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The swing state math still looks terrible for Donald Trump

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Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

With about two months left in the campaign, the national race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has gotten closer, but Clinton still appears to be solidly ahead in more than enough swing states to deliver her the presidency.

Yes, the race seems to have tightened since Clinton’s peak in the early August post-convention period. At that time, Hillary Clinton’s lead over Trump in national polls rose to around 8 to 9 points on average, and now appears to be something more like 3 to 5 points. Trump has even led the occasional poll lately. And in key swing states, there have been fewer polls showing Clinton up by eye-popping double digit margins, in contrast to early August.

But current polling averages for both RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster do still show Clinton leading Donald Trump in almost every traditional swing state. Furthermore, Clinton remains not only ahead but pretty comfortably ahead in states that would be enough to provide her with a majority of electoral college votes.

In the below map, I’ve projected states to Clinton or Trump if either is leading both polling averages by 5 or more points, and kept the closer states as undecided. As you can see, Clinton currently has enough solid-looking leads to top 270 electoral vote that would give her a win.

Now, there have been more national polls recently than state polls — so it’s possible that the swing state data is a bit outdated, and doesn’t fully reflect the national tightening. And there could of course be more movement in the coming weeks, particularly once the debates get started.

Still, it would take a pretty dramatic shift (or polling failure) overall to tip the election to Trump. And historical precedent is on Clinton’s side, as the candidate ahead by this point in the election cycle has almost always gone on to win in recent decades.

Clinton’s easiest path to victory

Clinton starts off with a bloc of 201 votes or so that have always seemed to solidly be in her column (give or take one electoral vote from Maine’s second congressional district).

From there, her easiest path to to victory appears to be:

  1. Hold on to Wisconsin and Michigan in the Rust Belt.
  2. Win Colorado and Virginia, which have growing nonwhite populations but also lots of educated white voters, two groups Trump has been struggling with.
  3. Finally, win New Hampshire and Pennsylvania to get over the top.

Clinton came out of the conventions with bigger than usual bounces in all six of these states. Indeed, she’s led every single poll conducted in each of them since mid-July, and many by very large double digit margins.

Furthermore, Clinton’s campaign has omitted four of these states — Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado, and Virginia — from its latest round of targeted swing state ad buys. This suggests that Clinton’s team views her lead in each of these four as quite safe, for now at least.

The other key swing states

If Trump doesn’t manage to pry at least one of the above states out of Clinton’s hands, his loss is assured. But he needs to do more than that — he needs to win all or nearly all of the remaining swing states too, most of which Clinton is currently favored in.

These include the traditional big prizes of Florida and Ohio as well as the rapidly diversifying North Carolina — since the conventions, Clinton has posted leads in the low- to mid-single digits in all three. And then Nevada and Iowa, which both appear to be quite close, round out the traditional swing state lineup.

Finally, there’s a few traditionally red states that have ended up looking surprisingly close this year — most notably Arizona and Georgia, where Trump has very small leads in poll averages.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the Clinton campaign seems to have two key advantages in battleground states that might not show up in national polling. First, Clinton has heavily outspent Trump in advertising in swing states — until late August, in fact, Trump’s campaign had spent nothing on general election ads, while Clinton has spent tens of millions.

Second, by all accounts, the Clinton team has set up a more organized and disciplined campaign operation in swing states. (For instance, as of late August Clinton had 34 campaign offices in Florida but Trump had just one.) So if Clinton’s team is better able to identify and turn out its voters during early voting and on election day, her margin in polls could be padded even further.

Is a landslide in the cards for Clinton?

Overall, the current polling points to a strong electoral vote win for Clinton, resembling Barack Obama’s margin of victory over John McCain in 2008. But Democrats have dreamed of doing even better, hoping that Trump’s unpopularity could carry Clinton to a nationwide landslide.

There are a few data points that have given Democrats reason to hope this is happening: Occasional polls have shown Clinton close or ahead in deep red bastions like South Carolina and Texas. And since these states are even less frequently polled than swing states, it’s difficult to get a sense of what’s been going on there.

Still, if current polls are accurate, a Clinton landslide doesn’t appear likely. For that, Clinton would need to expand her national lead, which instead has been shrinking of late. She’d also need voters across many red states to outright reject Trump, when most of those voters instead appear to be falling behind him.

The bad map we see every presidential election

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