Welcome to the final Electoral Math column of the 2016 election season. After a very quick rundown of the past week's polling activity, I'm going to dispense with my usual hedging and just go ahead and call every state for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
As with all my political prognostication columns, I always admit my own record up front, so you can see my past performance. While my record for picking primary winners is only fair-to-middling, my record at picking states in presidential elections is a lot better. In 2008, I only called two states wrong, as I was so overly optimistic that Barack Obama was heading for a historic landslide that I rashly predicted he'd win Georgia and Missouri. Missouri did wind up being incredibly close, but John McCain won Georgia by a full five points. I also failed to predict that Nebraska would split its Electoral College vote, with one out of their five votes going to Obama. Counting Washington D.C. as a state, my 2008 record was 48.8 for 51 contests. In 2012, however, I correctly predicted every state, for a perfect score of 51 for 51. Now, I seriously doubt I'm going to do that well this year, because it's been such a wild and wacky race all around. Meaning there are sure to be surprises at the very end, as well.
But we'll get to all of that in a minute. First, let's take a final look at the graphs where we've been charting both candidates' performance over time. I'm going to keep the commentary on the graphs to a minimum for this final column, as I'm really just providing them for completeness' sake. After a quick run-through of the final charts, I'll get to naming my picks for each candidate and my final map of the 2016 election.
Here is the overall total count of Electoral Votes (EV) for both candidates.
[Click on any of theses images to see larger-scale versions.]
If all the polls are all accurate, Hillary Clinton will win 317 EV, or 59 percent of the total. Donald Trump will win only 221, or 41 percent. Here are the final breakdowns of both candidates' detailed charts, beginning with Trump.
[Definition of terms: "Strong" means 10 percent or better in the polls,
"Weak" means five percent or better, and "Barely" is under five percent.
"Weak" means five percent or better, and "Barely" is under five percent.]
Here's how Hillary Clinton stands in the polls, as she heads into Election Day.
There was a lot of last-minute movement in the polling, and it was almost all in Trump's direction. Two states (Georgia, Virginia) wobbled but then wobbled back to where they started. But Trump got good news in a whopping ten states in the final week, and bad news in only one.
Mississippi and Texas both firmed up, moving from Barely Trump to Weak Trump. Four other states (Indiana, Missouri, South Dakota, Utah) moved from Weak Trump to Strong Trump. Trump only saw one state slip in the final week, as what is possibly an outlier poll showed Tennessee weakening from Strong to Weak Trump. But the best news for Trump was flipping two states that had previously been tied (Iowa and Ohio), and flipping two other states all the way from Clinton's column (Nevada, Alaska). That Alaska poll last week which showed a Clinton lead was obviously just an outlier poll to be taken with a grain of salt, but the movement in Nevada is less clear. The state started at Barely Clinton, moved briefly to Barely Trump, then was tied for two days before moving back to Barely Trump today. A mixed picture, at best.
Hillary Clinton not only lost two states to Trump this week, she also saw her standing weaken in three others. New Hampshire went from Weak Clinton to Barely Clinton, and Maine fell from Strong to Weak Clinton. New Mexico wobbled from Weak Clinton to Strong Clinton, then back to Weak before ending at only Barely Clinton. Clinton's one silver lining this week was Oregon, which moved up from Weak to Strong Clinton.
Just for those of you who have been regular readers of this column, here are the final "Strong Plus Weak" charts for both candidates.
Donald Trump saw a surge in strength in the final week, and his Strong Plus Weak number winds up right between where John McCain was in 2008 (with 132 EV) and where Mitt Romney was in 2012 (at 191 EV). Donald Trump heads into Election Day with 161 EV comfortably in his pocket. This is an enormous improvement over the 108 EV he had last Monday, it should be noted.
Hillary Clinton saw her Strong Plus Weak number fall last week, from 264 EV down to 239 EV. However, she too is right between where the race stood in 2008 and 2012 for Obama. Obama entered Election Day in 2008 with 278 EV (more than necessary to win the race), but he only had 217 EV corralled in 2012. Obviously, Obama went on to win both races. Clinton's standing is better than Obama's last time around, so the chances for her doing the same are actually pretty good.
The 2016 campaign season has been the wildest ride I think any of us has ever seen. In the final two weeks, James Comey's letter about the F.B.I.'s investigation into Clinton's emails threw a major-league monkey wrench into the contest. Comey was obviously under a lot of pressure to follow up on his vague announcement, and yesterday afternoon sent a second letter to Congress, which really should have just quoted the immortal Emily Litella: "Never mind."
So we have all kinds of last-minute trends to ponder. After the first bombshell letter, Clinton slipped in the polls, both nationally and at the state level. She was already beginning to show signs of recovering from this by the time the second letter hit, but any event two days before an election is probably going to have only a limited effect on people's actual votes. It may be too little, too late, in other words.
Late-breaking trends can swing whole elections. Wise pollsters pay very close attention to what happens in the final week, but this time around it's hard to know what to think. Will the trend towards Trump truly tip a bunch of battleground states? Or will the trend reverse on the news that Clinton has been cleared by the F.B.I. once again? If so, that will be the final trendline for the campaign, but again the news may have broken too late.
Team Clinton has a clear and dominant advantage over the Trump campaign when it comes to ground game (otherwise known as "GOTV" for "get out the vote"). Clinton knows how to build and effectively operate a political machine, while Trump barely could be bothered putting together any effort at all. This could swing many states as far as three percent, on Election Day -- which could be the margin of victory in almost a dozen states, right now. Or, at least, that's the conventional wisdom. But this race has been anything but conventional, so it remains to be seen how much of an effect the Clinton GOTV effort will have.
Many data wonks are currently obsessing over the early voter returns. This is kind of silly, although understandable. We've all been operating on nothing but public opinion polls, and all of a sudden there are actual numbers of voters to pay attention to! But it's misleading, for a number of reasons. Firstly, nobody has counted these votes yet. So nobody knows if a bunch of registered Democrats are voting for Trump or a bunch of registered Republicans are voting for Hillary -- or maybe both. Also, millions of unaffiliated votes have already been cast, but they are never discussed when the wonks slice and dice "what the early voting returns mean." Since it's impossible to tell who an unaffiliated voter voted for, this mountain of votes is just ignored by the pundits. So you'll forgive me if I am not paying a whole lot of attention to early return data, because I consider it either misleading or irrelevant.
OK, having said all of that, let's just plow right in and start picking states for both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump. Seatbelts buckled? Then here we go!
Safe Clinton States -- 16 States -- 195 Electoral Votes
California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maine (3), 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)
Safe Trump States -- 18 States -- 111 Electoral Votes
Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Idaho (4), Indiana (11), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), Missouri (10), Montana (3), Nebraska (5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), West Virginia (5), Wyoming (3)
I set the bar pretty high for what I consider "safe," at this point. But I doubt any of the above states will even be close tomorrow night, for both candidates. Donald Trump is deluding himself if he thinks Minnesota is in play, and last week's bizarre poll from Alaska just isn't going to reflect reality, as Trump will score an easy win there.
This leaves us with a rather long list of seventeen states which can be considered (or were considered, at one time) to be close or even "battleground" states. I don't agree with all of these designations, but because others have moved some of these into the close column, I thought I'd share my thoughts on all of them. They are roughly in order of how confident my prediction is, from most confident down to least confident. At the end is the map of all of my predictions, and my final Electoral College tally.
Colorado is supposed to be tightening, but somehow I just don't buy it. Hillary Clinton has led pretty consistently in the polls, and I just don't think there will be enough movement at the end toward Trump to flip the state. I think Clinton wins easily here.
New Mexico (5)
I'm even more skeptical of any movement towards Trump in New Mexico. I think Clinton won't have any problems winning New Mexico tomorrow.
Virginia was supposed to be on everyone's battleground list, but it broke early for Clinton -- so much so that her campaign pulled advertising out of the state very early in the race. A few recent polls put the race closer, but I think Virginia is well on its way to becoming a reliably blue state, and I think favorite son Tim Kaine on the ticket sealed the deal for a Clinton win.
South Carolina (9)
South Carolina has been polling surprisingly close -- surprising because it is usually so deep red a state. But even if it's closer than expected, I think Trump will easily win South Carolina.
Texas is a similar story. Clinton had a few very good polls here, but Trump has been leading in virtually all of them. The dream of turning Texas blue animates Democrats every four years, but it will once again be a dream denied as Texas lands solidly in Trump's column.
Utah is a strange race because it may be the best showing of any state for a third-party candidate -- a candidate most people aren't even aware of. Not Gary Johnson, not Jill Stein, but Evan McMullin may actually come in second place here tomorrow night. But no matter whether McMullin beats Clinton or not, Trump is going to win the state overall.
Michigan seems to be on everyone's mind these days, as Trump is showing late-breaking strength here. Michigan was also an upset win for Bernie Sanders in the primary, if you'll remember. But I'm betting Trump's last-minute rise will fall short, and Michigan will remain reliably blue. If Clinton loses Michigan, she may very well be on her way to losing the whole race, but I just don't see that actually happening.
Wisconsin is also showing a late surge towards Trump, and Democrats have certainly been disappointed in Wisconsin voting in past elections (the recall, notably). Still, I doubt Wisconsin will flip to Trump this time around, and I think Clinton will win Wisconsin with roughly the same margin as Michigan.
Georgia, like Texas, is high on the wish list for Democrats. Barack Obama made a play for Georgia in 2008, but was ultimately disappointed. Hillary Clinton never really attempted to flip Georgia in any big way, and I think she was smart to focus her resources elsewhere. It might be close, but Trump will win Georgia tomorrow night.
Iowa was previously pretty reliable a state for Democrats in presidential contests, but Trump has been holding a slim lead in the polls for a very long time. Clinton all but gave up on the state, and I think it'll comfortably go for Trump.
Polling in Nevada has been tight all along, and it has flipped back and forth between the two candidates. Trump saw a lead in a few recent polls here, but this is one state where get out the vote organization is going to carry the day. Harry Reid has built an impressive GOTV machine here, and when you add in the Clinton effort and a very high turnout of Latino voters, I think Clinton will actually win the state pretty easily.
New Hampshire (4)
From here on out, we get to the true coin-toss states. Any of the rest of these could go either way, really. New Hampshire had some very close polls in the last few days of the campaign, but I think Clinton will take it in the end. I'm mostly going on gut feeling on this, I have to admit.
Arizona would have been very nice to see turn blue, but I think Clinton will wind up falling short here. Maybe Democrats will get the consolation prize of seeing Joe Arpaio voted out of office, but I think the state as a whole will go for Trump.
Ohio truly has been neck-and-neck for weeks. Some in the Clinton camp are quietly confident their GOTV efforts here will carry the day with the extra two or three points Clinton needs, but I think Ohio's going to be the biggest disappointment for Clinton tomorrow night, as I think Trump will carry the state with a very small margin. This is the state I would most love to be wrong about, but I think Trump will wind up winning it.
It wouldn't have surprised me if either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton changed their registration and actually voted as Pennsylvania residents. I say this because they've both spent so much time here over the past few weeks. Trump has always tried to chart his path to victory based on flipping Pennsylvania, and he has fought hard to make that a reality. Clinton has lavished attention on the state in defense, and I think she'll actually have a pretty comfortable victory here -- much better than the polls might indicate. Clinton will dominate in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and build up such an edge there that the rest of the state's Trump voters won't be able to catch up. In fact, I bet Pennsylvania is called fairly early tomorrow night, much to Trump's dismay.
Maine's second district (1)
This one is an absolute guess, because there's just not that much polling data available. There are two districts that might go counter to the rest of their state (the other one is in Nebraska), but I'm just going to go ahead and say both of them conform with the rest of their states' votes. Maine will be solid blue tomorrow night, and Nebraska will be solid red.
Finally, we come to the big two. Both of these are absolute guesses, because the vote could really go either way. I'm going to go ahead and believe the indications from Florida that for the first time the Latino vote breaks Democratic in a big way. Normally, Cuban-Americans lean heavily Republican, but the younger generation seems to be breaking with their parents. Even more significant is the addition of thousands of Puerto Ricans to the state, who are already American citizens and can thus easily register to vote. Hillary Clinton has been holding a thin lead in the polls in Florida for the past few weeks, and my guess is that she's going to win the state. Her ground game will be far superior to the Republicans' efforts, the Latino vote will set records, and the Puerto Rican demographic will put Clinton over the top.
North Carolina (15)
Finally, we get to the state I am least sure about. North Carolina could go either way, and neither result would surprise me (to put it another way). Clinton has had an edge in the polls, but it's been a very small edge. Early voting showed disappointing returns among African-American voters, though. Will Trump surge here and snatch North Carolina from Hillary? Or will her ground game turn out a larger-than-expected showing at the polls tomorrow? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm going to go ahead -- very cautiously, and with much trepidation -- and put North Carolina in Clinton's column.
My Electoral College Prediction
When you add all those states up, here's what you get:
Hillary Clinton -- 323 Electoral Votes
Donald Trump -- 215 Electoral Votes
Here are all my state picks mapped out, using only one shade of blue and red for how I think tomorrow night's actual map is going to look:
Disagree with any of my picks? Let me know about it in the comments. I've thrown my darts at the map, and these are my final picks for the 2016 election -- the most bizarre presidential election in my lifetime. Will the results be fairly normal, or just as bizarre as the rest of the race? Well, we'll all find out one way or another tomorrow night. And we'll see you all back here in three and a half years, for our next crack at predicting presidential elections.
Don't forget to get out and vote tomorrow!
Chris Weigant blogs at:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant