The Real Key in The Electoral College

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Based on a group of new state polls this morning, Hillary Clinton is back at 335 electoral votes in her column versus Trump at 164. Needless to say, that is a healthy lead. But the bigger number is that Clinton is now up by at least 10 points in states accounting for 263 electoral votes. I’ve noted that number a few times over the last week or so. Really though, the number is 273, which is just 10 votes more but a world of difference since you need 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. In other words, Clinton is ahead by at least 10 points in states which are alone enough to win her the presidency.

Let me explain the difference between the two numbers. The TPM Electoral Scoreboard places states into seven categories. Toss-up and then three categories for each candidate: “strong”, “favors” and “leans”. The Scoreboard is driven entirely by polling averages derived from PollTracker. There’s no editorial component or reliance on economic factors or history, etc., with one exception, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Here’s the numerical framework. Toss Up states are states whether neither candidate has a lead equal to or greater than 2 points. 2-5 puts a state in “Leans”. 5-10 gets “Favors” and over 10 is “Strongly”.

Now, here’s the exception. What about states which haven’t been polled or haven’t been polled enough to generate an average? This tends not to be a huge problem because in the nature of things, states which are at all in play get polled more than enough. It’s only very red or very blue states that have that little polling. And you know who they’re going to go to. Still, it’s key to our approach that we follow non-subjective measures. So what we do is plug the previous presidential elections final results into the schema I outlined above and create a default assignment. So Texas isn’t just bright red in the “strongly Trump” category because we all know Texas is going to go for Trump. It’s there because Romney won by 16 points in 2012. (As it happens, a poll did come out this week showing Trump only up by 11 points over Clinton. But again, there haven’t been enough polls to generate a true average.)

Okay, so that’s your primer on TPM Electoral Scoreboard methodology.

Now let’s get down to 263 vs 273 electoral votes. This early in the cycle state polling is only starting to really rev up. So when I was looking at the numbers I noticed there were just 10 electoral votes in the “Favors” category. So I was curious what state it was. Turns out it’s Minnesota. Which doesn’t sound quite right since Minnesota is a fairly blue state – Obama won by 7 points in 2012. If Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Virginia are all over 10 points, we can pretty much guarantee that a poll taken in Minnesota would be over ten points. And in fact the last time the state was polled, in April, her margin was 13 points.

The upshot: Clinton now has 335 electoral votes in her column. But states where she’s up by at least 10 points account for 273 electoral votes, enough to win the presidency with those states alone.

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