In a little more than two months, voters in the United States will elect their next president. Recent polling suggests that most Americans have already made up their mind, with the number of undecided having shrunk to less than ten percentage points. And a solid and consistent majority of Americans is now saying that they will vote for Hillary Clinton.
If history is any guidance, the former First Lady and Secretary of State will likely become the next commander-in-chief, because in most previous modern presidential election campaigns the leading candidate in late August/early September finally ended up winning the election in November.
In other words, for her Republican opponent Donald Trump it is getting increasingly difficult to sway a majority of voters at this stage of the race. The Manhattan real estate mogul is basically running out of time and political oxygen to turn things around dramatically.
Trump’s path to victory is narrow, as his Democratic opponent enjoys an electoral map that is clearly advantageous to her. And here is why:
Who elects the US President?
Citizens of the United States do not directly elect the president; instead they elect representatives called “electors”, who together form the “electoral college”.
Electors are apportioned to each of the 50 states as well as to the District of Columbia, the capital Washington, roughly based on the size of the population. The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of members of Congress to which the state is entitled, while the Constitution grants the District of Columbia the same number of electors as the least populous state (Wyoming), currently three.
Therefore, there are currently 538 electors, corresponding to the 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 senators, plus the three additional electors from the District of Columbia.
Except for the electors in Maine and Nebraska, electors are elected on a “winner-take-all” basis. That is, all electors pledged to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes in a state become electors for that state, no matter whether the winning candidate gets 90 percent or 50.1 percent of the popular vote (or even less in a race with several candidates).
The candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes for the office of president or of vice president is elected to that office, the magic number being 270 electoral votes.
The fact that the presidential election is not decided by the popular vote but rather by the sum of the indirect state-by-state votes produces a mathematically complicated scheme that dictates which states are considered strategically important and thus where campaign resources are spent.
Consequently, some states will see a lot of campaigning whereas other states will see nothing at all.
Why is the electoral map favoring Clinton?
Of the 50 states, 40, plus the District of Columbia, usually vote the same way in each presidential election. Political scientists and pollsters call them “safe Democratic/Republican” or “likely Democratic/Republican” depending on the winning margin.
That leaves the electoral map with ten “swing states” because these states have swung back and forth between the Democratic and the Republican candidate over the past quarter of a century.
Among these ten states, two are ‘faux’ swing states: usually Democratic New Mexico which voted for Republican George W. Bush in 2004 and usually Republican Indiana which voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008. Both states are expected to go back to their usual voting pattern in 2016.
Assuming that these 42 states will vote this time the way they always have, Hillary Clinton can count on 19 “safe” and “likely” states plus the District of Columbia with combined 247 electoral votes, while Donald Trump has 23 states in his column with combined 191 electoral votes.
That gives Clinton a considerable advantage; for to get to 270, she would only need 23 electoral votes in addition to her 247 “safe” and “likely” votes already in her bag. Trump, on the other hand, would need 79 in addition to his 191.
Consequently, it all boils down to the remaining eight battleground states with a combined 100 electoral votes where the election will be decided: Colorado (9 electoral votes), Florida (29), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18) and Virginia (13).
With the exception of North Carolina, all of these battleground states were won by President Barack Obama in 2012. He carried North Carolina in 2008, though.
Who is winning the battleground states?
If one took the results of the 2012 presidential election as a baseline, Hillary Clinton starts off in a much stronger position than Trump.
For of the 26 states and the District of Columbia that President Obama won in the 2012 presidential elections, Clinton can afford to lose a few battleground states and still reach the necessary 270 electoral votes. Translated into electoral votes, it means that of the 332 electoral votes that Obama won four years ago, Clinton can afford to lose 62 and still win the presidency.
Here is her minimalist example: Needing 23 additional electoral votes, Clinton would win the presidency by carrying Nevada (6) + New Hampshire (4) + Virginia (13) – in which case she could even afford to lose Florida and Ohio.
As for Trump, without winning new states he cannot afford to lose any of the 24 states nor any of the 206 electoral votes that Mitt Romney won in 2012. In fact, he will need to win all of the states that Romney won along with Florida, Virginia, Ohio plus one other state: 206 + 29 + 13 + 18 + New Hampshire (4) = 270.
Recent polling from battleground states shows how narrow Trump’s path to victory has become. In must-win Virginia, he has fallen so far behind that the Clinton campaign has stopped advertising in that state. Colorado seems to be out of reach for him, as well.
Although Clinton’s lead in Florida and Ohio is smaller, Trump is still facing an uphill battle, especially in Florida where he needs to bring on board a big chunk of Latinos, who are mostly hostile to him.
His campaign therefore seems to be focusing on some of the much whiter industrial states in the upper Midwest like Pennsylvania and Michigan (where Clinton suffered an upset loss against Bernie Sanders in the primary). Trump believes he has a shot there, although both states have consistently voted for Democratic candidates since 1992.
So, from purely structural and mathematical standpoints, the fundamentals of the 2016 presidential race favour Clinton to become the next US President.
After the near-ties of the 2000 and 2004 elections, Obama ushered in this new era. He won 365 electoral votes in his sweeping 2008 victory and, perhaps even more surprisingly, 332 electoral votes in the 2012 election, which was regarded by many neutral observers as something close to a tossup going into Election Day.
“One of the reasons why the electoral map tilts in favor of Clinton (or any Democratic presidential candidate for that matter) is the development of key demographic groups and especially the ongoing shrinking of the white electorate, essentially the core Republican base.
Whites were around 90 percent of the electorate in 1972 when Republican Richard Nixon was re-elected and 72 percent in 2012. That means that the white share of the electorate has declined by two percentage points in each recent election – a trend that continues to this day.
Romney’s share of the white vote in 2012 was 59 percent, higher than Ronald Reagan’s in 1980 (56 percent). Yet, that was not enough to carry Romney to the White House, as his abysmal showing with minorities (15 percent to Obama’s 85 percent) negatively offset his strong showing with whites.
Bottom line: Trump, whose polling numbers among minorities are worse than Romney’s, still has a long way to go – and it will likely take him nowhere.”