james debate
james debate

Monday 7 November 2016

The final curtain is approaching for what has surely been one of the cleanest and most civil Presidential elections in US history. America is torn between two beloved and upstanding individuals, really either one of whom would be a fine and capable President. But enough about the series finale of The West Wing, we're fucked.

clinton trump election 2016 forecast final predictions polls

On Tuesday night, the final ballots will be cast, and we will hopefully know who the next President of the United States is going to be. The stakes are high: President Obama has stated in no uncertain terms that the fate of the world is in the balance, while Republicans have continued the doomsaying that they've been peddling basically since the 1990s. So going into this final day, who has the upper hand?

The media, as it predictably always does, has been working hard to play up the horse race, making this election look as close and exciting as possible in order to drum up viewers. The truth is that Hillary Clinton is the most likely winner. She has consistently and comfortably led in the polls throughout the entire election, and her state polls have almost always shown enough safe electoral votes to guarantee victory.

Now let's be clear, Donald Trump definitely has a chance, but there have been so few polls at any point in this election showing him in the lead that at this point it would certainly require a significant polling error. And not just one polling error, polling error across the many dozens of pollsters than have been producing numbers this election. The fact is that polls in American elections are generally very accurate. A lot has been made of polls missing the Brexit vote, but it's simply not true. The poll of polls showed Leave winning for most of the run up to the vote, with Remain only just eking ahead in the final days. The bettors got Brexit wrong, not the polls. If anything Brexit serves as a golden example of why not to argue against polls just because they seem unlikely. In order to predict a Trump victory, you once again must argue against the polls, and that's rarely a winning argument.

But let's get to it then, read on below for our forecast, including a full electoral vote state map, and further analysis.

Presidential Election Verdict: Hillary Clinton Elected President

election 2016 clinton trump electoral map forecast "Safe" Democratic Party electoral votes: 278
"Safe" Republican Party electoral votes: 185
Key States to watch: MI, PA

The map is pretty self explanatory. The data all comes from poll aggregator Pollster, with blue states being those where Hillary Clinton has a significant and consistent lead, red states where Trump has a significant and consistent lead, and the grey states are the current battlegrounds, where polls are closest. The diagonal lines denote states where individual electoral votes are awarded by Congressional district, two of which are considered toss ups. Each state has a certain number of electoral votes, as determined mainly by population. It takes 270 electoral votes to win.

As you will see from the current polls, the "safe" blue states already put Hillary Clinton over 270. This is a very strong position with which to be heading into the election. This essentially means that she can afford to lose every single grey state there, all the toss ups and battlegrounds, and she'd still win the election. Donald Trump has to win every single one of them, and even then he has to take one or two blue states.

So while certain polls may be suggesting this to be a close race, it is very much an uphill battle for Trump, with only very few real possible routes to victory. Even assuming he wins all the battleground states, which is in itself unlikely, Trump can really only win if one of the following happens:

  • Trump wins Pennsylvania
  • Trump wins Michigan
  • Trump wins both of Nevada and New Hampshire

The key states to watch on Tuesday are going to be Michigan and Pennsylvania, and I'll get into why that is in a moment. For now though I think it's important to highlight the state of Nevada.

Nevada has been polling quite close this election, and for a long while even appeared to be favouring Donald Trump. Winning this state would open up a very plausible route to victory for Trump by taking New Hampshire, which has also been close, but does not in itself have enough electoral votes to swing the election unless combined with another blue state.

Nevada is a strange state though, in that most of the population actually votes before election day. Some 60-70% of Nevada has already voted, and the numbers from that early vote are so strong for Clinton that many pundits are starting to suggest that the state might already be beyond Trump. Nevada is a notoriously difficult state to poll, but the key discrepancy here appears to have been an underestimation of the Latino vote. This potentially has a wide ranging impact on the election, because if polls are underestimating Latinos in Nevada, it suggests that we may see a similar effect in other states with large Latino populations like Florida, Colorado and Arizona, which would doom Trump.

So based on this information we're going to put this state in the blue column, but err on the side of caution and assume that this is a phenomenon isolated to Nevada.

With Nevada out of reach, that really only leaves two plausible routes to victory for Trump: win Pennsylvania or win Michigan. If we're very generous towards Trump and say he wins all the grey on that map, that leaves him with 260 votes to Clinton's 278. Now Trump actually only needs 269 to win, because in the event of a 269-269 tie, the election gets decided by the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republicans. In other words either of Michigan's 15 electoral votes or Pennsylvania's 20 would be enough to give Trump the win in this scenario.

There has also been discussion about whether Trump could also take Wisconsin or Colorado, but we're going to stick with these two on the basis that a) those states have been polling pretty consistently for Hillary and have a strong recent track record of voting Democrat, and b) that if Trump really wins those states then probably he's also winning Pennsylvania or Michigan anyway.

At the same time, one could of course say that the battleground states are all key, seeing as if Hillary wins even one of them she will almost certainly win the election. Polls show her leading in Florida and North Carolina and competitive in Ohio. If any of those get called early in her favour then the race is essentially done. The distinction though is that Clinton can afford to lose all these states, so if Clinton wins them yes the election is over, but if Trump wins them the race is still on. On the other hand, Michigan and Pennsylvania are likely to be determinative in either event. So while the winner of Florida may not tell you the winner of the election, the winner of Michigan and Pennsylvania probably will. Whoever wins those states will almost certainly win the Presidency.

So yes, the key states to watch are Michigan and Pennsylvania, once they have been called we will probably have a good idea of who will be President. But how likely is Trump to prevail there? Difficult to say. The polls have generally been close, but consistently in Hillary's favour. Both states' large population of white working class without college education makes Trump a strong contender, but Democrats have typically been able to rely on the much more diverse voters of Philadelphia and Detroit to carry these states.

So in summary, Trump's most plausible route to victory lies through Michigan or Pennsylvania, but he's behind in the polls in both states. As we said before, this election will require a significant polling error for him to win.

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