I argued in a previous blog post that the election was as good as over because the path to victory for Trump made it extremely unlikely that he could win. Since then, the polls have narrowed, but the fundamental logic of what I argued hasn’t changed. In order to win, Hillary needs to win all of the states currently leaning towards the Democrats plus one swing state. She is currently clearly ahead in states that would give her 268 electoral votes, which is just two electoral votes short of victory.
For Trump, the path to victory is much more difficult, because he needs to hang on to all of the states leaning to the Republicans and he then needs to win in all of the states currently regarded as toss-ups. This would give him 272 electoral college votes, with a win in New Hampshire pushing him over the top.
According to Nate Silver, the reason for the high degree of uncertainty in his model is that 13% of the US electorate are currently undecided, compared to just 3% in 2012, which means that if these undecideds break unevenly for Trump he could still secure a narrow electoral college victory. There is also the possibility that something is systematically wrong in the polling, such as the existence of ‘shy Trump’ voters, who won’t admit to voting for Trump to pollsters, but will vote for him anyway on election day.
Some very good news for Clinton is that early voting data in Nevada shows her outperforming her polls, which means that we have solid evidence that Clinton is beating expectations in this key battle-ground state. If this state falls into the Clinton column, this would mean that Trump would have to win in one of Clinton’s ‘firewall’ states (e.g. Colorado, Pennsylvania) to secure an electoral college victory; a very difficult task! There is also some early polling data in from North Carolina, showing Clinton ahead in another ‘must win’ state for Trump, and early voting in Florida also shows Clinton ahead, but not by as much Obama was at this point in 2012.
If you are stopping up to watch the election in the UK and you are rooting for a Clinton victory the earliest indication will be in states like Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Ohio. If Trump loses any of these states his path to victory becomes much more difficult and you can probably head to bed. If he wins in all of these states it’s going to be a long night, because this election will then depend upon results that come in much later, with a victory for Clinton in Nevada becoming critical for her to hold on to a slim electoral college victory.
Early voting will also give a strong indication of whether we are heading for a major upset for Clinton. If Trump wins in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota or Michigan we will be heading towards the most unlikely election night in American history and it will be time to pour yourself a stiff drink. In this very unlikely scenario, something has gone badly wrong with the polling and Trump is heading for a convincing victory over Clinton.
As I said previously, whatever happens in this election, the fact that Trump can come this close to the presidency is a sad indictment of the polarisation of American politics. As indicated below, American politics is now increasingly divided between the right and left, with many people surrounding themselves in a social media ‘echo chamber’ where they never interact with those with the opposite view.
The task for Clinton, if and when she wins, will be to unite the nation around the centre ground of politics, healing the divisions thrown up by this bitterly divisive election. The sad fact is that, in the current political climate, this task may be next to impossible.