Last night’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sounded more like a debate between Hillary Clinton and your conservative friend’s bizarre Facebook rant against Hillary Clinton. Tomorrow is exactly four weeks from election day and clearly Trump’s campaign is in chaos. His debate performance didn’t necessarily make things any worse; the 11-year-old tape released this weekend was already damaging enough. But polls show Trump slipping — and fast. It’s hard to gauge exactly how much further he is likely to fall before election day, but as of now, it’s not looking good for the Republican presidential nominee.
I have been closely tracking the election for months now, analyzing polls and comparing likely vote totals with previous elections. I expect a lower turnout than in the last two Presidential elections. Both candidates have high unfavorable ratings (note: Trump’s is worse than Clinton’s), which might cause many voters to stay home, or simply vote only for ballot issues and down ticket races. This lower turnout may decrease Hillary Clinton’s victory percentage over Donald Trump who still has a base of Republican voters that will show up for him regardless of what happens in the next four weeks.
However, even when Donald Trump was closing in on Hillary Clinton in the polls, I found it hard to find his pathway to victory. There were, and are, simply too many states where he was (and is) on defense. To get to 270 electoral votes, Trump would have had to outperform Mitt Romney, while Hillary Clinton would have had to see drastic reductions in Democratic voters from 2012. Donald Trump is now trying to hold onto states like Arizona and Georgia, which haven’t voted for Democrats since 1996 and 1992, respectively.
Third parties will play a role in 2016. Indications are that Gary Johnson could perform significantly better this cycle than in 2012, as could Jill Stein. It’s possible that the third-party candidates could, on balance, take more votes away from Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. We know that Jill Stein is targeting disgruntled Bernie Sanders voters; particularly millennials. However, Gary Johnson – a conservative on economics and the role of government – is also targeting millennials with his support for marijuana legalization, privacy rights, and gay rights. Johnson is unlikely to be an alternative to Donald Trump for evangelical Christian, socially conservative voters, who may be more inclined to withhold their vote, or vote for another conservative alternative (where available) like the Constitution Party or Evan McMullin (the candidate championed by the Stop-Trump movement). Third parties received about 1.73% of the vote in 2012, but the polls indicate they could double or triple that in 2016.
A breakdown of the current state of the race is below. We have another month and there are still uncertainties on a state-by-state basis. As of now, I am still basing my assumptions on existing polls, which could change significantly in favor of Hillary Clinton is coming days. The race could tighten in states like Alaska, Indiana, and Texas, while Clinton may take a lead in Arizona, and may pull even in Georgia. I see Missouri getting closer as well. Utah might even move to “Likely Republican” because Utah is where votes for third parties, particularly Evan McMullin – born in Provo, UT and an alumnus of Brigham Young University – are most likely to hurt Donald Trump. Some of the “Likely Democratic” states like Minnesota and Virginia may actually become “Safe” for Hillary Clinton.
With that, here’s my read on the current state of the race.
Safe Republican – 89 electoral votes
Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska (all other than CD-2), North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming
Likely Republican – 64 electoral votes
Alaska, Indiana, Montana, South Carolina, Texas
Leans Republican – 27 electoral votes
Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska (CD-2)
Toss Up – 11 electoral votes
Leans Democratic – 75 electoral votes
Florida, Iowa, Maine (CD-2), Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio
Likely Democratic – 82 electoral votes
Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin
Safe Democratic – 190 electoral votes
California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine (other than CD-2), Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington State
As of today, just over four weeks until Election Day 2016, it appears that Hillary Clinton has 347 electoral votes at least leaning in her favor, while Donald Trump has 180 electoral votes at least leaning in his favor. Arizona and its 11 electoral votes appear to still be a “Toss-up”.
If the election were held tomorrow – and keep in mind that people are already voting in many states – it appears the worst Clinton would do is to reach the low 300s in the electoral vote count. At best, she could perhaps exceed 400 electoral votes and win more than 30 states.
My current models show that Hillary Clinton will defeat Donald Trump by at least 5 percentage points. But it could be a far bigger Clinton victory than that, especially if the RNC pulls its support from the Trump campaign and only focuses on down- ticket races. I expect that third parties will carry about 4% to 5% of the vote. Gary Johnson will likely receive between 2.5% and 3.5% of the vote, and Jill Stein will likely receive between 1% and 1.5% of the vote. Other third party candidates will make up another quarter to half of one percent.
If Donald Trump continues to slip further, the Senate will almost certainly fall into Democratic hands. Could Trump lose big enough to flip the House of Representatives? Republican gerrymandering has made that difficult, and the RNC has now given its candidates permission to distance themselves from Trump. Hillary Clinton cannot get cocky. She still has to win the election — and with a large enough majority to get enough support in Congress to pursue her agenda. Donald Trump needs several news cycles that are a LOT more negative for Hillary Clinton, and positive for himself, if he has any hope of turning the tide or stopping his rapid slide in the polls.