A quick look at the electoral map

We’re blogging one poll after another with little context beyond “this looks grim,” so let’s step back and make sure we’re not missing the forest for the trees. Here’s the state of play today via RCP, which is tracking polls in all 50 states.


As it stands here, Clinton has 256 electoral votes leaning her way. All she’d need is another 14 off the board from the gray toss-ups to become the favorite in enough states to give her the presidency. Florida, Georgia, Ohio, or Michigan alone would do it.

But the map is actually lowballing Clinton’s chances at this particular moment. That’s because it’s based on polling averages. Averages are almost always more reliable than any individual poll is, but a major intervening event can complicate that. For instance, Obama and McCain were neck and neck a few weeks before the financial crisis in 2008. A few weeks later, Obama led comfortably. If you averaged the before and after polls, you’d find a modest lead for Obama — but that modest lead wasn’t representative of where the race actually stood in October because it didn’t reflect that something important had happened in the middle of it. In reality Obama was pulling away, and later polls confirmed it. Arguably you have the same thing happening right now with Clinton. The 1-2 punch of a successful Democratic convention and Trump’s headache with the Khans wasn’t a gamechanger the way the financial crisis was, but Clinton has shot out to a sizable lead in many polls this month in the aftermath of those two events. That being so, it’s worth paying special attention to the most recent polls in states that are merely “leaning” blue. Are they leaning because the race is consistently close, even in the latest polls? Or are they tilting because they used to be close and now Clinton has leaped ahead, with the average of those two sets of polls suggesting a tighter race than really exists?

Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight points to the latest poll out of New Hampshire as proof that Clinton might be pulling away there. That poll, from Vox Populi, has it Clinton 41, Trump 31(!!), Johnson 11 in a three-way race. She’s up double digits. The only other post-convention poll of New Hampshire also had Clinton out to a giant lead, 47/32 in a four-way race. Before the conventions, her lead was much tighter at 2-5 points. The RCP average (which hasn’t yet incorporated the new Vox Populi numbers) thus has Clinton ahead by seven points, which is a nice lead but doesn’t reflect how strong the most recent polling is. It may be that New Hampshire is no longer the “leaner” it appears to be on the map but is, unless and until something changes, effectively in the bag for Hillary.

More ominous for Trump is that the same thing is happening right now in … Michigan, which is listed as a toss-up on the map. In the last three polls before the conventions, Clinton led by three, five, and six points. Not great for Trump, but doable. In the two post-convention polls there, though, she leads by nine and 10 points. That’s blowout territory. Averaging them all together (plus another one from earlier in July), you get a solid but surmountable lead of 6.6 points. Averaging the two post-convention polls, you get 9.5. Solid blue. And if Michigan is off the board, that’s 272 electoral votes for Hillary. That’s ballgame. Worse still, several of the “lean” states listed on the map were never really leaners to begin with. Clinton’s obviously going to win New Jersey, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon. Colorado and Virginia used to be purple states but the last polls in each state show a double-digit lead for Hillary. Wisconsin might have been in play with a different Republican nominee but, well, you know the story there now. Realistically, the only bluish states here that seem even theoretically amenable to flipping are Maine and Pennsylvania. And the Pennsylvania polling lately has been gruesome.

If he can’t claw Pennsylvania back from Hillary and if, as expected, Michigan is a goner, then his only path is to win every toss-up on the board here — every single one — and claw Maine back. That would produce a 269-269 tie with the House set to decide, unless Trump also picks off a single electoral vote in Maine’s Fourth District or Nebraska’s Second. That gets him to 270. Obviously, though, the odds of him pulling off that sort of inside straight if he’s losing badly in battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and New Hampshire are minuscule. Something has to change dramatically to shake loose some of these states. A boring race to Election Day means a blowout.

By the way, per YouGov, 55 percent of Republicans still believed yesterday that Trump will win either narrowly or in a landslide.