Despite some wobbles along the way, we’ve favored Hillary Clinton as the 45th president of the United States ever since we did our first handicapping of the Clinton vs. Donald Trump matchup back in late March. The edge we had for her back then has eroded a little bit at the end — we had her as high as 352 electoral votes, and in the final tally we have her down to 322, with 216 for Trump. If this is how it turns out, Trump will fare 10 electoral votes better than Mitt Romney, and Clinton will do 10 electoral votes worse than Barack Obama in 2012 — 11 or 12 if rogue Washington electors follow through on their threat to refuse to vote for Clinton (but we can’t assume that at this time).Keep reading for the rest of the picks.
The two closest states here are North Carolina and Ohio. For a long time, it appeared that Florida was a shakier state for Clinton than the Tar Heel State, but our sources indicate that the Sunshine State looks somewhat brighter for her now, although both should be tight. Meanwhile, Ohio may be a real Toss-up state. Buckeye history and demography point to Trump, but Clinton’s ground operation could come through for her in the end. If Ohio does vote for Trump while he is losing the White House, it will be just the third time in 31 elections that Ohio will have voted for the loser. We’re picking that to happen, but if Clinton gets any benefit out of James Comey’s final (?) intervention into campaign 2016, it may be that it generates a tiny bounce that allows her to leapfrog Trump in the Buckeye State. Arizona and Iowa seem like heavier lifts for Clinton but her campaign still holds out hope in both. Ultimately, we think North Carolina and Ohio are the hardest calls in the Electoral College, so we think it makes the most sense to just split them.
The buzz in the final days has been about a late Trump play in Michigan. He will likely eat into traditional Democratic margins there, but remember that Barack Obama won the state by nearly 10 points in 2012 (450,000 votes). Trump’s climb there is steep, but out of an abundance of caution we’re moving the state from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic. We’re doing the same thing in New Hampshire, where some polls were close last week (although many operatives do not believe the state is tied), and Pennsylvania, two states (like Michigan) that have very little early voting. Clinton is focusing on these states at the end, too, and with good reason. If Trump pulls an upset, it’ll probably be because he narrowly fought off Clinton in Florida and North Carolina and managed to spring a shocker or two in the Rust Belt.
Florida may tell us a lot about whether we’re going to have a long night or a short one. About two-thirds of voters will likely have cast their ballots early, so the vote count should not take that long. If Clinton wins the state by two or three points and is declared the victor early on, it’ll be hard to find a plausible path to Trump victory. If Trump captures the state, though, then we’ll have to see if her firewall states, like the aforementioned states of Michigan, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, as well as Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia, come through for her.
In the prognostication business, what you predict at the end — when the drift of the year is usually fairly clear — is less significant than what you predict months before, at a time when the future is foggy. Starting in March, we have released a total of 17 Electoral College maps in the Clinton-Trump race. Not even on Clinton’s worst campaign days did we ever have her below 270 electoral votes...
They're really good over there at Crystal Ball, and frankly I've been looking at the final polls this week and it all seems just too tight for Trump. I'm going to be sad, but I don't think he's going to pull it out.
But, we won't know until the people cast their ballots, so check back tonight.
PREVIOUSLY: "Donald Trump’s Narrow Path."