whether the Republicans have a viable chance to win the state is uncertain.
*All state diagrams reflect the county by county breakdown of the 2012 presidential election with red areas representing Republican led counties, and blue denoting areas where Democrats won