2016 Electoral Math -- Clinton Continues Her Rise

I have to begin today with a rather large caveat: nothing in this article deals with what has happened since Friday. Polling always lags reality, meaning that the effect of the Billy Bush/Donald Trump tape and the second debate are not reflected in today's data one tiny bit. That'll all show up in the next week, so you'll just have to check back next Monday to see how all of it turns out. For now, we're dealing with what happened before that tape hit the airwaves last Friday afternoon -- which largely consisted of the public's reaction to Donald Trump's tax returns being leaked (showing an almost $1 billion loss in a single year). So just to be crystal clear: nothing in this article will reflect the reaction to the Bush/Trump tape, or last night's debate.

Even with that big caveat, Hillary Clinton had another good week in the polls. In fact, almost all the news was good news for Clinton and bad news for Donald Trump. Clinton continued to ride the wave from the first debate, and this week shows the public's reaction to Trump's tax returns being leaked, showing an almost-billion-dollar loss in a single year (so much for the "I'm a great businessman" thing...). Trump is defiant about not paying any federal income taxes for almost two decades, which certainly didn't help him any with public opinion.

Let's take a look at our first chart, which shows how the candidates would do in overall Electoral Votes (EV), if the election were held today and the polls were all correct. Hillary (blue) starts from the bottom, and Trump (red) starts from the top. The white gaps are states which are perfectly tied. Whichever candidate crosses the middle line has enough Electoral College votes to win.

[Click on any of theses images to see larger-scale versions.]

Hillary Clinton has almost completely regained the lead she held in mid-August. Percentage-wise, Clinton now holds 65 percent of the Electoral College, to Trump's 35 percent. This is up from last week's 60/40 split, and is very close to a whopping 2-to-1 advantage for Clinton in the Electoral College.

For the second week in a row, Clinton held onto every state she had last week, and flipped two more states into her column: Arizona and Ohio. The momentum she saw last week continued, to put it another way. I should mention that Ohio moved around quite a bit this week (more on this in a moment), but in terms of this particular chart, Ohio spent a single day being tied, which is why there's that small patch of white between the candidates.

Things look even better for Clinton when you dive down into each candidate's relative strength in the states they currently hold, as well. Let's take a look at Trump's chart first, to see this movement. As always, the categories used are from the same Electoral-Vote.com site I use to get all my raw data.

[Definition of terms: "Strong" means 10 percent or better in the polls,

"Weak" means five percent or better, and "Barely" is under five percent.]

Donald Trump actually began this period with a little good news, but this didn't last long. By the end of the week, he was starting to see states flip over to Hillary Clinton.

Ohio is running polls almost constantly, at this point. Trump got one good poll early in the week which moved Ohio from Barely Trump to Weak Trump, which was a shot in the arm for him. But a few days later, Ohio fell back to Barely Trump and then over the weekend moved all the way to Barely Clinton. Since Ohio has 18 EV, this was very noticeable in the graph. Trump also lost Arizona to Clinton, which is the other step down his overall numbers took (Arizona only has 11 EV, so this wasn't as pronounced as the Ohio shift). To recap: the only good news Trump got this week turned into bad news for him in the end.

Overall, Trump did stay remarkably stable in both his Strong and Weak categories. Strong Trump started at 87 EV and didn't budge an inch all week long. Weak Trump started at 78 EV, briefly rose to 96 EV with the addition of Ohio, but then fell back to the same 78 EV it started with. So the silver lining (flimsy though it may be) for Trump was that he halted the slide in his base states. He didn't improve here, mind you, but he didn't lose any ground either.

The Barely Trump category saw a lot more movement. Trump started with 50 EV in Barely, which fell to 32 EV and then returned to 50 EV when Ohio briefly firmed up for him. But then Trump lost Arizona and Ohio entirely, leaving him with only 21 EV at the end. That's a loss of 29 EV, which Trump can't really afford to lose at this point in the race.

Overall, Trump started the week with a total of 215 EV, which fell to only 186 EV. That's the lowest he's been since August 22, to put this in perspective. Trump is now only 22 EV above his lowest point ever, to put it in even more perspective. And that's all before last Friday's revelations, I remind everyone.

Of course, the number I keep the closest track of is "Strong Plus Weak" because this shows the states a candidate can truly count on when people vote -- states where they're up by five points or better in the polls. Trump's Strong Plus Weak number started at 165 EV, rose briefly with the addition of Ohio to 183 EV, but then fell back to the same 165 EV he started the week with. So the week didn't hurt Trump with his base, but he also failed to expand this base at all.

OK, enough of Trump -- let's take a look at Hillary Clinton's chart, which is much more positive this week.

Hillary Clinton has now almost completely recovered from the polling dip she experienced at the end of September. Clinton saw nine states shift around this week, and of these only two weren't good news. Both New Hampshire and Wisconsin tightened up with new polls, and fell back from Weak Clinton to only Barely Clinton. But the good news from the other seven states more than made up for this.

Three states made the opposite shift, firming up from Barely Clinton to Weak Clinton. Colorado, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania all made this shift, and while Colorado and New Mexico are good news, the best news for Clinton fans is seeing Pennsylvania moving to the point where few are even calling it a battleground state anymore. This is important, because Trump's supposed path to victory was supposed to start by flipping Pennsylvania. This now looks increasingly unlikely to happen.

Within the states Clinton already had, she got even better news from two other states. Washington state moved from Weak Clinton back to Strong Clinton (where it should have been, all along), but the biggest news was Rhode Island moving all the way from Barely Clinton to Strong Clinton. Both of these are states that have (historically) consistently voted Democratic, so neither was any big surprise, but it is nice to see stronger polling numbers in both of them.

But the best news for Clinton was flipping both Arizona and Ohio from Barely Trump to Barely Clinton. To be sure, neither one is exactly a lock for Clinton at this point, and either or both could flip back just as easily with another round of polling. While Ohio is the perennial battleground state, it is indeed remarkable that Arizona is even in play for Democrats. Of the last six presidential elections, Arizona has only voted Democratic once (for Bill Clinton in 1996), so it would be nothing short of astonishing to see Clinton win the state.

Overall, Clinton had a great week, rising from a total of 323 EV to hit an impressive 352 EV by the end of the week. This puts her right back in the territory she occupied in mid-August, and only 16 EV shy of her best-ever showing.

Breaking things down by category, Clinton improved her Strong numbers with the addition of Rhode Island and Washington state, moving from 152 EV up to 168 EV. This number still has a long way to go before it regains the strength Clinton showed in August, however, but at least it is now moving in the right direction -- up 36 EV from her low point a few weeks ago.

In the Weak category, Clinton began by rising from 79 EV up to 113 EV, with the addition of Colorado and New Mexico. This fell back by week's end to only 87 EV, with some of the losses moving up to Strong and some down to Barely.

By the numbers, Clinton's Barely didn't change much, but there was a lot of reshuffling. Clinton started with 92 EV in the Barely category, slipped back to 58 EV but then rose at the end (with Ohio's 18 EV) to finish at 97 EV -- five more than she started with.

The really good news for Clinton came in the Strong Plus Weak category, though. Clinton added four states to her total here (Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island) and only lost two (New Hampshire and Wisconsin). This meant adding 38 EV while subtracting 14 EV, for an overall gain of 24 EV. Clinton started the period with 231 EV in Strong Plus Weak, rose to 265 EV, but then fell back at the very end (with the loss of Wisconsin to Barely), to 255 EV. This puts her only 15 EV away from victory, in Strong Plus Weak alone. That is rather impressive, although still off from August's highs (she hit 320 EV for almost a week here, in late August).

Let's put this into historical perspective with our occasional chart which tracks how Hillary Clinton is doing in Strong Plus Weak measured against how Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. As you can easily see, the positions are comparable.

Clinton's Strong Plus Weak ratings have bounced around more than Obama saw in either of his campaigns, and Clinton's highest point has already topped Obama's high in 2008. Clinton's low also never sank to where Obama dipped to in 2008 as well. What's interesting is that Obama's 2008 recovery is so far close to matching Clinton's recovery this year. A few days ago, they were almost a perfect match. Clinton was at 265 EV (until today), while Obama was at 264 EV in 2008, and 257 EV in 2012. The reason I decided to run this chart again is that this was the point where Obama's trendlines diverged, rising in 2008 to an easy win, but falling in 2012 to a much closer victory over Mitt Romney. Will Clinton follow one of these paths, or one somewhere in between? Well, considering what happened Friday, the safer bet would probably be that Clinton follows Obama's 2008 rise for the next week or so.

 

My Picks

Moving right along, let's get away from pure polling analysis and add in gut feelings, for how I now see the race. Here is my new map of how I'm rating all the states, broken down into Safe, Probable, and Lean for both candidates, as well as Too Close To Call for those where I have no firm idea which way the wind is currently blowing. So here's my map for this week, courtesy (as always) of the folks at 270toWin, where you can make a map of your own picks, if you feel so inclined.

 

Likely States -- Clinton

Safe Clinton (15 states, 192 EV)

Clinton added one state to her Safe category this week, as Rhode Island moves up from Probable Clinton. Rhode Island is one of those states that isn't polled all that much, meaning one outlier poll can throw things off much more than, say, Ohio or Florida. There was one poll showing Rhode Island much closer than it likely actually is, a few weeks ago, but recent polling has put Hillary back with a comfortable lead.

Probable Clinton (7 states, 76 EV)

There was a goodly amount of activity in the Probable Clinton category, but most of it was good news for Clinton. Rhode Island moved up to Safe Clinton, and (the only bad news) New Hampshire moved down to just Leans Clinton. These two states were replaced by both Colorado and Pennsylvania moving up to Probable from Leans Clinton. In both Colorado and Pennsylvania, Hillary's poll numbers are getting noticeably better, and her lead is widening, so they have to be seen as stronger than just Leans at this point.

 

Likely States -- Trump

Safe Trump (16 states, 93 EV)

Trump lost one state here this week, as I had to move Indiana down to just Probable Trump. This was largely a gut-feelings move, since the polling hasn't really shifted at all. But Trump has never held an insurmountable lead in the Hoosier State, and what with all the turmoil it could conceivably come into play in the next few weeks. So, for now, Indiana moves down.

Probable Trump (5 states, 78 EV)

Other than Indiana moving down here, the rest of the Probable Trump category stayed the same this week. So far (and remember, this is before last Friday's bombshell and before the debate), Trump seems to be doing a fairly good job of holding onto his core states. The problem for him is, they don't add up to anywhere near what he needs to win.

 

Tossup States

Leans Clinton (2 states, 22 EV)

As happened last week, this category completely changed, as both states previously in Leans Clinton moved up to Probable Clinton, to be replaced by one state moving down from Probable Clinton (New Hampshire), and one state moving up from Too Close To Call (Ohio). Both of these moves are debatable, of course. New Hampshire saw one weak poll for Clinton -- she's still leading, but not by much. If it's an outlier and a future poll shows a bigger lead for her, then it could move right back up to Probable Clinton, but for now it has to be considered only a Leans Clinton state. Ohio is even more debatable, since it has been very close for quite some time now, and Trump had been leading in the polls up until very recently. Call this one a gut-feelings move if you will, but I feel that the momentum in Ohio has shifted in Hillary's favor. I could be wrong and it could move right back down to Too Close To Call, but for now I'm considering it a Leans Clinton state.

Leans Trump (2 states plus one district, 16 EV)

Trump had a more stable time of it in the Leans Trump category, losing one state but seeing the others stay put. Arizona moved down to Too Close To Call, as a recent poll showed Clinton taking the lead there. Iowa and South Carolina stayed Leans Trump, as did the Maine district (with a single EV) where Trump still probably has an edge.

Too Close To Call (4 states, 61 EV)

We've got four states in Too Close To Call, but they're not the same four as last week. Ohio moved up to Leans Clinton, and Arizona moved down from Leans Trump to replace it. The other three states (Florida, Nevada, North Carolina) remained complete tossups, though. Florida may be stuck here for weeks, because accurate polling may take some time to happen as the state's east coast recovers from the hurricane (making accurate polling difficult if not impossible, since many people have other things to do right now than answer pollsters' calls). Nevada and North Carolina both might be considered Leans Clinton, as she's been leading for a while, but her lead is still razor-thin in both places, so I've decided to keep them here for now.

 

Final Tally

Hillary Clinton continued to improve in the aftermath of the first debate, adding one state to her total Likely Clinton states (Safe and Probable combined), putting 22 states in her pocket for Election Day. While adding one state isn't that impressive, her rise in the Electoral College count was more so, as she moved up from 243 EV here last week to 268 EV this week -- a gain of 25 EV in a single week. This puts her only 2 EV short of winning, without even counting any of her Leans Clinton states or the true tossups. Clinton only has to add one state (any state) to her Likely Clinton totals to put her over the top, and put this election out of reach for Donald Trump. That's a pretty good place to be, one month out from the voting.

Donald Trump didn't lose any states from his Likely column, which is about the best news he could have hoped for, at this point. He still has the same 21 states here, with the same total of 171 EV between them. Once again, this leaves him a whopping 99 EV shy of victory.

The gap between the two candidates grew larger this week in the EV count. Last week, Clinton was ahead by 72 EV in the Likely states category, but this week, she's jumped ahead to a 97 EV lead over Trump.

Only eight states can be considered tossups this week, down one state from last week. Clinton has two states in her Leans column, for a total of 22 EV. Even if she just wins New Hampshire's 4 EV (and all her Likely states), she will be over the 270 EV mark, and she will be our next president. If she wins both her Leans states, she'll be at 290 EV without any of the Too Close To Call states at all. This is a much better place for her to be than last week, when she would have needed both her Leans states to win.

Trump has only two states leaning in his direction this week (plus that single district in Maine). This only adds up to 16 EV, down from 27 EV here last week. Adding together Trump's Likely states and his leaners only gives him 187 EV, down 11 EV from last week. This means not only would he have to win all the Too Close To Call states, he would also have to wrest both New Hampshire and Ohio from Clinton to win. That's a pretty steep hill to climb, to put it mildly.

Four states are too close to accurately make any predictions at all. Clinton is actually polling ahead in all four states (Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina) right now, but by very small margins. Any of these states could flip back to Trump at any moment, in other words. Due to the double-digit nature of three of these states, they add up to a substantial 61 EV between them.

I would remind everyone once again that this is a snapshot in time taken before last Friday's news hit and also before the second debate. Call it a benchmark to measure next week's polls against. But even before the fallout hits from the Billy Bush bombshell videotape, Hillary Clinton is getting very close to clinching the entire race. All she needs from the eight states that are still close is a paltry 2 EV to win. She's got many paths to get there (eight, in fact).

With one month to go, Hillary Clinton is on the brink of putting the race away. This is not unprecedented -- Barack Obama managed the same feat this far out from the election in 2008. Trump would have to mount the biggest comeback in political history to even have a shot at winning, at this point. And that's before the polls start reflecting that leaked video. Next week is certainly going to be fun for poll-watchers everywhere, that is absolutely certain.

 

[Electoral Vote Data:]

(State electoral votes are in parenthesis following each state's name. Washington D.C. is counted as a state, for a total of 51.)

Hillary Clinton Likely Easy Wins -- 22 States -- 268 Electoral Votes:

Safe States -- 15 States -- 192 Electoral Votes

California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (14), New York (29), Oregon (7), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington (12), Washington D.C. (3)

Probable States -- 7 States -- 76 Electoral Votes

Colorado (9), Maine (3), Michigan (16), New Mexico (5), Pennsylvania (20), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10)

 

Donald Trump Likely Easy Wins -- 21 States -- 171 Electoral Votes:

Safe States -- 16 States -- 93 Electoral Votes

Alabama (9), Arkansas (6), Idaho (4), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), Montana (3), Nebraska (5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Utah (6), West Virginia (5), Wyoming (3)

Probable States -- 5 States -- 78 Electoral Votes

Alaska (3), Georgia (16), Indiana (11), Missouri (10), Texas (38)

 

Tossup States -- 8 States -- 99 Electoral Votes:

Tossup States Leaning Clinton -- 2 States -- 22 Electoral Votes

New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18)

Tossup States Leaning Trump -- 2 States (plus one district) -- 16 Electoral Votes

Iowa (6), Maine (1), South Carolina (9)

Too Close To Call -- 4 States -- 61 Electoral Votes

Arizona (11), Florida (29), Nevada (6), North Carolina (15)

 

Polling data weaknesses:

Unlike in 2008 and 2012, polling data does now exist for all 51 states (adding in Washington D.C.). The following is a list of states where the polling data is rather suspect, since the only polls which have been conducted were all conducted only on the internet. This list shrank by three states this week, leaving only eight states without accurate, recent polling.

Internet-only polling, with dates last polled -- 8 States

Alabama (9/1), Hawaii (9/1), Kentucky (9/1), Mississippi (9/1), Montana (9/1), South Dakota (9/1), Washington D.C. (5/31), West Virginia (9/1)

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2016 election, 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump, Electoral College, Electoral Votes, graph, Hillary Clinton, president obama, state polls