For months now, the team at the University of Virginia’s Center on Politics has engaged in a periodic assessment of the likely breakdown in electoral votes in the presidential election. Rather than allow themselves to weasel out of making tough calls, they have eliminated the “toss-up” category and forced themselves to assign states to either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump.
The results have consistently shown Clinton with a substantial lead over Trump, but the factor that made the map so provocative -- the decision to take a stand on every state, even where the outcome looked close -- was also its weakness. By its nature, the map published on the Sabato’s Crystal Ball website required the application not just of hard data, but a generous helping of personal judgment.
In the end, a dedicated Trump supporter could look at their conclusions and decide, like Jeff Lebowski, that’s it was all a matter of opinion anyway.
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That dodge got a little tougher Thursday, with the release of the latest version of the map, which divides the 50 states and the District of Columbia into one of six categories. Each is awarded to either the Democrat or the Republican, with a qualification of “safe,” “likely,” or “leans” depending on how certain the forecasters are of their prediction.
In the most recent edition of the map, Clinton’s lead ticks up slightly in overall terms, to 348 to 190 electoral votes. That’s a tiny swing of one vote in the Democrat’s favor since June.
However, the real news is the degree of certainty that Sabato’s team is now projecting. They now count just 75 of Clinton’s electoral votes in the category most subject to their own judgment: “Leans Democratic.”
That means that, even if they are wrong about every single state they’ve placed in the “leans” column for Clinton and all 75 of those votes actually go to Trump, the New York billionaire still doesn’t win the presidency.
Of course, with more than 80 days to go before the election, nothing is certain.
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“Let’s suppose Trump gains steam in the fall, maybe after some entertaining or overpowering debate performances. (This is a hypothetical, not a prediction.)” write Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley. “Where could he grab states currently in our Democratic column? Three big states that are perfectly capable of voting Republican stand out: Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. To this let’s add Iowa. So far Trump is faring better in the Hawkeye State than in other competitive swing states. It’s not difficult to see why. Almost half of Iowa’s electorate will likely consist of non-college whites, while minority voters will probably comprise less than 10%.”
However, they note, there is not currently a clear path to the nomination for Trump, even if he somehow manages to win all of the states that Mitt Romney captured in 2012. He would still be sitting at 259 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win outright.