Donald Trump’s got a big problem with the electoral map.
As the Republican presidential nominee barrels and blusters toward the November election, his poll numbers slipping after his attacks on a Gold Star family and amid growing dismay and defections from members of his own party, states that once looked promising for the novice candidate are falling out of his grasp.
In interviews with a dozen electoral map experts, TPM found there is an illuminating consensus that Donald Trump’s path to victory is exceedingly narrow with less than three months to go until Election Day.
“If the election was held today, I would say there is no path to 270 for him,” said Jennifer Lawless, the Director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. “The stars would have to align, and he would probably have to become a different candidate.”
Prior to the Republican National Convention, many strategists believed Trump would need to hold the battleground states Romney won—Indiana and North Carolina—and then add victories in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio to get to 270. But polling indicates that Trump’s deficits among women, his shrinking appeal among college-educated whites and his underwater numbers with Latino voters could sink him in the electoral map.
“There is a fundamental feeling that he has alienated so many groups that I just don’t see how he threads the needle,” said Henry Brady, the dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at Berkeley.
Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at both The Century Foundation and
American Progress, said that Trump’s problems with college-educated
whites and minorities could require him to outrun Clinton among white,
non-college educated voters by much larger margins than Romney did.
Romney bested Obama upwards by 22 points among that demographic in 2012.
Teixeira forecasts that Trump could need to outrun Clinton by 40 points
there to make up for his other losses.
“Unless he can either reverse his slide among white college-educated voters or do unprecedentedly well among white, non-college educated voters he doesn’t have a path,” Teixeira said.
At the moment, no state underscores Trump’s problems better than Pennsylvania. While no Republican presidential candidate has won the Keystone State’s 20 electoral votes since 1988, its large white population made it a promising opportunity for Trump. Now, it looks like Pennsylvania could be a lost cause for the GOP nominee.
Last week, a Franklin and Marshall College poll showed Hillary Clinton leading Trump by double digits in Pennsylvania.
A closer look revealed that while Trump remained strong among non-college educated whites, he was struggling with just about everyone else. The poll found that Trump led Clinton 53 percent to 31 percent among white voters without college degrees. But Clinton led Trump by 30 points among the white, college-educated voters.
And while Trump led Clinton 45 percent to 35 percent among white men, Clinton made up the difference with strong support from white women, a group that Romney won, with a 28 point-lead over Trump.
“Trump has to seriously reverse what’s going on in these battleground states,” G. Terry Madonna, a public affairs professor at Franklin and Marshall and the director of its poll, told TPM. “He needs a huge sea change in order to get back in this election.”
The race appears closer at the moment in the crucial state of Ohio, where Clinton has a four-point lead over Trump in a head-to-head match up, according to the latest Quinnipiac Poll out Tuesday. But experts point out that Trump could continue to suffer from a lack of organization there, as the state’s popular Republican Gov. John Kasich doesn’t look inclined to lift a finger for him come fall. That could cost Trump in a state where ground game and get-out-the-vote operations will be key to success.
Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, has Ohio marked as “leans Democratic” on his election analysis. At this point, he too predicts Clinton will easily win the election.
“I never say impossible, but it would take something I am having a hard time imagining,” Sabato said.
As Trump’s electoral map shrinks, Clinton’s looks to be growing. New polls out of Arizona and Georgia last week indicated Clinton may have a chance to play in states Democrats might have discounted just three months ago.
“For Arizona to be as a close as it is and Georgia being as close as it is, he is playing defense across the board,” said Cal Jillson, an electoral politics expert out of Southern Methodist University.
William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that he’s not even sure Trump will be able to hold North Carolina, which Romney won in 2012. Frey said the black population is going to be strongly for Clinton and many of the new white voters in the state are pouring in from the North, indicating they may be more moderate than southern whites.
Even Utah is having a hard time grappling with Trump. A recent New York Times story highlighted the difficulty Mormon voters were having with the GOP nominee, as they take cues from prominent Mormon political leaders Mitt Romney and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who have both been very vocal about their concerns about Trump. A recent poll in the state showed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson surging there even as Trump remained in the lead.
“Trump has got to win Arizona, he has got to win North Carolina, you have got to win Georgia and Indiana and Utah,” said Louis Jacobson, a reporter at PolitiFact and a senior author of “The Almanac of American Politics 2016,” who keeps his own electoral map predictor. “If he loses any of those, his path gets a lot harder.”