Last week, the Washington Post ran an article titled "Five Not-Totally-Crazy Electoral Maps That Show Donald Trump Winning." The article was a cautionary note to Democrats who are blithely assuming Hillary Clinton will easily beat Donald Trump this November. In it, the authors provide five maps that show Trump beating Clinton, by winning anywhere from 270 Electoral College votes (the minimum necessary to win) up to 283 Electoral College votes. I'd like to answer them back with five maps of my own, which show scenarios that are a lot more likely to become reality. I do understand why the Post authors wrote their article -- Democrats getting complacent about their chances of victory is indeed a danger this election cycle, and who knows how many crossover votes are going to happen (in either direction)? But at the same time, it is easy to see the monstrous advantage any Democratic candidate for president now enjoys, and it's a lot easier to see a very wide and gentle path to victory for Hillary Clinton.
The wonkier among us have been talking about the Democratic "Big Blue Wall" for quite some time now. What this phrase refers to (I wrote about it at length, over a year ago) is how states have consistently voted in the past six presidential elections (back to Bill Clinton's first victory). Here is a list of the 19 states which have voted all six times for the Democratic candidate, together with their respective electoral college votes:
California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawai'i (4), Illinois (20), Maine (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (14), New York (29), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (20), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington (12), Washington D.C. (3), Wisconsin (10).
That is the Big Blue Wall, and when you add the numbers up you get a whopping 242 Electoral College votes. In comparison, the Republicans have what I called a "small red picket fence," made up of only 13 states -- all with (except for Texas) very small populations:
Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Idaho (4), Kansas (6), Mississippi (6), Nebraska (5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (3), Texas (38), Utah (6), Wyoming (3).
Added up, it only totals 102 Electoral College votes. This means that -- if all the states listed don't suddenly flip -- Democrats only need to pick up 28 Electoral College votes (Florida has 29, by the way), while Republicans have to win battleground states that add up to 168 votes. That's a pretty big advantage, as you can plainly see. Here is a map which shows all of these states, for both sides (I should mention all of these maps were created at 270ToWin.com, and clicking on any of them will take you to a much larger version at their site):
When you add in states that have voted five out of the past six elections for one party or the other, the Republican picture gets a lot better, but so does the Democratic side. The map you then get shows 257 Democratic and 158 Republican Electoral Votes.
This allows a Democratic candidate multiple paths to victory, such as the one Barack Obama took back in 2012, when he got 332 Electoral College votes. But with Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, the possibility exists for Hillary Clinton to beat Obama's numbers -- perhaps even by topping 400 votes.
With Trump in the mix, the number of "battleground states" is going to grow. I identified 15 states which could be up in the air this year, and I didn't even bother including Colorado and New Mexico (because I think both are pretty firmly in the Democratic camp at this point). Everyone has their own opinion about which states could be up for grabs, so I tried to be fair to both sides. Clinton could win states such as Arizona, Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia, and even Utah (because of how many Mormons seem not to be very big fans of Trump). But then Trump could pick up states long considered Democratic strongholds in the Midwest (or "Rust Belt"), such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Add all these in to the usual battlegrounds (places like Virginia, Nevada, Florida, and Iowa), and you get the following map, which I'm going to use as a baseline in these predictions:
Scenario 1 -- Clinton loses Midwest, but squeaks by
I started this one by handing Trump all the Rust Belt states up for grabs, as well as all the states with strong Republican voting records. But Hillary still gets 279 votes on this map, by holding on to Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida, and picking up the border state of Arizona. Worth noting is that Hillary could even lose any one of the following: New Hampshire, Nevada, Colorado, or Iowa -- and still win the election. So even her squeaker scenario has a bit of slack in it.
Scenario 2 -- Clinton loses Florida, but squeaks by
This one is a bit closer, as Clinton only picks up 274 votes, to Trump's 264. Four states have changed from the first scenario, as Trump wins Florida's big haul and also holds on in Arizona. But Clinton manages to hold on in Pennsylvania, and picks up North Carolina. It shows how Clinton could lose two very important swing states (Ohio and Florida), but still manage a thin victory.
Scenario 3 -- Clinton matches Obama's 2008 win
On this one, I filled in the map using nothing more than gut feeling on how each state will likely wind up voting. What I came up with is a total that is almost identical to Barack Obama's 2008 win (Obama had 365 Electoral College votes, on this map Hillary wins 358). Clinton wins the Midwest, as Trump's push for blue-collar voters there falls short. Clinton picks up every state Obama won except Indiana, but she wins Arizona to make up for it. Trump holds on in the traditional Republican states of Utah and Georgia, and holds on in Missouri and Arkansas too.
Scenario 4 -- Clinton wins over 400 in a landslide
The real question that has been running through my mind for the past week or so is whether Clinton can actually break the 400 Electoral Vote barrier. This hasn't happened since 1988, but it used to be a lot more common. In the 10 elections from 1952 through 1988, the winning candidate got more than 400 votes seven times (Carter, Kennedy, and Nixon's first election all fell short).
So let's think optimistically about how Hillary Clinton could pull off this feat. Hillary not only wins all the states Obama won in 2008 (including Indiana), she also picks up all of the battleground states except Arkansas. Utah's Mormons decide they can't vote for Trump. Arizona flips, with record Latino turnout. Clinton takes the whole Midwest, including Iowa and Missouri. She wins Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida -- and also picks up Georgia (which will shock everyone, no doubt). Here is the map showing Clinton winning 401 Electoral College votes.
Scenario 5 -- Clinton wins in an epic, historic landslide
For the last one, I just tossed caution to the wind and thought how many states Clinton could possibly pick up if the country (almost as a whole) rejects Trump in a historic "wave" election. This map may cause laughter, but I think it's about as equally plausible as some of the maps the Washington Post ran last week, just using far different assumptions.
Clinton wins all the previously-mentioned battleground states on this map, and winds up with a whopping 471 Electoral College votes, to Trump's 67. Clinton not only picks up all the battlegrounds, she also flips states which nobody ever thought would vote for a Democrat, as suburban women move en masse to Clinton's side. Hillary picks up Montana, Louisiana, both Dakotas, Kentucky, and even Texas. Just for fun, I also tossed in one vote for Clinton from Nebraska, where votes are allocated by district instead of winner-takes-all. Even without that extra vote, Clinton would still have a full 200 votes more than she needs to win.
Now, I'm not placing bets on any of these scenarios actually playing out exactly as I've described them. If I had to, I would bet on the third one to be closest to what happens on Election Day. But I did need to counter the five maps the Washington Post ran last week, because I think all of them made far too many assumptions which were favorable to Trump. To balance this out, what I've laid out here is a number of ways things could break far differently, from a very thin margin of victory for Hillary Clinton to a massive landslide in November. If you'd like, you can play along at 270ToWin.com and post links to the maps you come up with, down in the comments. We'll all be playing this game for months now, so it's fun to begin before all the individual state polling data becomes available.
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