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How Donald Trump could win 270 electoral votes

Donald Trump is the underdog in Tuesday’s presidential election. But he still has a shot of winning, at least if you believe the FiveThirtyEight forecast. So what would his path to Electoral College victory look like?

Essentially, the likeliest way Trump can top 270 electoral votes appears to be by:

1) Holding the lean Trump swing states of Iowa, Ohio, and Arizona

2) Winning the toss-up states of Florida and North Carolina

3) Winning either one more big state like Pennsylvania or Michigan or multiple smaller remaining contests.

Let’s walk through it. Trump starts off with 180 or so likely electoral votes, from the following (red) states:

Vox

His shakiest states here appear to be Georgia, where polls have been a bit close, and Utah, where independent candidate Evan McMullin could conceivably scramble things. But he’s still considered a solid favorite in both.

So in the remaining contests, Trump needs put together a combination of 90 or more electoral votes to get to 270. Here’s how he could do it.

How Trump could get very close to a victory

First, Trump almost surely has to win Iowa (six electoral votes) and Ohio (18 electoral votes), the two swing states where polls have shown him strongest. He’d also probably have to hold on to Arizona (11 electoral votes), a traditionally red state that the Clinton campaign is hoping high Hispanic turnout can swing into their column. Those states would put him up to 215 electoral votes.

Second, Trump also almost surely has to win the toss-up state of Florida (29 electoral votes). The state is so big that should Trump fail to win it, he’d basically have to run the table in the remaining toss-up states and win several sizable states in Clinton’s "firewall." A victory in Florida wouldn’t be enough for Trump to win, though — he’d be up to 244 electoral votes at this point.

He’d probably also have to win another pure toss-up state, North Carolina (15 electoral votes). Doing so would get him up at 259 electoral votes — oh-so-close to victory, but not quite at that magic number of 270.

Vox

To get himself over the finish line, then, Trump would have to find 11 more Electoral College votes somewhere — and he’d have to do it by breaking into Hillary Clinton’s "firewall" (the six-state combination of Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Colorado).

Trump has a few options for his final 11 electoral votes — but none of them would be easy

From here, Trump seems to have three broad options for getting to 270. He can do it either by winning one big state or by winning a combination of smaller remaining contests.

Just winning Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) would be enough to get Trump over the top. Alternatively, Trump could top 270 by winning Michigan (16 electoral votes), a state where the polls have dramatically tightened of late, where the Clinton campaign hasn’t been running ads until recently, and where Clinton herself is traveling twice on the campaign’s final weekend amid fears of lower-than-expected black voter turnout. Winning Virginia (13 electoral votes), too, would be sufficient, though most observers believe that’s less plausible due to demographics (the state’s white population is smaller and contains more college graduates).

It should be noted, however, that Trump has trailed the vast majority of polls in all three of these states for months. So if he fails to win any of them, he’d have to put together some other combination of unexpected victories to get him over the top.

  • Trump does seem to have surged in New Hampshire lately, but only four electoral votes are at stake there, so if he wins it he’d still need to find seven more.
  • So then he’d have to win either Nevada (where polls look tight but early voting looks ominous for Trump), Colorado (a state Democrats seem to think they have in the bag), or Wisconsin (where recent polling suggests Clinton’s lead remains intact).
  • And if he’s one electoral vote short, Maine’s Second Congressional District could conceivably get him over the top. (Maine is one of only two states in the country that awards electoral votes to its district winners, and Trump has polled well in the Second District.)

These aren’t the only possible paths to victory for Trump. One at least conceivable alternative, for instance, is that he could lose North Carolina but make up for it by winning two big Rust Belt states (some combination of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). And the Trump campaign has claimed that they could pull off surprise wins in Minnesota and New Mexico, though these claims have been met with intense skepticism.

Overall, though, Trump’s best path to 270 seems to be to hold Iowa, Ohio, and Arizona, win the toss-ups of Florida and North Carolina, and then win either Pennsylvania or Michigan. So though he’s definitely still the underdog, if he does win on Tuesday, I’d expect the map to look something like this:

Vox

Want to make your own electoral map? You can use Vox’s interactive tool to map out the electoral vote and share your predictions.


Watch: Why red means Republican and blue means Democrat