Labor Day traditionally sounds a gun that starts the general election in earnest — vacations are over, kids are back in school, and voters are finally tuning in to a presidential race that’s competitive coming out of the party conventions.
This year feels very different.
The question this Labor Day, then, isn’t who has the pole position heading into the home stretch, but whether Donald Trump has any realistic path to defeating Hillary Clinton on November 8.
The answer, barring unforeseen and politically transcendent developments, is no.
Democrats entered 2016 with a decided advantage in the race to accumulate the 270 electoral votes (EVs) needed to win the White House. A bloc of 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, has voted Democratic in each of the past six presidential elections. Together, what political scientists call the ” blue wall” comprises 242 EVs, meaning that Clinton needs to win only another 28 from any combination of competitive battleground states in order to secure the presidency.
Making the map (and math) even friendlier to Democrats is the fact that several long-time Republican strongholds — Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado — have drifted leftward over the past decade. All three were carried by Barack Obama in 2008, and only North Carolina was taken back (barely) by Mitt Romney in 2012. Virginia and Colorado together account for 22 electoral votes; Clinton is leading Trump in both states by vast margins. Those two victories would bring her within six electoral votes of the White House.
In other words, Trump has virtually no margin for error.
In order to reach 270, the Republican nominee must first protect the 206 EVs won by Romney in 2012. This alone will be a tall task, and even if Trump manages to pull it off, he’ll still need another 64 EVs, necessarily including at least one victory in a state that Democrats haven’t lost in decades.
With the aid of polling trends and demographic data, here then is a look at Trump’s potential paths to 270 — and an explanation of why Clinton appears certain to win in November.
First Things First: Protecting Romney’s Electoral Votes
If he can’t protect Romney’s 206 EVs, Trump’s math will go from difficult to downright unworkable. Democrats are threatening to make a play for several “safe” GOP states, including Missouri, South Carolina, and Indiana. None of those appear likely to flip in November, but here are four that could.
— North Carolina (15 EVs) is the biggest concern. The state is life support for Trump: With it, he stands a chance; without it, he’s finished. Should Clinton carry the state, Trump would need to make up 79 EVs elsewhere — an impossibility under these circumstances. (If Trump loses North Carolina, he’s not going to simultaneously win a less friendly state, such as Colorado or Virginia.)
Currently the race there is tight: Every major poll taken in August shows Clinton ahead, but in many cases by nominal margins that should be considered statistical ties. The two major polls in August (one conducted by Marist for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, the other conducted by ORC for CNN) showed markedly different results: Clinton led by nine points in the former, but by only one in the latter.
Both surveys, however, show deeply troubling trends for Trump. Among white voters, Trump leads Clinton 59 percent to 32 percent (ORC) and 51 percent to 34 percent (Marist). That trails well behind Romney’s performance in 2012: He won whites in North Carolina by 68 percent to Obama’s 31 percent. Especially concerning should be Trump’s showing among white women, among whom he leads Clinton 48 percent to 38 percent (Marist) and 57 percent to 34 percent (ORC). Romney carried this group by a margin of 67 percent to 33 percent.
Women of all races are Trump’s primary obstacle in North Carolina. They accounted for 56 percent of the state’s voters in 2012, the highest percentage in any state that had exit polling. Romney won statewide — narrowly — because he kept it close with women, losing them by only two points, 51 percent to 49 percent. In both surveys, Trump is losing North Carolina women by much larger margins: 53 percent to 34 percent (Marist) and 51 percent to 42 percent (ORC).
If Trump loses North Carolina women by nine points — as the more generous poll predicts — there’s almost no chance he wins the state. But even if he rebounds with women and finds a way to win North Carolina, there’s no guarantee that Trump will hold on to all 206 of Romney’s electoral votes from 2012. That’s because Clinton is threatening to put several once-safe GOP states into play, such as Georgia, Arizona, and even Utah.
— Georgia (16) went for Romney by eight points in 2012. But the state appears to suddenly be competitive: An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released at the beginning of August showed Clinton leading by four points, 44 percent to 40 percent, in a head-to-head matchup, and by three points, 41 percent to 38 percent, when third-party candidates Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green) were included. Four other Georgia polls were taken in August using automated and/or Internet methodology: Clinton led by seven points in one; Trump led by four points in another; and the remaining two were statistical ties.
If he can’t protect Romney’s 206 EVs, Trump’s math will go from difficult to downright unworkable.
Georgia will become majority-minority by 2020, according to Census projections, and the state’s newfound battleground status owes to its rapidly diversifying population. If Trump has trouble there, it will probably be due to his deep unpopularity with black voters. (The AJC poll shows Clinton leading 83 percent to 5 percent among African Americans.) It also doesn’t help that Trump is running 15 points behind Clinton among women statewide; that’s an unacceptable spread in a red state.
— Arizona (eleven) is another state that has long been undergoing a demographic transformation. It, too, will become majority-minority by 2020, and even though Romney won there by nine points in 2012, Arizona looks much tighter this time around. Only one reputable poll of the state was conducted in August: a CNN/ORC survey taken mid-month. It showed Trump with just a five-point lead among likely voters and a two-point among registered voters. Even more troubling, his lead among whites (58 percent to 36 percent) was twelve points smaller than Romney’s margin (66 percent to 32 percent) in 2012. Trump can’t afford to underperform among whites, given that Clinton leads by nearly 40 points among nonwhite voters, who have increased their share of Arizona’s electorate in consecutive elections and are expected to do so again in November.
A smaller pro-Republican margin among whites, combined with a larger vote-share for nonwhites who overwhelmingly favor Democrats, is the recipe for an enormous upset in Arizona. Trump is still favored to win there, and he performed exceptionally well in Arizona’s Republican primary, but the numbers suggest an outcome that’s too close for comfort in a must-win state.
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— Utah (six), which Romney won by nearly 50 points in 2012, also bears watching. There’s no excuse for any Republican to lose a state the party has carried in every election since 1968. And Trump, despite his deep unpopularity with Mormon voters in the state, is unlikely to break the streak. But talk of the state’s becoming competitive has seeped into the political bloodstream. Utah Republicans have buzzed for months about internal polls showing Trump and Clinton neck-and-neck. And now a third-party candidate, Evan McMullin — a Utah native and Brigham Young graduate who is running as an anti-Trump conservative — is pledging to devote his time and resources to stealing voters from Trump in the state.
It probably won’t matter. There are enough reliable Republican votes in Utah for Trump to carry the state, as suggested by a Public Policy Polling survey last week that showed him leading Clinton by 15 points. (He took only 39 percent of the vote, however, and the poll’s questionable methodology means it should be taken with a grain of salt.) Trump is almost certainly going to win Utah, but the fact that it’s even a concern speaks volumes about his viability nationwide.
Path #1: The Big Three
If Trump manages to hold on to Romney’s 206 EVs, he will still need an additional 64 to win the White House. There are several paths to get there, but all of them are exceedingly difficult. We’ll start with the one that’s most feasible and least complicated: If Trump wins the three biggest battleground states — Florida (29 EVs), Pennsylvania (20), and Ohio (18) — he’ll secure another 67 EVs, giving him 273 total and the presidency.
— Pennsylvania (20) is the biggest obstacle in this path. Trump’s problem is that while Florida and Ohio are competitive this year — as they always are — Pennsylvania still looks like a pipe dream for Republicans. It’s a cornerstone of the “blue wall,” having last voted for a GOP nominee in 1988, when George H. W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis. Every four years, Republicans argue that the state is actually — finally — in play. And every four years, Democrats win by comfortable margins anyway: five points in 2012; eleven points in 2008; three points in 2004; five points in 2000; nine points in 1996; and nine points in 1992.
This year, it appeared that Trump, by virtue of his strength with working-class white voters, was uniquely positioned to put Pennsylvania in play for Republicans. But the numbers simply aren’t bearing that out. Every respectable poll taken since the conventions in late July shows Clinton with a hefty lead, ranging from nine to eleven points. In fact, Trump has led Pennsylvania in only one poll this year: a Quinnipiac survey taken in late June and early July that had him ahead by just two points.
The last two major Pennsylvania surveys taken — Marist for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal (Clinton 48, Trump 37), and Quinnipiac (Clinton 52, Trump 42) — shed light on the GOP nominee’s struggles in the state and explain why he’s an obvious underdog there in November.
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Put simply, Trump needs to run up the score with white voters to have a chance of winning Pennsylvania. They are the state’s largest voting bloc, accounting for 78 percent of its 2012 electorate, according to exit polls. Romney won whites by 15 points that year but still lost the state by five points due to his terrible performance with minority voters. Because of this — and because of the reality that whites have declined as a percentage of Pennsylvania’s electorate in each of the last three elections and will almost certainly do so again this November — Trump needs to increase Romney’s 15-point margin to at least 20.
As of now, however, Trump and Clinton are running dead even among whites: Marist shows Clinton 43, Trump 42; Quinnipiac shows Trump 49, Clinton 46. With Trump so well-defined in the minds of voters, it’s unlikely that these numbers will drastically change by November. If they don’t, Trump will lose Pennsylvania — potentially in lopsided fashion.
—Ohio (18) is the lightest lift of the big three, with Pennsylvania clearly the heaviest. That’s not to say the Buckeye State will be a cake walk for Trump — it won’t — but it’s the major battleground state in which he’s most viable as of now, and the one he’s likeliest to carry in November.
Ohio is the quintessential “swing state,” meaning its outcome moves the entire election in one direction or the other. Whoever has won Ohio has won the presidency in every election since 1960. And it’s a state where Republicans have been relatively competitive during the Obama era, losing by five points in 2008 and three points in 2012.
Trump’s problem is that while Florida and Ohio are competitive this year — as they always are — Pennsylvania still looks like a pipe dream for Republicans.
In the last two major surveys taken of the state — conducted again in this case by Marist and Quinnipiac — Trump trails Clinton by five points and four points, respectively. The priority for Trump in Ohio, as in Pennsylvania, is winning whites by a sizable margin to offset losses among minority voters. (Romney won whites in Ohio by 16 points, according to exit polls; Trump, once again, needs to hit at least 20.) He’s doing slightly better in Ohio on this front; he leads Clinton by eight points among whites in the Marist poll, and by twelve in the Quinnipiac survey. But these margins still aren’t big enough, especially when considering Trump’s performance with minority voters. (Clinton leads Trump among blacks in the state, 89 percent to 1 percent, according to Marist.)
If there’s hope for Trump in Ohio, it’s because 60 percent of the state’s voters in 2012 didn’t have a college degree. Obama won that group by seven points, but it has been Trump’s strongest demographic throughout his campaign, and in Ohio, it currently favors him by a small margin (two points, per Marist). Yet that strength is badly offset by Clinton’s 14-point lead among college-educated Ohioans, who Romney won by eight points in 2012. In other words, Trump’s gains among non-college-educated voters compared to Romney (nine points) are dwarfed by his losses among college-educated voters compared to Romney (22 points).
Trump can win Ohio, but he must improve his numbers significantly among whites, especially college-educated whites living in the suburbs of Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus. If he can’t, Ohio will go Democratic for the third straight election, and so will the country.
— Florida (29) falls somewhere in between the other two, not quite as competitive as Ohio but more winnable for Trump than Pennsylvania.
Quinnipiac’s three August surveys showed Trump closest in Florida, trailing by just one point as opposed to four in Ohio and ten in Pennsylvania. The other two major August polls of Florida — conducted by Suffolk and Marist — show slightly bigger cushions for Clinton. (Suffolk: Clinton 48 percent, Trump 42 percent; Marist: Clinton 44 percent, Trump 39 percent.)
There’s no question the state is competitive. Obama won it by less than one percentage point (fewer than 75,000 votes) in 2012, and by just three points in 2008. He overcame Romney’s massive margin among white Floridians — 24 points — to eke out a win by racking up impressive margins among Hispanics (21 points) and blacks (91 points).
Trump’s problem in Florida is twofold: First, whites are shrinking as a share of the electorate. (They accounted for 67 percent of the state’s voters in 2012, down from 71 percent in 2008. That number is expected to decline again in November.) And second, Trump isn’t performing at Romney-like levels among this smaller group of white voters. He leads by seven points in the Suffolk poll, eleven points in the Marist, and 21 in the Quinnipiac. The average of those three is 13 points. But even the most generous figure of 21 is still three points off Romney’s pace with whites — who, again, are likely to make up a smaller portion of Florida’s electorate than they did four years ago.
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The best way for Trump to compensate is to eat into Clinton’s lead among Hispanics in the state, ensuring that it isn’t as wide as Obama’s 21-point margin. There are indications this is possible: Marist shows Clinton leading by just ten points among Florida Hispanics, 44 percent to 34 percent. (Suffolk and Quinnipiac don’t break down minority voters by race or ethnicity; they show Clinton leading Trump among all nonwhites by 38 points and 47 points, respectively.) Florida Hispanics have historically been more conservative than Hispanics are nationally; this was proven again in 2012, when Obama won the group by twice as much nationally (44 points) as he did in Florida.
Trump’s recent policy reversal on the mass deportation of immigrants has concerns about Florida written all over it. His advisers know — and seem to have impressed upon him — that he can’t win the Sunshine State if Clinton carries Hispanics by a huge margin. Whether he continues taking a softer tone on immigration remains to be seen, but if he can minimize his losses among Hispanics in Florida and re-create Romney’s margin among whites, he’ll have a chance to win the state’s 29 EVs.
— Summary: Those are two big “ifs” — and that’s when it comes to winning one of the big three. There’s a chance Trump carries Florida or Ohio. It’s even possible he carries both. But a lot of things would have to go right. And even then, it’s incredibly unlikely that Pennsylvania swings back into the GOP column. That makes this path to 270 unworkable for Trump.
Path #2: The Rust Belt
As Trump bulldozed his way through the Republican primary, dominating among white working-class voters and demonstrating significant crossover appeal on the issue of trade, a popular theory emerged arguing for an unconventional path to 270 EVs for Trump. It amounts to an inside straight through the Rust Belt — Pennsylvania (20 EVs), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), and Wisconsin (10) — giving him exactly the 64 needed to win the White House.
At a glance, the theory is plausible. All four states are home to massive populations of blue-collar voters. All four states had voting populations in 2012 that were much whiter than the national average of 72 percent. And Romney, who won 59 percent of whites nationwide, underperformed relative to that number among whites in all four states. (He won 51 percent in Wisconsin, 55 percent in Michigan, and 57 percent in Ohio and Pennsylvania.)
In other words, there were plenty of white voters left on the table in those four states last cycle — and Trump, it appeared, would be a far more attractive option for them than Romney.
That was the good news when evaluating Trump’s path through the Rust Belt. The bad news: Whites account for an ever-shrinking percentage of the electorate, both nationally and in all four states. The white vote-share nationwide was 77 percent in 2004, 74 percent in 2008, and 72 percent in 2012. The same trend manifested itself in Wisconsin (90, 89, 86), Michigan (82, 82, 77), Ohio (86, 83, 79), and Pennsylvania (82, 81, 78.) That trend is almost certain to continue in November, meaning that Trump must win more white voters than Romney did from a smaller pool of white voters than Romney competed for.
We’ve walked through the demographic challenges and electoral outlooks in two of these states: Ohio appears winnable for Trump, but Pennsylvania does not. That alone renders this path unworkable. It’s not just Pennsylvania that makes the Rust Belt a pipe dream for Trump, though. Michigan and Wisconsin are both part of the blue wall — Michigan last went Republican in 1988, Wisconsin in Ronald Reagan’s 49-state landslide of 1984 — and continue to appear impenetrable for the GOP. Here’s a quick look.
— Michigan (16) appeared to be in play for Trump after his dominant performance in the state’s March 8 primary, and Clinton’s upset loss to Bernie Sanders the same day. It wasn’t merely that Trump won 46 percent of all non-college-educated Republicans, or that Clinton lost non-college-educated Democrats to Sanders by 17 points. What fueled perceptions of Trump’s viability was the fact that majorities of voters in both parties said trade with other nations “takes away U.S. jobs,” according to exit polls on primary night — and Trump dominated among that group in his primary while Clinton badly lost it in hers. The stage was set for Trump to use trade as a cudgel against Clinton and woo disaffected Democrats in the middle of union territory.
That seems like ancient history now. In four Michigan polls taken since the convention, Trump trails by nine, ten, ten, and seven points. What’s notable here isn’t the margins, but Trump’s unpopularity. In all four polls, he fails to reach 40 percent against Clinton — a stunning display of weakness for a major-party nominee in a supposedly competitive state. Clinton has her own problems in the state, as evidenced by the primary loss and her smaller-than-expected lead over Trump, but at least she’s polling in the mid forties.
Without a sudden and extraordinary change of trajectory, Trump is almost certain to lose Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
August’s two most reliable polls demonstrate the depths of Trump’s unpopularity. In an EPIC-MRA survey for the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV, Clinton leads Trump 46 percent to 36 percent. Trump is viewed favorably by just 30 percent of Michiganders and unfavorably by 63 percent. Clinton is also underwater — 41 percent favorable, 51 percent unfavorable — but is in considerably better shape than Trump.
Meanwhile, a Glengariff Group poll for the Detroit News and WDIV-TV — which showed Trump down nine points, polling at an anemic 32 percent — revealed another damning statistic: 61 percent of likely Michigan voters said Trump was not qualified to be president, compared with 33 percent who said he was. Conversely, 57 percent said Clinton was qualified, versus 39 percent who said she was not.
There are other data points that demonstrate Trump’s lack of competitiveness in Michigan — his support among white voters, for instance, lags far behind Romney’s 55 percent from 2012 — but fleshing them out would be superfluous in light of the aforementioned statistics on favorability and qualification. In short, Trump’s numbers in Michigan are dreadful, and it’s extremely difficult to see them turning around in the span of two months.
To be fair, it’s not surprising that Michigan isn’t competitive. Romney, a native son, lost the state by nine points. In the last two decades, it’s been close only once: in 2004, when George W. Bush lost by three points to John Kerry. It is a blue state in presidential years, and barring a miracle, it will stay that way in 2016.
— Wisconsin (ten) is much the same story. It was closer than Michigan in 2012 (Obama won by seven points) but is considered to be an even taller task for Trump this year, in part because of his unique unpopularity statewide.
Unlike Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Trump won big in the primaries, or Ohio, where he ran competitively but lost to a sitting governor, Wisconsin delivered a crushing loss to the eventual GOP nominee. And he wasn’t steamrolled by Scott Walker or Paul Ryan or some other favorite son, but by Ted Cruz, whose impressive campaign failed to defeat Trump anywhere else in the blue-collar Midwest.
Trump lost statewide by 13 points. Even among the majority of Wisconsin Republicans who said trade “takes away U.S. jobs” — people squarely in Trump’s wheelhouse — he effectively tied Cruz, taking 43 percent to the Texan’s 42 percent. These results foreshadowed a general-election campaign that hasn’t been close. Trump has visited Wisconsin several times, but Republicans don’t even bother to argue that he’s competing there. The state has been scarcely polled, but this month, the highly respected and historically accurate Marquette Law School survey showed Clinton leading Trump by 15 points (52 percent to 37 percent) among its likely voters.
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The cross tabs of that poll reveal just how bleak things are for Trump in Wisconsin. Clinton leads him by ten points among white voters. (Romney won them by three.) She leads him by 18 points among college-educated voters. (Romney won them by one.) She leads him by 16 points among suburban voters. (Romney won them by five.) And she leads him by 33 points among self-described moderates. (Obama won them by 24.)
The Badger State was always going to be an uphill climb for whoever became the GOP nominee. But the numbers suggest that Trump is on track to lose the state by the widest margin of any Republican standard-bearer in a generation.
— Summary: Without a sudden and extraordinary change of trajectory, Trump is almost certain to lose Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and he’s currently a slight underdog in Ohio. He did at one point appear to have a plausible path through these four states to the presidency, but that path has since disappeared.
Path #3: The Change States
Consider this the opposite of the Rust Belt strategy. Rather than relying on overwhelmingly white states with blue-collar populations that work in manufacturing and the service sector, Republicans once envisioned a path to the White House that traveled through states with changing demographics and diversifying industries. This would include places such as Virginia (13 EVs), Colorado (nine), Nevada (six), and New Mexico (five).
Of course, even winning all of those states wouldn’t yield the 64 EVs Trump needed on top of Romney’s 206 to reach 270. But the argument from Republicans was equally obvious: If he’s winning all of those Democrat-leaning states, then he’s also winning the toss-ups of Florida and Ohio, giving him more than enough EVs to take back the White House.
This would have been the general-election path pursued by Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, bilingual conservatives who strike a centrist tone and could put many or all of these “change states” in play.
Instead, the GOP nominee is Trump, and some of these states have consequently been taken off the map. The numbers in several cases are so hopelessly lopsided that deep-diving analysis isn’t required, but here’s a brief overview.
— Virginia (13) went red in ten consecutive presidential elections until Barack Obama broke through in 2008 (winning by a stunning seven points) and repeated in 2012 (by a narrower four-point margin). The state’s political transformation flows from a demographic makeover that’s particularly visible in the booming D.C. suburbs, which over the past two decades have become home to an affluent, college-educated, and ethnically diverse workforce.
For any Republican to reclaim the state, they’d have to run competitively among those voters. Trump isn’t doing so. A Washington Post poll in August showed Clinton leading by 45 points in the D.C. suburbs, 68 percent to 23 percent, among registered voters. That survey had Clinton up 14 points overall, and all five polls of Virginia in August showed her with a comparable double-digit lead statewide.
The most recent survey, conducted by Roanoke College, showed Trump trailing by 19 points among likely voters in Virginia. The crosst abs demonstrate just how far behind Clinton — and how far off Romney’s pace — Trump is. He’s down 27 points among women. (Romney lost them by nine.) He’s down 33 points among college-educated voters. (Romney won them by two.) And he’s up three points among white voters. (Romney won them by 24.) In short, Virginia doesn’t look good for Trump.
— Colorado (nine) has been anti-climactic. After back-to-back Democratic wins in 2008 and 2012, Republicans were bullish about retaking the state in 2016 thanks to momentum carried over from 2014, when rising GOP star Cory Gardner won a hard-fought U.S. Senate race.
Only one of the change states, Nevada, appears to be a realistic target for Trump in 2016.
That optimism has evaporated. The last four polls taken in Colorado all show Clinton with a double-digit lead — and they all show Trump taking less than 40 percent of the vote statewide. The sense from Republicans on the ground is that the race was over before it began, and Gardner, during a recent speech to a conservative conference in Denver, essentially acknowledged as much.
One thing to consider: Colorado is among the most rapidly diversifying states in the country. Its electorate was 86 percent white in 2004, according to exit polls, and 78 percent white in 2012. That trend should continue and perhaps even accelerate this November. This means that Trump must run up big margins among whites to be competitive. Romney won that group by ten points last time around, but, according to a recent Marist poll, Clinton is winning them by nine points this time.
— Nevada (six) appears to be the only competitive state of the bunch, despite Trump’s considerable baggage with Hispanics, whom Obama won by huge margins en route to comfortable statewide victories in 2008 and 2012.
With a dearth of reliable polling, however, it’s tough to tell how close things really are. The only recent live-caller survey — conducted by Suffolk in August — showed a tight race, with Clinton leading 44 percent to 42 percent among likely voters. The reason Trump is competitive: He’s leading Clinton by 13 points among whites, which is identical to Romney’s margin with that group when he lost the state by six points in 2012.
But just like Colorado’s, Nevada’s demographics are abruptly shifting: its electorate was 77 percent white in 2004 and 64 percent white in 2012. That means, once again, that Trump will have to run way ahead of Romney with white voters to offset major losses with minority voters, who are growing as a share of the total vote. Trump’s potential salvation in Nevada — besides his casino brand, which is likely providing some small boost — is that Clinton is running far behind Obama with nonwhite voters. In 2012, he won Hispanics by 47 points and blacks by 86 points; the Suffolk poll shows her leading Trump among all minorities by 29 points.
— New Mexico (five) has flown under the radar. There has been virtually no polling there, though a recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling for NM Political Report showed Clinton leading by nine points, with Trump pulling just 31 percent statewide.
Forget that spread. No serious Republicans believe New Mexico is in play. Democrats have carried the state in five of the last six elections — including double-digit wins by Obama in 2008 and 2012 — and won’t allow Trump to win a majority-minority state whose population has climbed to nearly 50 percent Hispanic.
That Clinton leads by only nine can be explained by the presence of Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor who is now the Libertarian party’s nominee for president. Johnson takes 16 percent in the aforementioned PPP survey — and having been a popular Republican governor of a blue state, he’s probably pulling at least as many votes from Clinton as he is from Trump.
— Summary: Only one of the change states, Nevada, appears to be a realistic target for Trump in 2016 — and even there, demographic trends and recent political patterns are working against him. If the election were held today, it’s likely the Republican nominee would lose all four.
Path #4: The Grab Bag
None of the three previous paths are going to lead Trump to the White House. His best — and only — chance of winning in November is to get creative by blending these strategies and exploring different combinations to get to 270 EVs.
This necessarily includes quick examinations of the two battleground states that went unmentioned in the previous sections: Iowa and New Hampshire.
— Iowa (six) is Trump’s strongest swing state, Republicans say, and there’s evidence to support that claim. He and Clinton have traded leads in polls taken over the last two months, with neither claiming a margin wider than four points. Trump is also said to be running one of his best state campaigns in Iowa, led by the son of six-term Republican governor Terry Branstad,
His best — and only — chance of winning in November is to get creative by blending these strategies.
Obama comfortably carried the Hawkeye State twice — by ten points in 2008 and six points in 2012 — but he has proven far more popular with the state’s Democratic base than Clinton. Trump has no better pickup opportunity than a state that in 2012 was 93 percent white and 57 percent non-college-educated.
As with other states, it could come down to the “gender gap” — the difference between the candidates’ margins with men and women. Obama won Iowa women by 19 and Romney won Iowa men by nine, for a gender gap of ten points. Trump is on track for a better showing. Quinnipiac’s poll of Iowa in August showed Clinton up 18 among women and Trump up 14 among men, for a four-point gender gap. But he’ll need to do even better than that: Women were 54 percent of Iowa’s electorate in 2012, according to exit polls.
— New Hampshire (four) was hard on Clinton in the Democratic primary, but she’s been the clear general-election favorite there all along. She hasn’t trailed Trump in a single poll of the state this year, and the only two surveys taken after the party conventions show Clinton with leads of nine and 17 points.
The gap might not be that big, but there’s no question Trump is a decided underdog. New Hampshire elections are often determined by the state’s famously large number of independent voters. In 2012, 43 percent of the state’s voters identified as independents. Obama beat Romney among them by seven points and won the state by six.
This explains why Trump isn’t competitive at the moment with Clinton. According to a MassINC poll conducted for WBUR-Radio and the University of New Hampshire, Clinton’s favorability-unfavorability among the state’s independents is 45–39. Trump’s, on the other hand, is 22–68.
— Possible Combinations: Assuming Trump protects all of Romney’s 206 EVs, he’ll need 64 more to reach 270 and win the White House. The Grab Bag approach would require Trump to win Florida and Ohio; those two states would bring him to 253 total and within 17 of the grand prize. From there, however, the math gets exceedingly difficult.
Without the “battleground” states determined here to be noncompetitive (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, New Mexico, New Hampshire) it’s difficult to find a path to 270 for Trump.
That’s because there isn’t one.If Clinton carries those seven states — in all of which her party has won the past two elections and she currently has significant leads, and in most of which she has major demographic advantages — Trump cannot win the presidency.
The only way a “Grab Bag” works for Trump is to win the four truly competitive battlegrounds — Florida (29), Ohio (18), Iowa (six), Nevada (six) — and steal another state with at least five EVs. (Sorry, New Hampshire.) That would get him to 64. And again, assuming he keeps all of Romney’s 206, he would then be at 270.
The problem is that none of the six states with at least five EVs — three blue wall states, three change states — appears even remotely likely to vote for Trump in November.
It’s possible that public opinion shifts dramatically between now and then. But if it doesn’t, Donald Trump has no path to the presidency.
— Tim Alberta is National Review’s chief political correspondent.