Trump’s Narrow Path to Victory

I’m going to put two things side by side here so you can contemplate them in tandem. First, there’s the memo that Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook sent out “to donors, supporters and top volunteers” yesterday.

“Here’s the story that no poll can tell: Hillary Clinton has many paths to 270 electoral votes, while Donald Trump has very few. Hillary is nearly certain to win 16 ‘blue’ states, including Washington D.C., which will garner her 191 electoral votes. If we add the five states that FiveThirtyEight.com gives Hillary a 70% or greater chance of winning (Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin), Hillary only needs 10 more electoral votes.”

“Mook then runs down the possibilities for Clinton to win the remaining 10 electoral votes: taking Florida’s 29 electoral votes, North Carolina’s 15, Ohio’s 18, or any two of Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa, or Nevada.”

I’ll get into those scenarios in a moment, but the math is correct.

Next up is an excerpt from a Sean Trende piece for RealClearPolitics.

“To be sure, Clinton did not want the polls to tighten. At the same time, this was a particularly awful series of news cycles for her, while Trump had managed to go over a month without reprising some of his more polarizing statements, such as his flap with the Khan family, who lost a son in Iraq. We would expect a big swing in the polls, and there was one.”

“But it did not put Trump over the top. A week in, she still leads by 0.7 points in the four-way RCP average, and 0.9 points in the two-way average. She maintains a lead in the Electoral College, and while North Carolina and Nevada appear to be close, her lead in the next-most-Republican state, Virginia (which would put Trump over the 270 mark), is 3.5 points.”

“In other words, a truly terrible news cycle was still not enough to put Trump ahead. In a strange way, that’s good news for Clinton.”

As Mook pointed out, Virginia would be nice for Trump but he can theoretically win without it. It looks like the most likely path is to win in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, and Nevada. That’ll do it if he can also win either Colorado or New Hampshire.

The bad news for Clinton is that Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight currently has Trump ahead in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, and Nevada. The bad news for Trump is that Silver is giving Clinton a 63% chance of winning New Hampshire and a 64% chance of winning Colorado.

But, that’s not much of a margin.

Clinton did get modestly encouraging news out of the NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll that was released this morning. After shifting to a likely voter screen (since some absentee ballots have already been cast), the survey finds her winning both the two-way race (50%-45%) and the four-way race (45%-40%) by five points. They also find that 56% of voters think she will win compared to only 39% who think Trump will win. As the Los Angeles Times reports, when the election is still a way off, looking at who people expect to win is a comparatively good predictor of who will actually win. Of course, the Los Angeles Times poll is a very-bullish-for-Trump outlier and has been through this whole cycle. They have an unusual methodology that tracks the same 3,000 voters over time and pays a lot of attention to their relative motivation to vote.

Trump’s lead in the Daybreak poll rests in part on support from disaffected, conservative white voters who did not vote in 2012, but say they plan to vote this time. A belief that Trump can win might help motivate those voters to the polls, and his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, repeatedly has trumpeted the “momentum” on her side.

Overall, however, the Daybreak poll indicates that Clinton probably has the most to gain from expanded turnout. Trump has led among poll respondents who say they are most sure of their decision and most certain to vote. Clinton led until the last week among the larger universe that includes potential voters who are somewhat uncertain about their choice or their likelihood of casting a ballot.

In other words, the L.A. Times poll simply doesn’t believe that Clinton’s voters will turn out, but the perception that she might lose will help her more than it will help Trump.

Intuitively, I think that Clinton does have a little buffer that could save her in the end as people who are considering sitting it out or voting for a protest candidate or voting for Trump as a big middle finger to the Establishment find that they ultimately aren’t prepared to risk an actual Trump presidency.

But this election is now close enough that Trump winning is not a longshot anymore. I wouldn’t bet any money on him, but I wouldn’t have bet any money on the Rams beating the Seahawks on Sunday, either.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.