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:

electoral map 28 8

 

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 look out to the west, where changing demographics and Trump’s divisive campaign offer opportunities for the Clinton campaign to break into normally solid red Republican states.

Colorado

9 Electoral college votes
Current polls: Hillary Clinton 3.3%+ (Last updated 09/10/2016)

colorado 2012

Along with New Mexico, Colorado is a potential Democratic beachhead into western states that have been solidly Republican for years. Voting for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012, now showing a generous lead in the polls for Hillary Clinton, Colorado’s days as a true swing state may be numbered.

Such is the Clinton campaign’s confident in mountainous Colorado that they have pulled local ad buying on television throughout September and October.

Donald Trump has never been strong in Colorado; he lost the statewide primary to Ted Cruz and has not polled as well here as elsewhere in the west. To an extent, Trump’s Colorado struggles are due to two factors: a large number of hispanics, who make up between 20-30% of the statewide population, and the high proportion of educated voters, with Colorado ranking third in the country in terms of voters with bachelor’s degrees. The combination of ethnic diversity and an educated white voter population stifles Trump’s appeal in Colorado. Demographics are destiny for Donald Trump.

Should the polls hold, Hillary Clinton is set to pull in Colorado’s 9 electoral votes with relative ease.

Arizona

11 electoral college votes
Current polls: Donald Trump 0.7%+ (Last updated 09/10/2016)

 

arizona 2012

 

Arizona shocked many Republican higher-ups in the summer when Hillary Clinton was shown to be neck-and-neck with Donald Trump, if not slightly ahead of the Republican presidential nominee. The rise of Clinton in deep red states like Arizona and Georgia spurred some speculation of a Clinton landslide, given her relative competitiveness in what have conventionally been safe Republican states.

By late August, Trump appears to have regained his footing in Arizona; polls now show Donald Trump with a modest lead between 1-5%. This is despite a frosty relationship with local Republican senator, and one-time presidential nominee, John McCain. McCain has endorsed Trump, somewhat unenthusiastically, despite Trump’s derision of McCain’s war record where he was taken prisoner in Vietnam.

Clinton’s strength in Arizona should not be overlooked. Considering the fact that Mitt Romney won the state by 10% in 2012, Clinton’s ability to hang with Trump in the deserts and mountains of Arizona may force the billionaire to devote money to defending these 11 electoral votes.

In order for Clinton to pull this monumental upset, she will need to win over college educated whites, who at the moment split evenly for both candidates in Arizona. Added to which, independents in Arizona are pulling for Trump by 14% over Clinton, though Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is enjoying a 20% support among independents as well, meaning if he potentially drops out this number can shift, although it is not clear which way.

Trump is also aided by a relatively low level of hispanics in Arizona, compared to neighbouring western states. Only around 16% of Arizona’s population is estimated to be hispanic, so the  billionaire’s divisive language about Mexican immigrants is less damaging in Arizona than in other western states.

At its core lies Maricopa County, with the state capital of Pheonix. The 12th largest metropolitan area in the nation, Pheonix accounts for roughly 65% of Arizona’s population. While Romney won Maricopa County by 12%, Clinton will need to outperform Obama in Pheonix and build on Obama’s lead in Tuscon to the south to win here.

Arizona is a fascinating state to watch in 2016. Democrats and Republicans alike will be waiting to see just how close Clinton can stay with Donald Trump in what has previously been a safe Republican state. Meanwhile, John McCain’s senate race provides a secondary storyline over how viable conventional Republican candidates are in 2016 against the backdrop of Trumpism.

Nevada

6 electoral college votes
Current polls: Hillary Clinton 1.4% + (Last updated 09/10/2016)

nevada 20120

Offering a humble 6 electoral votes, Nevada is one of the most complex swing states.

Obama won here twice, with relatively comfortable margins of 6% in 2012, and 12% in 2008. Hillary Clinton, on the other had, is stuck in the mud in Nevada.

Even when national polls showed Clinton with an advantage hovering around 10%, her lead in Nevada rarely broke 5%. This is despite the fact that Nevada has a relatively high proportion of hispanic voters – around 27% of the population – and a robust union base around Las Vegas. As a result, the Democrats have been attempting to gain an advantage in voter registration over the Republicans, essentially urging otherwise disinterested voters to stop Trump.

Part of Hillary Clinton’s difficulty in converting her national lead into a more substantial one in Nevada is down to the education divide: whereas Colorado ranks 3rd in the nation in terms of proportion of the population with a bachelor’s degree, Nevada ranks 45th. One of the key findings of this electoral cycle is that Clinton is performing better than recent Democratic candidates with college educated whites, but this factor is not helping her in Nevada.

Instead, the continuing effects of the global recession has perpetuated an economic malaise in Nevada that fuels Donald Trump’s momentum as a change candidate.

nevada population density

Broad swathes of Nevada are sparsely populated and heavily Republican. The real contest for the state will be focused in Clark County, the home of Las Vegas. Almost 75% of the state population lives in Clark County, and Hillary Clinton will need to develop a strong lead here to offset her weakness in the rest of the state. Current polls indicate she enjoys around a 13% lead in Clark County. Obama’s lead over Romney in this crucial part of Nevada in 2012 was closer to 15%; any incremental increases Clinton can eke out in Clark County may decide who wins the state in 2016.

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