Just over three weeks out from election day, things do not look good for Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton is leading by an average of 6.2% over Donald Trump in a four way race that includes Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein.
However, the president is not selected by the national popular vote but by the electoral college, based on state by state wins. In the electoral college, Clinton’s advantage is more impressive:
The above is the current state of the election based on existing polling. The red states show states that are expected to vote for Republican Donald Trump, whereas the blue states are expected wins for Democratic Hillary Clinton. Those in grey are swing states.
The bar at the top shows how close each candidate is to the magic 270 electoral college votes needed to win. Based on current estimate, Clinton would need only 21 electoral college votes from the remaining 11 swing states to win.
As of mid October, the average of polls show these numbers in a four way race:
Colorado = Clinton +7.2%
Wisconsin = Clinton +7%
New Hampshire = Clinton +4.7%
Nevada = Clinton +4.2%
Florida = Clinton +3.6%
North Carolina = Clinton +2.5%
Ohio = Trump +0.7%
Arizona = Trump +0.7%
Iowa = Trump +3.7%
Georgia = Trump +5.5%
Utah = Trump +5.6%
Clinton’s Strength in Core Swing States
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s upsurge in national polling has been accompanied by a trend across the core swing states of Florida and Nevada. Ohio is a toss up. In September Donald Trump had opened up a modest but consistent lead in Ohio, while running neck and neck in Nevada; his Ohio appeal has proved more resilient. Yet it is Clinton’s strength in Florida that is more distressing for Trump: the Sunshine State yields 29 electoral college votes, making it the joint third largest haul in the nation.
Added to which, New Hampshire’s four electoral votes look destined for Hillary Clinton. The former Secretary of State has consistently outperformed the Republican nominee for weeks now, and the Clinton campaign is devoting considerable manpower to the Granite State.
The Trump campaign can take some solace in their strength in Iowa, but with only six votes this deeply Christian state does little to offset broader weakness across the Midwest. To make matters worse, North Carolina is leaning Democratic. More affluent, diverse, and educated than other southern states, North Carolina may join Virginia as a Democratic bulwark in the traditionally Republican south.
The Republican Quest for Five
Even if Donald Trump bounces back into national contention, he likely remains five votes shy of the required 270 to win the White House.
The above scenario represents a dramatic triumph across all main swing states in play. It would be a monumental recovery, given how he is polling in mid-October, but in this electoral cycle nothing is out of the question.
The problem for the Republican nominee is that even if he can win over North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, Iowa and Ohio, whilst also preventing any losses in the south and west, he is still five votes short of 270.
Part of this is is due to Clinton’s Pennsylvania-Colorado wall. Earlier in 2016 Trump believed he could wrest these states from the Democrats, but they look like decent bets for Clinton at the moment: she leads both states by over 6-7%.
How might he get there? New Hampshire + Maine‘s second district is one option. That would give Trump the required five votes, and the billionaire has shown competitiveness in both, although some New Hampshire polls put him in a double digit hole to Clinton.
Virginia is unlikely to be in play; the home state of Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, Virginia has shown solid Clinton leads for weeks, if not months. Trump might also take aim at Wisconsin, a typically Democratic state but one that contains a large number of less educated white voters who comprise Trump’s core demographic area of strength. Michigan, a Midwestern state with a similar make up, is also probably out of reach, registering a Clinton lead of 11%.
In short; the electoral map still presents a steep uphill climb for Trump. Even if he sweeps the swing states where Clinton currently leads, he is still five short from a majority, and losing a single swing state likely finishes his chances.
Trump’s Soft Underbelly
Donald Trump’s decline has opened up new potential stretch wins for Hillary Clinton.
Arizona, in particular, looks vulnerable. Clinton is often within 1% of Trump in recent polls, and the Republican’s clashes with local senator John McCain is unlikely to endear him to a broader range of voters.
Earlier in the electoral season pundits speculated that Georgia may also be up for grabs. Conventionally Republican in presidential elections, some polls following the Democratic National Convention offered hope to the Clinton campaign in Georgia, combined with a relatively young a diverse population that plays to Democratic strengths. Unlike Arizona, however, Trump has regained his lead in this Deep South state, though pollsters are still watching polls from Georgia with interest.
Utah is another concern for the Republican nominee. Trump himself has acknowledged that the Mormon state is a difficult win for him, and one recent poll put him in a dead heat with Clinton once conservative independent Evan McMullin was factored in at 20% support. It still seems likely that Trump will win in Utah, but if there are more allegations of sexual harassment then this deeply religious state may well be in play for either Clinton or McMullin.
Clinton is diverting resources and her well known surrogates to these states, testing the waters to see if she can gut the GOP nominee of traditionally red states.
The Weak Foundations of the GOP
Perhaps most concerning is the recent batch of polls that reveal a serious weakness for Trump in bedrock Republican states.
In mid October deep red Texas was shown to put Trump only 4% ahead of Clinton, and Indiana polls have reported similar tightness. Even Alaska, a state no one dreamed to be in play, has been within 3%. These may be outliers; demonstrative of the nadir of Trump’s popularity due to the Access Hollywood tape. Yet, for a Republican candidate to be this weak in Texas is astounding: the second largest haul of electoral college votes, it is the sine qua non of Republican presidential strategy.
In contrast, the Democrat’s equivalent states of Texas are California and New York. The most recent polling data from these states shows a Clinton lead of 19.7% and 17.2% respectively.
The significance of these polls? If continued controversy strikes the Trump campaign it is entirely possible that the attenuation of Christian and female support from the Republican ticket could put the Democrats into contention in stretch states that are unprecedented in modern party politics.
The Big Three
So which states will truly decide the election? Three battleground states with large delegate hauls are most important deciders in 2016: Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio.
If Donald Trump loses any of these three states his pathway to the presidency is all but finished. Florida, in particular, with its 29 electoral votes would effectively seal a Clinton win. Ohio, on the other hand, is more fertile ground for a Trump win given his polling lead there throughout late September and early October.
Yet it may be North Carolina that proves to be the spoiler, where Clinton is ahead by an average of 2.5%.
Commanding a 15 vote delegate haul, if loses this southern state he will need to pull an upset in a larger state to compensate for this loss. Wisconsin wouldn’t do it; the only realistic counter to loses North Carolina would be Michigan, which favours Clinton by 11%.
Of course, much of this logic is rested on Clinton maintaining, if not building on, her advantage in Pennsylvania.
The Keystone State has been the envy of several recent Republican presidential nominees, but to no avail. Trump has never led here: current polls have him down by around 7%. However, he was within 2% in late September, during his nationwide rise that coincided with a series of negative stories about Secretary Clinton, and the Trump campaign is devoting considerable time to the towns of rural Pennsylvania that have felt industrial decline.
Given Pennsylvania’s 20 delegates, pollsters across the political spectrum will be watching the state with particular interest for signs of any Trump resurgence that may upset the shape of the electoral map.