The Breakdown: Donald Trump's Five Most Likely Paths To Victory

Election Day is almost here, and if you’ve been following the polls and the mainstream media, you know that Hillary Clinton is considered the clear favorite. Hillary has the lead in a majority of the national polls despite the fact that Donald Trump’s polling numbers have been improving over the last few weeks. 

However, national polls don’t tell the whole story. In fact, due to the electoral college, national polls are virtually meaningless. This election will be decided by the swing states. If Trump can win a few states he’s currently projected to lose, he could pull the upset.

Here are Trump’s five most likely paths to 270 electoral votes, sorted from most likely to least likely.

The Safest Bet

The most likely Trump victory harkens back to the 2012 election, when Barack Obama trounced Mitt Romney with 332-206 electoral votes. This model assumes that Trump manages to win every state that Romney did, which, with the exception of battleground North Carolina, remain all but certain to go red this year.

In addition, Trump would have to snatch Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, and New Hampshire, which Obama won in 2012. Trump would also need to win Maine’s second congressional district. Without it, Trump and Clinton would end the night at a 269-to-269 tie. With Maine’s second congressional district, which is comprised primarily of rural voters, Trump would become the president by the narrowest of margins. 

A Working-Class Uprising

Clinton has been inextricably linked to NAFTA and a suspicion that she secretly supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been vilified for potentially stripping the U.S. of even more manufacturing jobs. Meanwhile, Trump’s America-first message seems to have resonated with a so-called “silent majority” of working-class whites who feel that their interests have been sidelined by establishment politicians.

In this scenario, Trump walks away with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, states that have reliably leaned blue in the polls. If the silent majority turns out to the polls, these erstwhile Democratic strongholds could end up spelling disaster for Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

Compared to Trump’s most likely path to victory, this model hands Nevada – which reported strong early-voting results for Clinton on the back of a motivated Latino base – back to Clinton. It also concedes North Carolina and New Hampshire, races that linger within the margin of error in the polls.

African-American Voters Decide To Stay Home

Black voters turned out to vote in record numbers for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but enthusiasm among the African-American community seems to have waned at the prospect of a Clinton presidency. Obama has been touring the country in an effort to get out the vote for Clinton, personally imploring black voters who supported him to show the same support for his one-time rival.

The lack of black voters could spell trouble for Clinton in states like North Carolina and Michigan, where predominantly black cities like Detroit have previously bolstered the Democrats’ voting totals. On Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus declared that “it’s all over” if Trump wins in Michigan. This scenario backs up Priebus’s claim.

The Spoiler Effect

In 2000, it was Ralph Nader; in 1992, it was Ross Perot; and in 2016, it might be Gary Johnson that helps to snatch a likely victory from one major-party candidate and hand it to the other. In this case, the Libertarian candidate could actually end up benefiting Trump if he absorbs votes from the #NeverTrump crowd that would have otherwise gone to Clinton.

In this model, Clinton holds on to the Pennsylvania-Wisconsin-Michigan corridor but loses out on Nevada, Colorado, and New Hampshire. Johnson has performed surprisingly well in these battleground states, and all three of which are currently such close toss-ups that the votes Johnson attracts could end up deciding which way they lean.

Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, has seemingly enjoyed more support among likely Clinton voters, with the majority of that demographic having said that they wanted to see him debate on the main stage. In states that tend to lean independent – Nevada and Colorado chief among them – Johnson’s brand of is most likely to siphon votes from those who would have perceived Clinton as the “safe” option.

Trump Storms The Northeast

This model gives Clinton Nevada and Colorado and assumes that she will maintain control of Michigan and Wisconsin. However, Trump could still march to victory if he manages to pull ahead in the crucial suburbs of Philadelphia, a demographic that could singlehandedly determine which candidate receives Pennsylvania’s coveted 20 electoral votes.

In this path to victory, Trump would also claim New Hampshire’s 4 electoral votes, as well as the 4 that are up for grabs from the entire state of Maine, which has proven itself within reach for Trump. Predictably, the rest of New England is a lock for Clinton, but ceding those 28 electoral votes to Trump would be all he needs to win it all.

Final Thoughts

Right now, most national polls have Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump by about four percentage points. But remember, in the 1980 election between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, mid-October polls showed Reagan losing by as much as 9 percentage points. As you know, Reagan went on to obliterate Carter by securing 489 electoral votes to Carter’s 49, even though some polls going into the election had the two candidates at virtual dead heat.

With how unusual this election season has been and the many twists and turns we’ve witnessed, it’s best to head into Tuesday expecting the unexpected.

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