How Hillary Will Win, State by State

Our long national nightmare is almost over. Barring an unprecedented collapse by Hillary Clinton (feverently knocking on wood), self-avowed sexual predator Donald Trump will not have access the most powerful military in human history, nor will he have any say in domestic or foreign policy. Hopefully, post-election Trump will go the way of Sarah Palin, freely ignored by anyone who doesn’t subject themselves to fringe cable networks.

That is not to say this excruciating election cycle has not raised important issues. In his own horrifying way, Trump exposed the still prevalent racism and misogyny that dominates substantial parts of our society. As Amanda Taub recently noted for The New York Times, Trump’s boasts about his uninvited groping women has increased public awareness of the terrible ubiquity of sexual assault. Likewise, his disturbing claims about the legitimacy of American elections have inspired renewed appreciation for the peaceful transfer of power our nation usually achieves.

From a purely political perspective, however, one of the most interesting aspects of Trump’s rise has been the subtle realignment of the electoral map. Perhaps more than ever before, race is our country’s most salient political cleavage. Reliable but overwhelmingly white bellwethers like Ohio and Iowa are bucking national trends, giving Trump a slight edge in spite of his unsavory character. Meanwhile, solidly red states with large minority populations, such as Georgia, Texas, and Arizona, are suddenly competitive for the first time in years. Virginia, a Republican stronghold prior to the 2000s, is so firmly in Clinton’s column that Trump hasn’t led in a single poll of the commonwealth. The set of swing states is in flux.

With that in mind, it’s worthwhile to consider likely outcomes in this year’s most presidential competitive states. In so doing, we stand to learn about some of the trends that will shape the next two decades of presidential politics. Plus, if you guess every state correctly, Disney gives you a website (FiveThirtyEight is owned by Disney).

The picks that follow are based on several considerations. First, I collected the full set of reputable general election polls from every state I deemed competitive. Using the polling aggregation site RealClearPolitics, I divided those polls into two time periods — those taken prior to the release of the Access Hollywood tape, and those take subsequent to the tape’s release. Unsurprisingly, the post-tape swing-state polls put Clinton up an additional 2.3 percentage points on average. However, America has proven that it has a relatively short memory when it comes to Trump’s scandals; for example, when he insulted the Gold Star Khan family following the Democratic National Convention, his poll numbers dropped precipitously, only to recover within about three weeks. Thus, I still believe Trump’s pre-tape polling average to be relevant, as it is wholly possible his numbers could again drift back to that level.

In addition to polling averages, I took into account the state-by-state forecasts produced by websites such as The New York Times, FiveThirtyEight, The Huffington Post, Princeton Election Consortium, and PredictWise. The New York Times helpfully reports all of these forecasts in its statistical analysis section The Upshot. For this article, I took a simple average of the forecasts produced by these websites for each state as of October 22. Those averages are reported in the table below.

Finally, I took into account each state’s past electoral behavior, as measured by its vote in the past six presidential elections and the party affiliation of its most prominent statewide officeholders (i.e. the state’s governor and senators).

Together, these measures provide enough information to make reasonable guesses as to the outcome of the presidential election in each state of interest. Let’s take a tour through each of these battlegrounds, starting with the least competitive.


Competitive in Name Only

Maine

Forecast Average: 96.20%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +5.5
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +6
Governor: R
Senators: R, I
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, D, D, D, D

Maine is both the whitest and oldest state in the union, two traits often associated with conservatism. Unsurprisingly, these factors have driven Maine’s transition from blue state to swing state in recent years. No Democrat has won statewide office in Maine since 2006, and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District recently elected its first Republican in twenty years. Together, these factors help explain why the state was until recently labeled a “tossup” by RealClearPolitics. However, October polling suggests that the liberal southern half of the state will keep it in the Democratic column in 2016.

Prediction: Democrat

New Hampshire

Forecast Average: 94.8%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +7.3
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +8.7
Governor: D
Senators: R, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, R, D, D, D

Like Maine, New Hampshire is an exceedingly white state with an independent streak, making it a potentially inviting target for Trump at the beginning of the election cycle. Moreover, the Granite State gave Trump his first primary victory, and decisively rejected Hillary Clinton in this year’s Democratic primary. Yet despite these ill-omens, Clinton has dominated the race in New Hampshire from the outset of the general campaign. The only suspense surrounding Clinton in New Hampshire is whether her coattails will be long enough to drag Maggie Hassan (D) into the U.S Senate.

Prediction: Democrat

Pennsylvania

Forecast Average: 95.3%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +6.2
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +6.3
Governor: D
Senators: R, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, D, D, D, D

Some political observers have considered Pennsylvania to be a crucial test of Trump’s appeal. With its relatively large population of white, blue collar Democrats, Pennsylvania figured prominently in Trump’s electoral math, with the candidate pledging early on to make the state a focus. However, polling in Pennsylvania was never particularly close, as reflected by the nearly identical pre-and-post tape averages. While Pennsylvania might be competitive for a Trump-style populist at some point in the future, it is clearly not in play this year.

Prediction: Democrat

South Carolina

Forecast Average: 91.7%
Pre-Tape Average: Trump +6.3
Post-Tape Average: NA
Governor: R
Senators: R, R
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): R, R, R, R, R, R

Two factors underlie Democratic optimism in this deeply conservative state. First, South Carolina is home to a substantial number of veterans, some of whom have undoubtedly been offended by Trump’s comments regarding John McCain and Capt. Humayun Khan. Second, nearly 28% of South Carolinians are African American, perhaps the most reliable Democratic voting block in the U.S. It is possible to imagine a situation in which the uncompetitive nature of the election, distaste for Trump, and robust black turnout renders South Carolina a close contest. However, given the state’s strong Republican lean on the whole, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Prediction: Republican

Virginia

Forecast Average: 97.7%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +7.9
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +10
Governor: D
Senators: D, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): R, R, R, R, D, D

Few states symbolize the changing electoral map as strongly as Virginia. When Barack Obama won the state in 2008, it was the first time a Democratic presidential candidate had prevailed there in 44 years. Now, Virginia is represented by a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators, one of whom is the party’s nominee for Vice President. Hillary is projected to win here in a walk; neither candidate has campaigned in the state in weeks.

Prediction: Democrat

Indiana

Forecast Average: 95.3%
Pre-Tape Average: Trump +7.7
Post-Tape Average: Trump +5
Governor: R
Senators: R, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): R, R, R, R, D, R

Indiana is tough but not necessarily impossible territory for a Democrat. Barack Obama won the state in 2008, Joe Donnelly won a senate race there in 2012, and Evan Bayh currently leads the contest to replace retiring senator Dan Coats. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see Hillary prevailing here — after all, the GOP nominee for Vice President is the state’s governor Mike Pence, and Indiana was the primary election that sealed Trump’s victory in the Republican nominating contest.

Prediction: Republican

Missouri

Forecast Average: 92%
Pre-Tape Average: Trump +7.4
Post-Tape Average: Trump +5
Governor: D
Senators: R, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, R, R, R, R

Missouri was not always a solidly conservative state. As The New York Times noted last week, it used to rival Ohio as the nation’s best predictor of presidential success. Missouri Democrats still have some success at the state level, with Democrats currently holding the governor’s mansion and a senate seat. In addition, the Democrats have an exciting candidate on the second line of the ballot in senate candidate Jason Kander, which might inspire some otherwise apathetic Democrats to vote. However, Trump’s anti-Washington message has been fairly successful in Missouri, to the degree that embattled GOP senator Roy Blunt has thought it prudent to stand by him. As such, Missouri remains a long shot for Clinton.

Prediction: Republican

Wisconsin

Forecast Average: 95.8%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +7.3
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +6.2
Governor: R
Senators: R, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, D, D, D, D

While Wisconsin has a tendency to elect Republicans in midterm years, it always goes blue during the presidential cycle. The Democratic presidential candidate has won the last seven consecutive elections in Wisconsin, and the last time a Wisconsin Republican has won a senate race in a presidential year was 1980. With the polls showing Clinton well ahead, we can put Wisconsin comfortably in the Democratic column.

Prediction: Democrat

Minnesota

Forecast Average: 94.7%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +4.3
Post-Tape Average: No Polls
Governor: D
Senators: D, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, D, D, D, D

There have been relatively few polls in Minnesota this election cycle, which is possibly why some pundits mistake the state for competitive. I assure you it is not. The land of Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and Walter Mondale has voted for the Democrat in every presidential election since 1972, the longest running such streak of any state. It won’t abandon that history in favor of a narcissistic cheese puff.

Prediction: Democrat

New Mexico

Forecast Average: 97.5%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +8.7
Post-Tape Average: No Polls
Governor: R
Senators: D, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, D, R, D, D

The kinder, gentler Republican Party of George W. Bush and Susana Martinez could succeed in New Mexico, which is 48% Hispanic. Trump’s angry ball of white nationalism cannot.

Prediction: Democrat


Called With 10% of Precincts Reporting

Florida

Forecast Average: 83.8%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +1.9
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +3.8
Governor: R
Senators: R, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): R, D, D R, R, D, D

As Ohio drifts ever so slightly to the right, Florida is poised to replace it as the nation’s most accurate electoral barometer. For the past five elections, Florida has gone to the overall winner of the Electoral College, and this year appears to be more of the same. In addition to Clinton’s lead in most polls, the demographics of early ballot requests suggest that she is poised to do well in the state. According to Associated Press data on mail-in ballots, Democrats have thus far requested 39% of such ballots in Florida, as compared to 40% for Republicans. In 2008, when President Obama won the state, Democrats had requested 32% of mail-in ballots, while Republicans made up 49% of the total. With Democrats poised to dominate in-person early voting, Clinton could run up a substantial lead in Florida before the polls even open.

Prediction: Democrat

Texas

Forecast Average: 91.7%
Pre-Tape Average: Trump +6.7
Post-Tape Average: Trump +3.5
Governor: R
Senators: R, R
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): R, R, R, R, R, R

I’m friends with a number of Texas Democrats on Facebook, and each is salivating at the opportunity to turn Texas blue. Former state senator Wendy Davis’ landslide loss in the 2014 gubernatorial election seemed to indicate that a Democratic Texas was at least a decade away, but Trump’s racist attacks on Mexican immigrants has put the state in play. According to Texas Monthly, there are over half-a-million newly registered voters in Texas this cycle with Hispanic surnames, and Trump’s post-tape polling average approaches a typical poll’s margin of error. It is not out of the question that Clinton could win here. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember than no Democrat has won any of Texas’ numerous statewide offices since 1994, and that barring future scandals, Trump’s numbers are likely to drift back towards his pre-tape average as the election approaches. With these considerations in mind, it is still difficult to imagine Clinton winning the state.

Prediction: Republican

Colorado

Forecast Average: 94.8%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +4
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +6
Governor: D
Senators: R, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, R, R, R, D, D

In 2000, Colorado was 17.1% Hispanic. By 2015, that number had grown to 21.3%, and with that growth has come a change in Colorado’s political orientation. While Colorado still elects Republicans on occasion, it has become far more friendly territory for Democrats. This year, there was never much doubt who would win the state; Clinton pulled her ads there in July. There is little chance Trump will pull an Election Day surprise.

Prediction: Democrat

Utah

Forecast Average: 87.2%
Pre-Tape Average: Trump +13
Post-Tape Average: Trump +5.5
Governor: R
Senators: R, R
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): R, R, R, R, R, R

It is entirely possible that Trump could lose this Republican stronghold, though it is unlikely he would do so to Hillary. Recent polling shows that Trump’s closest competitor in the state is former CIA official Evan McMullin, who trails Trump by an average of just over 5 points. While I ultimately believe Trump’s lead is sufficient to withstand McMullin’s charge, watching the Utah returns will provide some entertainment on election night.

Prediction: Republican


Keeping Campaign Staffers Nervous

Nevada

Forecast Average: 79.7%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +0.5
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +4.3
Governor: R
Senators: R, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, R, R, D, D

Nevada is one state where the Trump tape may have made a real difference. While Clinton led by an average of just 0.5% prior to the tape’s release, she now has a relatively comfortable four-point margin. While the race will likely tighten as voters begin to forget Trump’s remarks, Clinton should have a sufficient cushion to carry the state on November 8th.

Prediction: Democrat

North Carolina

Forecast Average: 77.7%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +1.1
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +2.5
Governor: R
Senators: R, R
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): R, R, R, R, D, R

Like Florida, early voting in North Carolina seems to show an advantage for Hillary Clinton. The Republican lead in mail-in ballots in the state is significantly below Romney’s margin in the state, and Democrats are expected to have a huge advantage among in-person early voters. In addition, North Carolina Democrats might be further motivated by the chance to unseat unpopular Republican governor Pat McCrory, who is in a tight race with North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Moreover, Clinton led in North Carolina in the weeks prior to the release of the Trump tape, which suggests she might still have an advantage even if voters forget Trump’s remarks. With all this in mind, she remains the favorite in the Tar Heel State.

Prediction: Democrat

Georgia

Forecast Average: 73.30%
Pre-Tape Average: Trump +2.4
Post-Tape Average: Trump +4
Governor: R
Senators: R, R
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, R, R, R, R, R

Like Texas, Georgia has long been on the list of future Democratic targets. Unlike Texas, Democrats have not been killed here recently. In 2014, Democratic senate candidate Michelle Nunn won 45% of the vote in the state, and as did Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter. These numbers bode well for Clinton, as Trump is far less popular in Florida than either Nunn’s or Carter’s opponents. However, early ballot requests in Georgia among black voters are down from 2012, and Trump has led every state poll since early August. While we can’t rule out a Clinton upset here, the smart money is still on Trump.

Prediction: Republican


True Tossups

Maine CD2

Forecast Average: 58.20%
Pre-Tape Average: Trump +6.8
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +1
Governor: R
Senators: R, I
Congressional Representative: R
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, D, D, D, D

Natives of Northern New England are well acquainted with the “The Two Maines” narrative. Composed of Cumberland and York counties, the southern part of the state is cosmopolitan, somewhat developed, and culturally similar to New England as a whole. Meanwhile, the northern part of the state is rural, isolated, and almost wholly white, which gives the region the character of a Mountain West state. Strength in Northern Maine drove the successful campaigns of Maine’s incumbent governor Paul LePage, who is often referred to derisively as the nation’s craziest chief executive. In fact, locals consider LePage to be the beta version of Donald Trump. It is little surprise, then, that Trump has led in most polls of the region. While most forecasting models give Hillary a slight edge in the race for this seat’s electoral vote, I expect the contest to swing back to Trump by Election Day, marking the first time Maine will have exercised its mechanism for splitting its electoral votes.

Prediction: Republican

Ohio

Forecast Average: 60.7%
Pre-Tape Average: Clinton +0.1
Post-Tape Average: Trump +0.6
Governor: R
Senators: R, D
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, R, R, D, D

Ohio has correctly picked the winner in every election since 1964. This year, that streak comes to an end. Though the state has long prided itself on its representative nature, its significant white population is starting to catch up with it. Trump has maintained a slim lead here in recent weeks, a lead that has been disturbingly unaffected by his boasts of sexual assault. Clinton doesn’t need Ohio to win, which is fortunate, since the state will probably break for Trump.

Prediction: Republican

Iowa

Forecast Average: 60.5%
Pre-Tape Average: Trump +2.6
Post-Tape Average: No Polls
Governor: R
Senators: R, R
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): D, D, D, R, D, D

Having supported Democrats in five of the past six presidential elections, Iowa used to be described as slightly left-leaning. However, with a population that is 92% white and a location in the middle of the country, the Democratic advantage here could only last so long. After Tom Harkin’s retirement in 2014, Republican Joni Ernst took the state’s second senate seat by a substantial margin, and the state has leaned Trump for the balance of the general election. Moreover, Iowa is one of the few places where Democratic early voting is down from its 2012 levels. Trump probably has an edge here.

Prediction: Republican


Won’t be decided until Wednesday Morning

Arizona

Forecast Average: 54.3%
Pre-Tape Average: Trump +1.4
Post-Tape Average: Clinton +5
Governor: R
Senators: R, R
Last Six Presidential Elections (1992–2012): R, D, R, R, R, R

The closest 2016 state, Arizona represents just how far Republicans have fallen under Trump. Aside from Bill Clinton’s victory here in his 1996 reelection romp, Democrats have found virtually no success at the state level. John McCain has held one of the state’s senate seats since the beginning of time, and the last Democrat to hold the other seat was Dennis DeConcini back in 1995. Arizona was home to the 2010 immigration law that encourage racial profiling, and the state GOP once castigated senator John McCain for his moderation. Yet Hillary’s chances here are real. The average forecast rates the state as essentially a coin-flip, and a growing Hispanic population is ready to punish Trump for his naked bigotry. Early voting in Arizona has thus far favored Democrats by 13 points, up 10 points from the 2012 margin. Moreover, GOP turnout might be substantially depressed on Election Day by the uncompetitive nature of the election nationally. All these factor suggest that Hillary will be the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since her husband.

Hillary’s victory on November 8th will include one of the bluest maps in recent memory.

Author’s Note: This article was written prior to the FBI’s announcement that it had discovered several of Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails on a computer belonging to former Rep. Anthony Weiner. Given that no further information is likely forthcoming prior to the election, and that the emails are most likely insignificant, I believe that the predictions above will be unaffected by this revelation.