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).
This post will delve into the south, from Virginia down to the most famous swing state of them all, Florida.
Current polls: Hillary Clinton 9%+ (Last updated 09/10/2016)
Virginia, a reliably Republican state in years gone by, has swung Democratic in the past two presidential elections. In 2008 Barack Obama won the state by a wide margin of 7%. Early polls suggest Hillary Clinton may also enjoy a comfortable victory in Commonwealth of Virginia.
Clinton, eager to appeal to the southern state, appointed local Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate. Kaine, generally well liked in the state, is a symbolic investment in Virginia and its 13 electoral college votes.
Trump’s strategy in Virginia will be to focus on coal country towards the southwest of the state. Hillary Clinton is no friend of the coal lobby, having previously appeared to suggest that the decline of American coal was all but assured. Trump will preach to voters in small coal towns, in the same way that he will in neighbouring West Virginia to great effect; these are the Americans for whom the globalised economic system is a threat to their livelihoods.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s appeal to ethnically mixed demographics and moderates to the east of the state and around Virginia’s cities have driven her polls numbers to an impressive lead. Trump’s alienation of suburban white women also plays into Clinton’s favour in more populated towns in the east. Added to which, Virginia ranks relatively high in terms of college educated citizens; 34% of Virginians have a bachelor’s degree, the sixth highest for proportion in the nation. Only a third of these voters are expected to vote for Donald Trump.
The Clinton campaign is comfortable enough with her lead here that they have paused campaign ads, redirecting money towards more hotly contested states. Whether the Trump campaign will devote significant time and money to Virginia is in question given how poorly he is performing at present.
Current polls: Hillary Clinton 2.6%+ (Last updated 09/10/2016)
North Carolina is a relatively under-reported swing state, despite a sizeable 15 vote prize. Mitt Romney won here by 3% in 2012, but in ’08 Barack Obama eked out a victory over Republican John McCain.
Like Virginia, North Carolina used to be a solidly Republican state; Obama’s win in 2008 was the first time in 32 years that the state had voted Democratic in a presidential election. Increasingly, however, Democrats believe that the southern, deeply religious state is in play. Polls this year have shown Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump running neck and neck, though Clinton has pulled ahead slightly after the Democratic National Convention.
There’s no simple explanation for North Carolina’s shift into the battleground column. Though the state is ethnically mixed, the African American population is roughly equal to the national average. The religiosity of the state would also suggest that North Carolina should be a safer bet for Republicans. Perhaps the difference is that Democrats are now actively trying to win here: previous campaigns by John Kerry and Al Gore did little to contend Republican supremacy in North Carolina. Not so for Hillary Clinton; the Trump campaign will need to find a strategy that compensates for their poor performance with African Americans and college educated whites here if they are to keep the state in the red. The state is likely to be won in the suburbs, where the demographics of each campaign begin to blend.
Trump is also undoubtedly being hurt by his poor performance with white women, a group Mitt Romney won in 2012 by 17%, but who favour Clinton this year by 10% according to recent polls.
Both campaigns are already scheduling visits and pouring in resources to the state. The state commands a relatively large share of delegates, and could sap Donald Trump’s plan to flip Midwestern states Republican. If, for example, Trump scores his dream wins in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, Hillary winning North Carolina could very well mean he still doesn’t reach the required 270 votes.
North Carolina is a must win state for Donald Trump. At the moment, far from pushing Clinton in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the billionaire is on the defensive in North Carolina.
Current polls: Donald Trump 4.7%+ (Last updated 09/10/2016)
Georgia is setting off alarm bells in the Trump campaign. The recent surge in Hillary Clinton’s polls has filtered through to the usually reliably Republican, deep south state of Georgia.
To put this in context, Obama lost Georgia by 5% in 2008 and 8% in 2012. These are relatively solid margins, particularly considering the strength of Obama’s campaign in 2008. For a Democrat to fight for Georgia’s 16 electoral votes is a rare thing.
Hillary Clinton benefits from a higher than average proportion of African Americans in the Peach State, a demographic that is virtually locked away from Donald Trump. Added to which, Georgia’s demographics are slightly younger than the national average, a factor that tends to aid Democrats.
However, it is likely that Clinton’s post-Convention bump will gradually subside throughout August and September. Predictions that Georgia is turning purple have been proven wrong in previous elections, and the conservative stripes of the state tend to become more evident towards election day. In mid August the Trump campaign began expanding its staff commitment in Georgia, eager to curtail any further southern bleeding given the campaign’s battles in North Carolina.
Still, if Clinton is keeping the race for Georgia tight in October, the Trump campaign will be scrambling to defend their southern flank in Georgia from a gutting 16 vote flip. Losing Georgia would be tantamount to a death blow for Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions. Yet, by simply remaining competitive in Georgia, Clinton’s campaign will force Trump to divert money, for ads and ground campaigning, away from Ohio and Florida.
Current polls: Hillary Clinton 3.0%+ (Last updated 09/10/2016)
Florida is the ultimate swing state. Carrying the joint third largest sum of electoral college votes (first is California with 55, second is Texas with 38, and New York also carries 29), Florida exerts a huge influence on presidential elections and can make or break a tight race.
The Sunshine State has leaned Democratic lately, voting for Obama in both 2012 and 2008, though it gave George W. a 5% win in 2004. Hillary Clinton’s post-Convention surge in the polls has been somewhat restrained here, and her team will be striving to increase her single digit lead.
Of particular focus for the candidates is the I – 4 corridor, a stretch of Florida between Daytona and Tampa. This year there is a peculiar wrinkle in central Florida, too: Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico has suffered an aggressive bankruptcy crisis in recent years, leading to large numbers of Puerto Ricans moving into Florida. Purto Ricans are American citizens who can vote for president if living in Florida, but not in Puerto Rico since it is an overseas territory, not a state. Now numbering a million strong in Florida, the Puerto Rican demographic roughly equals the Cuban population in Florida which has historically leaned Republican. However pundits predicts that these new voters and some Cubans will tend towards Democrats, as a result of Donald Trump’s aggressive rhetoric concerning people of hispanic descent.
Since 2012, over 430,000 votes have registered in Florida, with 76% of these being hispanic or non white Americans among whom Clinton runs around a 48% advantage over Trump. The Republican nominee will need to run up huge margins among white voters if he is to compensate for the diversity of Florida.
The electoral map of Florida is particularly interesting. The south, cosmopolitan and urbanised, is highly populated and significantly leans Democrat. Likewise, the counties around Tampa and Orlando have trended Democrat in recent elections. However, many older voters also settle in the Sunshine State, an age group that is more favourable to Republican candidate; the state has the second highest proportion of 65+ aged Americans, after Maine.
Added to which, the north of Florida more closely resembles a traditional southern state, like Georgia, which borders the state to the north. The divergence between the high rise, bright lights of downtown Miami and the poorer rural counties in the north is startling.
Hillary Clinton holds a modest lead over Trump at the moment, but Obama won the state by around 75,000 votes only and the state was infamously close in 2000, highlighting just how close run Florida can be.
*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