There is an excellent chance that when Republicans look back at the 2016 presidential election, this will be the week they'll point to when Donald Trump completely collapsed. This collapse may not be over yet, but it surely began in the wake of not only the disastrous Billy Bush tape but also the continuing stream of women publicly accusing a major party's presidential candidate of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
Now, it is a proven fact that presidential candidates can actually overcome such a phenomenon. Bill Clinton did so, in 1992, with what were called his "bimbo eruptions" (don't look at me -- I didn't coin that term). But it's looking like Trump isn't capable of pulling off a similar feat. For one thing, public attitudes have changed a lot over the past quarter-century. For another, Trump is no Bill Clinton.
We will have the final presidential debate this week, so anything could happen. But for the moment, things are looking awfully good for Hillary Clinton, and absent a masterclass debate performance by Trump, things will quite likely continue to improve for her as well.
So far, all of the movement has been within each candidate's own states, meaning the true impact of the Trump collapse can't be seen in our first chart (it can't really be seen until the third chart, which we created this week just to show the magnitude of how bad things are getting for Trump). In fact, the first chart shows no movement whatsoever in each candidate's total of Electoral Votes (EV). As always, this chart shows what would happen if all the polls were right and the election were held today. Hillary Clinton starts from the bottom in blue, and Trump starts from the top in red. Whichever candidate crosses the center line of 270 Electoral College votes will win.
[Click on any of theses images to see larger-scale versions.]
This chart was the most boring of them all, this week. Absolutely nothing happened -- all Clinton's states stayed Clinton, and all Trump's states stayed Trump. So Trump hasn't completely collapsed (yet) because he's still got a fingerhold on all the states he had last week. However, we haven't actually seen recent polling (after the Billy Bush tape, in other words) from some of these, so states like Iowa and South Carolina may have actually moved already -- but without polling to prove it, they stay were they were for now.
Clinton continues to hold a commanding lead in the overall EV count, with an almost 2-to-1 margin over Trump. Clinton has 65 percent of the Electoral College, to Trump's 35 percent. A historical comparison might help put this in some context. Clinton's current lead is greater now than Barack Obama saw for the entire 2012 campaign against Mitt Romney. Her final three weeks are looking a lot more like Obama's 2008 landslide, in fact. Obama, three weeks out in 2008, held 357 EV. Clinton now holds 352 EV.
But because nothing happened in the overall chart this week, there is little else to say about it, so let's move right along to examining each candidate's relative strength, beginning with Donald Trump. As always, the categories used in these next charts 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 once again had a bad week. All the news for Trump was bad, in fact, and the only shred of good news for him was that no state actually flipped from supporting him to supporting Clinton.
This was the week when the bombshell news from the Billy Bush tape (and the resulting aftermath of a parade of women publicly accusing Trump of sexually assaulting them) began to be reflected in the state-level polls.
Only two states actually weakened for Trump, but one of them is the biggest prize in his column. A Texas poll was released showing Trump up by only four points, which moved the state down from Weak Trump to Barely Trump. Since Texas has a whopping 38 EV, this shows up as a huge spike downwards in the above chart. On the same day, Utah moved down from Strong Trump to Weak Trump, exacerbating the problem. One poll in Utah actually put Trump and Clinton tied at 26 percent of the vote, with Evan McMullin drawing 22 percent. This may be the only poll taken this election cycle which showed four candidates drawing double-digit support (Gary Johnson was at 14 percent), meaning absolutely anything could happen here on Election Day. Mormon voters in the state were already a bit leery of Trump, and Mitt Romney has been a voice against Trump for months.
The next day, Indiana's 11 EV fell from Weak Trump to Barely Trump. What all this movement means is that Trump has to worry about states that should have been in the bag for just about any Republican candidate. Trump did get a respite at the end, as another Utah poll appeared showing him handily winning the state, which moved it back into the Strong category.
Trump's overall total in the chart did not change, but the weakening is pretty obvious. Strong Trump lost 6 EV this week as Utah weakened, leaving Trump with only 81 EV in the category. This is just about half of where he was a month ago (at 161 EV), and represents the lowest Strong Trump point for him yet (his previous low was 84 EV, back in August). But in the end, Utah came back into the fold and Trump ended the week exactly where he began, at 87 EV.
Because Texas is such a big haul, though, Trump really took his worst hit in the Weak category. He began the week with 78 EV in the Weak Trump column, but ended it with only 29 EV. Both Indiana and Texas moved to Barely Trump, which increased the Barely Trump category from 21 EV to 70 EV for the week.
As always, though, I tend to pay the most attention to the "Strong Plus Weak" line on the graph. Because I've been occasionally charting Hillary Clinton's progress in Strong Plus Weak against Barack Obama's two elections, I thought this week would be a good time to take a look at how Donald Trump is doing against Mitt Romney's 2012 run and John McCain's 2008 record. The resulting chart is rather dramatic.
As you can see, before last week, Trump wasn't doing all that bad when measured against Romney and McCain. Trump started off a little weaker than both of them, but roughly matched both in September. Both Romney and McCain got their Strong Plus Weak numbers above 200 EV at their respective high points, but then fell back again to the 150-200 range. Trump briefly fell below this range, but for the rest of the election season has also managed to stay within it. Until last week, that is.
Trump started the week slightly better than where McCain was at a comparable time, holding 165 EV to McCain's 163 EV. Both were below Romney's 181 EV showing, but still within reach. But losing Texas and Indiana meant Trump tumbled to only 116 EV this week, far lower than his previous all-time low point of 139 EV. This is lower than McCain ended up on Election Day (132 EV), and far lower than either Romney or McCain ever saw at any point during the general election.
Trump is in such bad shape that the loss of a few more states from either Strong or Weak down to Barely for him would put him below 100 EV for the Strong Plus Weak metric. To state the obvious, this is not the trendline a candidate wants to see, with only three weeks left to go. To see a trendline that looks like a winner, we have to turn to Hillary Clinton's new chart.
Hillary Clinton may have just put the election away for good. Clinton saw good news this week from four states, and the only state with bad news for her swung back by the end of the week (meaning it was likely just one outlier poll).
To start the week off, Clinton saw better numbers in Wisconsin, which moved it from Barely to Weak. A few days later, Michigan made it into the Strong category, and Maine firmed up to Weak. The outlier poll in Virginia then moved the state down to only Barely Clinton, which was the only negative movement Clinton saw all week long. However, at the end of the week Virginia moved back to Weak Clinton, and was joined by Nevada also moving into Weak from Barely.
Over the course of the week, Clinton's Strong numbers continued their trend upwards, moving from 168 EV up to 184 EV with the addition of Michigan to the category. This puts Clinton in a stronger place in this category than she's seen since the beginning of September, after hitting a low point of 132 EV at the beginning of this month. To put that number into perspective, Hillary Clinton is now polling up 10 points or better in almost the exact number of EV that Donald Trump has altogether (Strong Clinton 184 EV, total Trump 186 EV). That's a pretty amazing comparison, when you think about it.
The Weak Clinton category bounced around a bit, moving from 87 EV up to 97 EV, then down to 72 EV, before finishing at 91 EV -- a net gain of 4 EV for the week. The Barely Clinton numbers also wavered, from 97 EV at the start to 77 EV at the end (as more states firmed up for Clinton). Clinton's overall total (as with Trump's) did not change at all this week, remaining at a commanding 352 EV -- which is 82 EV more than is necessary to win the race.
The real news, however, comes from the Strong Plus Weak line. Add together all the states that Hillary Clinton is up by at least five percent and you come up with 275 EV. If the polling is right and the election were held today, Clinton could publicly state: "I feel bad for Donald, so I'm just going to concede all the Electoral College votes from any state where I don't win by at least five points" -- and she would still win the election.
However, the election is not today and three weeks still remain. Hillary Clinton has been in this position before, but not since the last day in August. So there simply is no guarantee that she'll hold on to all of these states by Election Day.
Still, Clinton is undeniably in a very good spot. Three weeks out from the 2012 election, Barack Obama only had 237 EV in the Strong Plus Weak category. Even in the blowout 2008 election, Obama was only doing slightly better than Clinton right now, with 280 EV in Strong Plus Weak.
In an ordinary election year, I would be very cautious about predicting victory at this point, but this is not a normal election year. We have only had polling in 16 states since the Billy Bush tape hit the campaign like a bombshell, and many of those were conducted before women began personally accusing Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment. So while the reaction to the news is showing up in the states with the most active pollsters (mostly the battleground states, where polling is almost continuous now), it hasn't shown up on the rest of the state-level polling at all. Seeing as how almost all the movement during this period is away from Trump and towards Clinton, one would expect this trend to continue.
If it does, Clinton may very well have wrapped things up this week. Even if she can't manage to flip more states from Trump to her (such as, perhaps, Iowa, Indiana, or South Carolina), all Clinton really needs to do at this point is to firm up her support in the states that are still in her Barely category. If Clinton starts polling better in any of these five states (Arizona, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio), then she may have locked in her advantage so firmly that Trump doesn't have a prayer of winning the necessary 270 EV.
For me, it's a little too early to call the entire election for Clinton. However, if the obvious trend continues next week, I'll be a lot more inclined to do so.
I am, however, going to get downright optimistic in this week's predictions. As always, these are not just based on polling data but also on my gut feelings for how each state is trending. And my gut is feeling pretty good right now about Clinton's chances in a lot of places.
Here's my new map, broken down into my own categories for the two candidates (Safe, Probable, and Leans) as well as Too Close To Call for the states where it's still a real tossup. As always, a tip of the hat to 270toWin for making a great site to create such maps (and where you can make a map of your own picks, if you want to play along).
Likely States -- Clinton
Safe Clinton (21 states, 258 EV)
This is one of two categories where my unbridled optimism really shows up this week. I moved six states from Probable Clinton into Safe Clinton, where I felt the polling justified such a move. Clinton has been leading in all of these states for a while, and has been opening up that lead in most of them. So Colorado, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Virginia all jumped up to Safe Clinton this week. Sure, an argument can be made for any of them that they aren't quite worthy of the Safe category, but I just don't see Clinton's trendline worsening in any of them.
Probable Clinton (1 state, 10 EV)
This category got really lonely this week, as all six of those states moved up to Safe Clinton. This leaves only Wisconsin in the Probable Clinton category, with its 10 EV. And I even considered moving Wisconsin up as well, but decided to wait at least one more week before doing so.
Likely States -- Trump
Safe Trump (15 states, 87 EV)
Although there was a second poll which was very strong for Trump, I had to move Utah down from Safe Trump to Probable Trump this week, because the situation there is so unique. Evan McMullin will likely have his best showing of any state in Utah, and the question is how much this will hurt Trump's chances for victory. So, at least for now, Utah can't be considered Safe Trump any more.
Probable Trump (5 states, 73 EV)
While Utah moved into Probable Trump from Safe Trump, I also moved Indiana down from here to only Leans Trump. Trump seems to be losing support in the home state of his running mate, which isn't too surprising since many said Mike Pence jumped at the chance to run for veep so he wouldn't face losing a governor's race in Indiana. The other four states in the Probable Trump category are all in danger of also moving down to only Leans Trump, with Alaska and Missouri being less likely to be downgraded, and Georgia and Texas more likely to slip out of Probable. But for now, I'm going to leave all of them here, as I think it is indeed probable that Trump will win all of them, even with one or two very close polls.
Leans Clinton (4 states, 54 EV)
This is the second category where I'm perhaps being too optimistic this week. To be fair, I did move Ohio down from Leans Clinton to Too Close To Call, since Trump actually saw his polling improve somewhat here this week. But three big states moved in the opposite direction, and I'm now rating Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina as all Leans Clinton. Clinton has been leading in the polls in all three states, and although her lead is slim it has been consistent. A case could even be made that Nevada belongs in Probable Clinton at this point, but I'm going to wait another week before making such a move. Any of these three may fall back to the Too Close To Call category, but for now they belong in Leans Clinton. New Hampshire remained in Leans Clinton this week as well.
Leans Trump (3 states, 26 EV)
Trump saw Indiana move down here from Probable Trump, but Iowa and South Carolina remained Leans Trump for the week. However, I am (based on nothing but gut feel) moving Maine's upstate district down from Leans Trump to the Too Close To Call category this week, since it was always kind of a longshot to begin with. Until I see actual polling from the north woods, I'm going to leave Maine's upstate district as a true tossup.
Too Close To Call (2 states plus one district, 30 EV)
Amazingly, I'm only rating two states as being true tossups this week. I think this is the smallest number of states yet for this category, but in all the other battlegrounds the trendlines seem clearer. While Ohio (and that single Maine EV) moved down here this week, Arizona remained in Too Close To Call. The good news for Clinton was seeing Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina move out of here and up to Leans Clinton.
Hillary Clinton's roster of states she can likely count on didn't actually change this week, although there was significant strengthening within the category. She has the same 22 states as last week in both Safe and Probable, with the same 268 EV -- just two shy of outright victory. But a combined 66 EV moved from Probable to Safe, meaning Clinton's got a whopping 258 EV in the Safe category at this point. Once again, Clinton just has to win a single state -- out of all the rest -- to put her over the 270 EV finish line.
Donald Trump is doing better among his base states than the national polling really shows. He only saw one state (Utah) slip from Safe to Probable, and only one other (Indiana) slide all the way down to Leans Trump. For the week he just had, that's pretty good news for him. However, his problem has always been trying to actually build on that base -- which he absolutely needs to do to have any hope of victory. With his "unshackled" behavior since the Billy Bush tape dropped, he is showing that he simply doesn't know how to appeal to voters who aren't already fervently on his side. Trump dropped one state from last week in his Likely column, leaving him with only 20 states he can count on, and only 160 EV. This increases the number of EV he'll need to win by Indiana's 11 EV, leaving him a whopping 110 EV away from victory.
The gap between the two candidates in their Likely categories grew this week as well. Hillary Clinton now has 108 EV more than Trump that she can count on in November. In short, all the trendlines look good for Clinton, and all of them also look bad for Trump, with only three short weeks to go.
We have nine tossup states this week -- four that lean towards Clinton, three that lean towards Trump, and two in the Too Close To Call category. If Clinton wins all her Leans states as well as her Likely states, she will have 322 EV. If Trump wins all his Leans states as well as his Likely, he'll only have 186 EV. Even if Trump wins both the Too Close To Call states as well, it only puts him at 216 EV -- far short of the Oval Office. The only way he can now win is to sweep not only all his Leans states, not only all the Too Close To Call states, but also all of the Leans Clinton states, as well.
Even with Trump's improvement in Ohio, it (and Arizona) are still Too Close To Call. That's the fewest number of true tossups I've had this year, I believe. The race appears to be tightening up, and Clinton appears on the brink of a landslide victory. Trump's bleeding from the whole Billy Bush tape (and all the accusations which followed) shows no signs of abating any time soon. We do have the last presidential debate this week, so all of the trends could change, but Trump would have to put in the best presidential debate performance in history to truly shift the momentum his way. And that's doubtful, at best.
Trump is, tellingly, already offering up excuses for why he's about to lose. "The election is rigged!" he tells anyone who will listen, because it's a lot easier blaming everyone around him rather than shouldering the blame himself. This blame game will quite likely last a very long time, well into next year at the least. If Clinton has a decent debate night, then this election could very well be over by Thursday morning.
[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 -- 21 States -- 258 Electoral Votes
California (55), Colorado (9), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maine (3), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (14), New Mexico (5), New York (29), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (20), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Virginia (13), Washington (12), Washington D.C. (3)
Probable States -- 1 State -- 10 Electoral Votes
Donald Trump Likely Easy Wins -- 20 States -- 160 Electoral Votes:
Safe States -- 15 States -- 87 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), West Virginia (5), Wyoming (3)
Probable States -- 5 States -- 73 Electoral Votes
Alaska (3), Georgia (16), Missouri (10), Texas (38), Utah (6)
Tossup States -- 9 States -- 110 Electoral Votes:
Tossup States Leaning Clinton -- 4 States -- 54 Electoral Votes
Florida (29), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), North Carolina (15)
Tossup States Leaning Trump -- 3 States -- 26 Electoral Votes
Indiana (11), Iowa (6), South Carolina (9)
Too Close To Call -- 2 States (plus one district) -- 30 Electoral Votes
Arizona (11), Maine (1), Ohio (18)
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 one state (Montana) this week, leaving only seven states without accurate, recent polling.
Internet-only polling, with dates last polled -- 7 States
Alabama (9/1), Hawaii (9/1), Kentucky (9/1), Mississippi (9/1), South Dakota (9/1), Washington D.C. (5/31), West Virginia (9/1)
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