It isn’t hard to predict who will win an election within the Electoral College system. Predicting the future is a different story, but elections held today or tomorrow are fairly easy to forecast. Here we’ll look at the electoral college system, the tools available to analyze polls , then try creating an electoral college map based on the information we have right now.
The Electoral College was set up with the Constitution in 1787. What are the benefits of the system that was chosen?
- The Electoral College provides procedure and structure to the election. In 1787, counting each ballot individually was nearly impossible, and subject to likely fraud. Even today, we don’t have a system to handle that count. Even of we did, the founders feared rash reactions of popular opinion such as what happened recently when many British citizens voted to leave the European Union without understanding the basics of what Brexit meant.
- The Electoral College preserves states rights. Each state (and the District of Columbia) has at least 3 votes (1 per senator plus at least 1 member of the House of Representatives based on population). If a heavily populated state has a particular point of view, it could sway the election. With the College, every state has a voice.
The result of the Electoral College is that candidates focus on winning states as opposed to the popular vote. This leads to three popular categories of states, Blue States (Democratic), Red States (Republican), and Swing States. Barring any extremely unusual events, certain states are highly partisan and can be safely counted in a prediction as either Democratic or Republican.
Certain states such as New York and California have a high percentage of urban voters that vote overwhelmingly Democrat. On most prediction maps, they’re blue.
The most rural states in America vote solidly Republican. The map above shows the vast region of the country in the Northwest that is solid red. This map is based on a gallop poll from 2013. Another state not colored in this map, but that votes solid Republican in presidential elections is Texas.
The remaining states that are up for grabs are known as swing states. It’s predicting outcomes of these states that will help us create a unique election forecast.
Electoral College Analytical Tools
270toWin.com has a useful map for exploring what-if scenarios. You can click on states to change them between Red for Republican, blue for Democrat, or beige for undecided.
The map on the home page defaults to the above, with all states but the swing states colored. The 10 beige states above are the ones that will decide the 2016 election. This is common knowledge among election forecasters and campaign strategists. Someone may argue for example that Arizona has shown potential to swing Democrat, or that Minnesota could break Republican. But for one of those to happen, the popular vote would have turned so far in one direction that most of the swing states would turn one color, in which case the election outcome would be inevitable. So for our analysis today we’l focus on those 10 swing states; Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada.
The road to 270 is another useful tool on 270ToWin.com. In a box below the map it shows possible winning combinations of remaining states. From the toss-up map, it shows 85 Winning Combinations » for Democrats and 72 Winning Combinations for Republicans. There’s also a column for must win states. which right now is blank with 10 states still beige. But we’ll lokk at that again in a bit.
2016 Election Forecast
Nate Silver's predictions and polling data for the 2016 presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
fivethirtyeight.com is loaded with useful tools for analyzing polls. Their NowCast does exactly what we’re going to do, gives a map of what would happen if the election were held today. Let’s hold off on looking at that too closely, and see what we come up with on our own. But first it’s worth noting that under the section of that page that says “How much each state matters” http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2016-election-forecast/#tipping-point There’s a list of the states most likely to influence the election. It’s a close match to our 10 swing states.
When we’re unsure of conflicting poll results, we’re going to take a look at 538’s Pollster ratings, and adjust for any bias.
realclearpolitics.com has the latest polls for several categories. If you click the dropdown at the top left of the polls page you can see all of the swing states listed.
electiongraphs.com also tracks polling data. Their map is based on a rolling poll count. Clicking on a state gives detailed polling data, including how that state voted in previous elections.
Likewise, clicking a state on the map at fivethirtyeight.com gives us the polls included to predict that state.
If the Election were held today
On November 6th 2012 I predicted the exact outcome of the electoral college using several of the sites mentioned above. The post “Final Electoral Vote Count shows the map made from 270ToWin . That map was created using several considerations; Likely voters, Recent Data, Momentum, and Pollster Ratings.
Likely voters — Polls that are conducted on Likely voters tend to more accurately predict outcomes, so we’ll assign those polls more importance .
Recent Data — To get an idea of current voter sentiment, we’re going to favor recent polls when available.
Momentum — If a state is still a tough call, we’ll consider them momentum in changes form previous polls, along with momentum in nationwide voter sentiment.
Pollster Ratings —When polls conflict, we’ll lean towards pollsters with better ratings.
Let’s break down our swing states and see if we can tell what would happen in an election today. We’ll start with states that have wider margins in the latest polls, and save the hardest ones for last.
A July 7–10th poll of likely voters has Clinton ahead of Trump by 6%. Looking at the polling history on , She has lead consistently here in polls since last year. Since Wisconsin has voted Democrat in the last several presidential elections, we’ll color this one blue.
The July 5–11 Marist College poll (likely voters) has Clinton ahead by 7%. A poll from July 6–10 from Hampton University has Virginia as a tie. But that pollster has only a B rating at 538, and is a bit of an outlier. Previous polls this year lean blue. Since Clinton has just picked a Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia as her Vice President, she likely wins this state in a vote held today.
JUL. 13–15 YouGov has Trump ahead just by 1%. A Monmouth poll from 8th to 11th has him by 2%. Considering Trump has strong national polls recently, and a post-convention bounce, we’ll give him Iowa.
The Public Policy Poling (PPP) poll is fresh after the Republican Convention and has Trump by 3%. This is enough to turn Ohio red.
Speaking of conventions, there’s a lot going on in Philadelphia right now. A fresh poll out today form Suffolk University has Clinton up by a whopping 9%. So PA is blue.
If you’re keeping score at home, here’s what our map looks like now:
With Clinton ahead 260 to 215, it’s getting tight for Trump. Also notice when you click on the map, that the Road to 270 box below now has 3 Must Win states under Republican: FL,NC,CO. There’s also 1 combination possible for a tie.
Not a must win for Trump, however he’s been ahead in several recent polls by as much as 9%, so NH is red.
This is listed as a must win. And polls have been close, but when we look at Likely Voters, and consider it went to Romney in 2012, lets turn NC red.
Rasmussen has a recent poll with Trump up by 4%. But Rasmussen doesn’t rank high as a pollster. Still Clinton’s managed only one tie in recent polls, with Trump leading the others. So Nevada goes to Trump.
The remaining 2 states are must wins for Trump. Unfortunately for him, Colorado inn’t playing along. He’s polled close there, but never ahead this year. So this Democrat leaning state stays blue.
That leaves the score 269–240 with Florida’s 29 votes remaining. Florida has bounced back and forth this year, but recent polls are trending Republican. So there you have it, if we voted today, Florida is a red state.
And if the election were held today, we may very well have a tie!