Hillary Clinton would have a significant electoral advantage over Donald Trump in the general election, based on an NPR analysis.
The Democratic former secretary of state would start out with already exactly enough electoral votes to win the presidency, 270-191, based on states considered safe, likely and to lean toward either candidate. The ratings, which will be updated at least monthly until Election Day, are based on fundamentals — historical trends and demographics, plus reporting and polling (both public and private).
But there is also the potential that this fall’s presidential battlegrounds could be re-sorted — pitting white, working-class voters, whom Trump is appealing to, against Latino voters, who appear to be in Clinton’s corner. Traditional ways of thinking about the map should and will be challenged. So in addition to our current ratings, we also explore several possibilities and scenarios, including Trump’s potential path and even two potential ties, based on Trump doing well in the Upper Midwest and Clinton racking up wins in competitive states where the Latino vote is important.
First, the May NPR general-election ratings:
Safe D (164): California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine* (3 electoral votes), Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, D.C., Washington state
Likely D (37): Maine (1 EV), Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon
Lean D (69): Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin
Pure Tossup (77): Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio
Lean R (11): Arizona
Likely R (44): Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska* (1 EV), Utah
Safe R (136): Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska (4 EVs), North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wyoming
*Nebraska and Maine allocate their electoral votes by congressional district — 3 in Maine and 4 in Nebraska are considered safe for Democrats and Republicans, respectively; 1 each could potentially be in play. Barack Obama won 1 delegate out of Nebraska (Omaha) in 2008.
Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio are considered pure tossups at this point, according to the analysis. So even if Trump, who is the de facto Republican nominee, were able to get all of those, he would still come up short.
Based strictly on polling, it’s a Clinton landslide
Considering strictly who is leading in public surveys, as curated by the website RealClearPolitics, Clinton would be ahead by a landslide 332-206.
But that includes states where polling is within the margin of error. And, at this point, polling is almost irrelevant. The cases have not been litigated yet; the campaigns have not been waged; neither candidate has even officially crossed the magic number to win their respective primaries yet.
Bottom line: There is a lot of time to go.
(One note about Colorado: The only poll in the RCP average of the state is one Quinnipiac poll from November showing Trump up 11. That’s hardly a good indicator of what will happen this upcoming November, but for the sake of having something to go on, it’s why we put Colorado red. For a more up-to-date primer on the state of play in Colorado with on-the-ground reporting, check out Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus’ report here. It notes how the gender gap may be the biggest hurdle for Trump in Colorado.)
The Democratic head start
Clinton 164-136 (safe)
Clinton 201-180 (safe + likely)
Democrats start out with an electoral edge because of demography, especially growing Latino populations in key states, as well as Democrats’ clustering in big cities in big states, like California, New York and Illinois.
Republicans, on the other hand, have seen their greatest appeal in the South and rural areas of the West and Midwest. Their biggest electoral vote state is Texas.
So looking at just the seats considered “safe,” Clinton — or any Democrat — would start with a 164-136 advantage.
Adding in the “likely” states, Democrats still lead 201-180.
Can Trump win New York?
Donald Trump would argue that he can pick off some of these traditionally safe and likely Democratic states, notably his home state of New York, as well as bordering New Jersey, where Trump-backer Chris Christie is governor. But there’s just no evidence of that yet. Here’s why:
— Trump may have won the New York primary, but the Republican primary was 91 percent white, according to exit polls. In the 2012 general election, it was only 67 percent white. (New Jersey’s primary comes up June 7, and Trump will probably win it. But it, too, is far more diverse in a general election than in a GOP primary.)
— Neither state has gone Republican in almost 30 years.
— And Barack Obama won them both twice: New York by at least 28 points; New Jersey by at least 15.
Because of Christie and because of Trump’s proximity, we move New Jersey to “likely” instead of “safe.” But more would need to happen to move either into a “lean” category. And if polling does show them coming into play, it means other, more potentially reachable states have also likely moved in Trump’s favor.
Explaining the “lean” (and not “lean”) states
It’s tempting to be safe and put the usual suspects in the tossup column. Significant resources will be spent in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia. Those are places where the fight will be waged.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re tossups. It also doesn’t mean Republicans can’t win there, but Clinton starts with an edge, because of history in some places and demography in others.
Obama won all of these states twice. He won them by an average of 6 points in 2012 and 10 in 2008. Pennsylvania and Michigan haven’t gone Republican since 1988, Wisconsin since 1984 (although it was the closest state in 2004).
Nevada, Virginia and New Hampshire had all once been swing states — George W. Bush won all three in 2000, but John Kerry won Nevada and New Hampshire. And Obama won all of them. Nevada and Virginia, in particular, have shifted more Democratic because of demography — Hispanics in Nevada, and in Virginia, Hispanics as well as Asians and exurban growth.
What about … ?
Arizona: On the Republican side, the only lean state is Arizona. The state has gone Republican for the past 20 years — and arguably Bill Clinton only won it because Ross Perot pulled votes from George H.W. Bush. But the state has a significant percentage of Hispanic voters. It’s something that has sitting Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, concerned that with Trump at the top of the ticket, it could fire up Latinos and get more out to the polls. Even though the state is 30 percent Hispanic, that group made up just 18 percent of the electorate in 2012.
Georgia: Another state to watch. Its demography has become much more nonwhite, and Republicans won it by only 5 and 8 points in 2008 and 2012, respectively. One poll showed a Trump-Clinton race a dead heat, but given its presidential and down-ballot history, we are leaving it as “likely” GOP until there’s more hard evidence.
Utah: Though one poll in March ahead of the GOP primary showed Clinton winning by 2 points, we put that in likely for Trump, because (a) Utah has a long history of voting Republican (it hasn’t gone Democratic since 1964), and (b) there was a very high number of undecided voters. In other words, no one was near 50 percent, and a Republican is far more likely to get there.
Florida: You could argue that the Sunshine State is at least a finger on the scale for Democrats given its rapidly changing demography. The poll average has Clinton with a 5-point lead — and better ones in the average have it high-single digits. That all makes you think. But, for now, we leave it a tossup, given its history. In addition to the tight races in 2000 and 2004, Obama won it by only 2 points in 2008 and less than 1 point in 2012.
White, working class versus Latinos
The real sorting, though, will be between white, working-class voters and Latinos. Which group is more motivated could determine the election.
Republicans start at a demographic disadvantage in 2016 and have been at one for the past couple of election cycles, in large measure because the face of America is changing. It’s especially getting more Hispanic and Asian. Latinos, in particular, have affected American politics in profound ways, and they are still underrepresented at the polls.
Pollsters project that the share of the white vote will be its lowest in history, being at or possibly even dipping below 70 percent for the first time. That gives Democrats a significant advantage in key states like Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. It also could put in play places like Arizona and Georgia. Democrats hope one day that will mean Texas, too, which is already majority minority. But there are more Latino Republicans in Texas than anywhere in the country.
Plus, in the Midwest, an area Trump has to likely do well in if he hopes to win, the population has decreased, and voters, especially white ones affected directly by trade, have gotten older.
Trump’s path — the trade winds
This path is dependent on Trump being able to use his populist, protectionist and anti-globalization rhetoric to fire up white, working-class voters affected by outsourcing in the Rust Belt and Upper Midwest. Trump believes he can do that with an anti-free trade message, especially against the wife of the president who signed the North American Free Trade Agreement.
To do it: He would have to win all the “likely” and “safe” Republican states, then sweep Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), Wisconsin (10) and Iowa (6). That would mean he could lose Iowa, Virginia, Florida and Colorado and still get to 270.
It also means he could trade Florida for Pennsylvania and win, too, by a wider margin, 285-253.
Of course, this is also dependent on Trump being able to maintain Arizona and even North Carolina and Iowa, which have seen Latino growth.
There are at least two different 269-269 ties that we could come up with through Trump’s “trade winds” route. They both, of course, depend on Florida. If there is a tie, it goes to the House, which is controlled by Republicans. (Here’s an explanation.)