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Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump

Hillary Clinton supporters have been quick to point out that delegates matter whenever a raft of polls shows Bernie Sanders tied or winning against her nationally. They’re meaningless to the actual race, as are polls showing Sanders does better against Trump nationally. Now that Clinton is the presumptive nominee, it’s time to breathlessly note that Clinton has been up in 50 straight national polls. 50!

But electoral votes matter most, right?

And we now have a critical mass of state level polling that may give some people pause at a contested Democratic convention. Electoral maps of the United States using standard methods for judging what is possible show Sanders beating Trump without question while Trump remains competitive with Clinton.

Most importantly, for seventeen possible swing or purple states, Sanders is polling better than Clinton in fifteen of them. The other two, Nevada and Arkansas, do not yet have polling.

A standard way to evaluate the race is to consider as too close to call states with less than a five point polling margin. States where a candidate is winning by 5 points to 9.9 points are considered to lean in that candidate’s favor. Only states with a 10 point or greater margin are considered safe states for that candidate, though of course there are no guarantees.

The non-safe states in this map, courtesy 270.com, are brown and represent races where Clinton is leading (or losing) in RealClearPolitics (RCP) average for the state by less than ten points. I’ve included Idaho as a swing state as it generally tracks well with Utah. Clinton will likely make Arkansas competitive. For the few states like Nevada and New Mexico which also do not have polling yet, I’ve used Obama’s numbers from 2012 as a barometer.


Clinton is winning somewhat handily, but far short of the 270 needed for a guaranteed win. Now, using the exact same methodology, but assuming Sanders cannot make Arkansas competitive, here’s what a Sanders versus Trump contest looks like.


It’s a blowout. Sanders beats Trump and has twenty-four electoral votes to spare while Clinton would be sixty-two delegates short. This is possible because in seven key states (plus Idaho if it matches Utah), Sanders leads in the RCP average by more than ten points, while Clinton leads by less. For five of these eight states (Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Idaho), Sanders strikingly leads by more than ten points while Clinton leads by less than five, making them too close to call.

Clinton and Trump have three leaner states apiece. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan for Clinton by five or more but less than ten. Indiana, Missouri, and Georgia go for Trump by this calculation and in the next map that includes leaners.

Clinton versus Trump, including leaning states http://www.270towin.com/maps/qywkx

Clinton is closer; Trump would have to win the remaining electoral votes 9:1 just to get a tie, but she still isn’t over the hump, even if we were to turn Arkansas blue. Once again, the same methodology for Bernie Sanders with leaning states added to his total and to Trump’s:

Sanders versus Trump, with leaners http://www.270towin.com/maps/51wdD

Sanders looks like he could nestle somewhere between Obama’s 331 electoral votes in 2012 and 365 in 2008.

Now, it could be that polling will change between now and July. It could also well be that the vast majority of superdelegates will stand by Clinton at a contested convention in late July even if it isn’t clear that she will beat Trump in the Electoral College. It would not likely be the worst decision ever made at a contested Democratic convention.

And, besides, the will of Democratic voters as construed by electronic voting and tabulation machines matters most of all.