Trump’s narrow path to victory

For the benefit of those readers who do not live in the US and may be a little unclear about how the president is actually chosen, this post outlines the main details. The president is formally elected by something called the Electoral College, a largely virtual institution that exists just for the purpose of electing the president every four years. Each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia is allocated a certain number of what are called ‘electoral votes’ equal to the sum of the Senators and members of the House of Representatives that the state sends to Congress. You need to win a majority of those votes to be elected president.

The number of senators is fixed at two for each state giving a total of 100. The total number of House members is fixed at 435 but the number each state gets is proportional to the size of its population and can change based on the census that is taken every ten years, with the last one being in 2010. Since the minimum number of House members is one, the minimum number of electoral votes a state can have is three. The largest number comes from California with 55 votes.

Although the District of Columbia has no congressional representation and thus no senators (though it has one non-voting House member), the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1961 assigned the district as many electoral votes as it would have if it were a state, but no more than the least populous state. Hence it has three electoral votes. The total number of votes is thus 538 and this means that a candidate needs 270 votes to be elected president.

Each state gets to decide how to assign its share of electoral votes. Almost all of them assign all their votes to the winner of the popular vote in that state. The exceptions are Maine and Nebraska that in 1972 and 1996 respectively chose to go a different route. In those two states, the overall winner gets two votes but the remaining votes are allocated according to the winner in each congressional district. The overall winner in either state is thus guaranteed at least three votes. In practice, the two states have always awarded all their votes to one candidate except in 2008 when Nebraska split 4-1 in favor of John McCain over Barack Obama. In the current election, Maine looks like it may split 3-1 in favor of Hillary Clinton.

In recent history, most states are so reliably Democratic or Republican that only the local races in those states get any attention. Since Donald Trump is behind in the polls right now, it is easier to look at his possible path to victory. The Guardian has published a useful map for those seeking to follow the election more closely, especially on election night, and it shows the states he needs to win to get the absolute minimum of 270 votes for victory, assuming Maine has a 3-1 split against him.


Only a small number of states, referred to as swing or battleground or toss-up states, play a crucial role in deciding the presidential outcome and those are the ones where campaigns spend most of their time and money and the media covers. Currently the states that are considered toss-ups (in that the polls are close enough to go either way) consist of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, and Arizona for a total of 106 votes. (Some add the 72 votes from Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin to the list of battleground states though current polls show all these states leaning towards Clinton.) According to the map, we see that in getting to his 270, Trump can only afford to lose one of the toss-ups (Minnesota) but has to win all the rest.

But it gets worse for him. The Guardian map has assigned New Hampshire to Trump but current polls indicate that it is actually leaning towards Clinton, so if he does lose that state, he needs to pick at least four votes somewhere else in addition to winning all of the toss-ups minus Minnesota. New Mexico may be his best shot.


  1. Siobhan says

    I thought Minnesotans were “nice.” How did nearly half of them come to seriously consider an autocratic cheeto to be their candidate?

  2. John Smith says

    Ok, now that the election is pretty much over can we please start attacking Her Heinous? And talk about how dangerous she is? There are people rallying for peace at Clinton’s inauguration. Also, what possible price can she pay when she is already President?

    Also, Sanders needs to explain his plans for holding her feet to the fire. How is he going to fight against her foreign policy via mass movement? Does he really think she would do anything she’s promised? Is he that naive and stupid? I think not. How is he going to fight her TPP? Her wars? Will he be complicit in the crimes of a Clinton administration, rushing to her defence against Republican attacks? Does he really think corporate democrats like Ted Strickland are better than republicans? What is the point of democratic senate if it will Rubber Stamp Clinton’s Wall St appointees? What’ll he do against her plans to privatize social security? Her authoritarian instincts?

    After the democratic primary, does he really think Clinton can be primaried? Does he really think working within the democratic party will get anything done. There are no good democrats -- there are only the evil ones like Clinton, Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, those like John Lewis who are complicit with atrocities and those who really don’t know anything. Donna Brazille is Debbie in blackface. How is her replacement a victory at all as the Sanders people claim? It is a charade.

    If he shows himself to be a nothing, a useless coward who sold us a lie (that he can make Clinton do something), what will WE as progressives do? There’s going to be a protest as her inauguration for peace. How many of us will be there? Will we chicken out? This election and the romp it has provided will be remembered fondly because Hillary Clinton isn’t actually doing that much harm right now.

    How can we form a viable third party -- a nexus both for progressive (or if the democratic party has so co-opted that term, dare I say, socialist) candidates and for mass movement? Rallies and riots for peace and for justice. Mass demonstrations, strikes against Clinton’s economic policies. Against her foreign policy.

    And frankly, we need to work with both Trump & Clinton voters. Most are voting for Trump not because of racism but anger with the establishment, damaged with trade. Demonizing them is divisive when they will be the ones fighting against a Clinton administration the hardest. THEY are our natural allies. And while I deplore them, like Fox News.

    How else do we stop Supra-Trump, a true-blue Hitler from winning in 2020? Let us also dispel with the notion of many on the right that either Obama or Clinton are progressive. She is a crony capitalist. She is a right wing fanatic. Don’t let her administration poison the left.

    Society will be destroyed by the spineless. Let that not be us. Now is the time to fight. Let us not talk or act from fear. Let’s not be so worried about stepping on the toes of evil Democrats, whose priorities are Wall St and the MIC, because boogeyman republicans might gain power. Form a third party that is a movement and we can win. And we need heavy hitters in that third party like Bernie Sanders and Jon Stewart, or it WILL NOT gain traction.

    Trump has next to no chance. Now is the time to end the self deception and take the fight to the enemy that is Clinton.

  3. John Smith says

    And while I deplore them, that means damage to Fox News is quite a bad thing* in the sixth paragraph.

  4. felicis says

    Another source to look at is here:

    Trump has to win *all* of the ‘battleground states, plus not lose to McMullen in Utah, and pick up Pennsylvania (currently +5). If he loses Utah -- then he’s still got some cushion since PA is so big (20 EV) -- but not *much*. He cannot lose UT and (say) GA. The hard part for Trump is that his popularity is higher in less populated states. And now, even TX appears to be wavering. 350 EV is doable for Clinton. 270 is barely in the realm of possibility for Trump.

    Of greater concern to me are the Senate and House races. Independent of who is President, those will determine how easily they can implement their policies.

  5. Menyambal says

    Thanks, Mano, I learned a lot.

    I think the Electoral College and some other aspects of our representative system of government, are vestiges of the time when travel and communication were very slow. I’d like to see our modern instant communication integrated better.

    My state, Missouri, is pretty much red, except for the big cities, and votes conservative consistently. It isn’t even on your list of possibles, there. But Hillary Clinton is running campaign ads, and the Democratic candidates are getting unprecedented endorsements.

  6. dogfightwithdogma says

    Loved the post Mano.

    John Smith says: “Is he that naive and stupid?”

    I see you’ve found a way to label all the Clinton supporters as naive and stupid without actually directly referring to them. How very bold of you.

  7. brucegee1962 says

    @2John Smith,

    Ok, now that the election is pretty much over can we please start attacking Her Heinous?

    No. Please note that “pretty much over” is not the same as “over.”

    The date you are looking for is November 9. At that point, by all means start laying into her. She’s certainly an establishment politician, and while she has shown herself amenable to pressure (eg. the convention platform), she will certainly require constant pressure.

    But for now, we still need to get her elected to prevent Orange-tinted Doom. There is a real danger that people will say “The election is a done deal, so I’ll stay home and not get my hands dirty voting for her.” I’m just not certain that the election is close enough for much of that.

  8. Reginald Selkirk says

    Most are voting for Trump not because of racism but anger with the establishment, damaged with trade.

    I don’t feel compelled to agree with you, and you provide no evidence or arguments to back up your assertion.

    Demonizing them is divisive when they will be the ones fighting against a Clinton administration the hardest. THEY are our natural allies.

    Yes, they will be fighting the Clinton administration. But will they be opposing it in the same ways and on the same issues as I am? Seems highly questionable. More of the “find out what the president wants, then take the opposing position” that we have been seeing from Congressional Republicans since 2010 is not a useful contribution to national dialogue.

  9. alkaloid says

    @John Smith, #3

    “Ok, now that the election is pretty much over can we please start attacking Her Heinous?”

    1) I never stopped attacking her. 🙂

    2) I think you’re absolutely right.

  10. says

    Sadly, I think my swing state of Iowa is way too white to not go for Trump. Worse, Republicans in the more local races (and I would even include US House and Senate in that) are, therefore, not likely to suffer any consequences from being down-ballot of Trump. 🙁

    Also, in response to John Smith claiming “Most are voting for Trump not because of racism but anger with the establishment, damaged with trade” I would first say “Bullshit” much like Reginald, but I would also say some are voting Trump because of an irrational hatred of Clinton. Oh, and, no, Trump supporters are most certainly not our natural allies in holding Clinton’s feet to the fire. Really? The people who want to make a big deal out of emails and Benghazi? And people that you should be recognizing paint Clinton and Obama as progressives because they despise progressives and want to drive an emotional response away from them…they are our natural allies?!? I wish I could say, “You can’t be serious!” but I’ve skimmed enough of your screeds to know better.

  11. John Morales says

    John Smith:

    Ok, now that the election is pretty much over can we please start attacking Her Heinous? And talk about how dangerous she is?

    Well, you certainly can’t start — you never stopped.

    Most are voting for Trump not because of racism but anger with the establishment

    The one thing you’ve written that’s actually sensible.

  12. Trickster Goddess says

    I think Trump is going to have a hard time with voter turnout. With his constant whining that the election is rigged, he is signaling that he expects to lose and will thus probably discourage a lot of his supporters from even bothering to go out to the polls.

  13. dogfightwithdogma says

    John Smith @3: “She is a right wing fanatic.”

    You obviously do not know what right wing fanatic means. John Birchers were examples of right wing fanatics. HRC certainly is not a progressive. She is probably best described as a centrist liberal with some neo-conservative leanings. If you think her a right-wing fanatic then you are letting your emotions completely dominate whatever rational faculties lay hidden somewhere in your brain.

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