The 11 states that will determine the 2016 election

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Trump vs. Clinton may be an unusual matchup, but their coming battle will be fought on familiar terrain.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump bring unique strengths and weaknesses to their general-election clash. But after months of polling, the Electoral College landscape on which they will compete largely mirrors the one that has determined the presidency in the past four cycles.

POLITICO’s analysis of polling data suggests 11 states will determine the next president: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. All were battleground states in the previous two elections. But that doesn’t mean the map is constant: As the states’ demographics change, and the parties’ relative appeal among various groups transform, some states move toward one party or the other over the long term.

While those changes – combined with the unusual nature of Trump’s campaign – add an element of uncertainty to the campaign, most pollsters agree that Clinton and the Democrats will enter the general election with a perceptible advantage: Of the 11 states most likely to determine the victor, President Barack Obama won all 11 in 2008, and 10 of the 11 in 2012.

Polls show Clinton with a lead nationally, and in at least eight of the individual battleground states. And these polls mostly reflect a surge in Trump’s support after the real-estate mogul dispatched his GOP opponents last month — but were conducted before Clinton clinched her party’s nomination.

Still, data has consistently shown Trump running strongest with white voters without a college degrees — potentially accelerating an already-in-progress trend of these voters moving toward Republicans rapidly over the past two decades. At the same time, polls and the general tenor of Trump’s campaign portend poorly for the presumptive GOP nominee’s odds of attracting significant support among nonwhite voters.

Whites have been declining as a share of the electorate over the past few decades, and three-in-10 voters this fall are expected to be nonwhite. But that movement is not uniform across the map: Some battleground states have larger shares of nonwhite voters, and some states are diversifying faster than others.

That sets the usual cadre of swing states in two classifications: states where increasing diversity has been driving a move toward Democrats, and those with higher concentrations of white voters, including some that have been moving modestly toward the GOP, where Trump might overachieve other Republicans.

In addtion, there are a handful of other, nontraditional states that each campaign thinks it can put in play. These include states where Democrats believe demographic changes will make them more competitive in future elections, like Arizona and Georgia. But it also includes states Trump has said he thinks he can win that left the GOP decades ago, though there’s little data to support his assertions.

Here is the state of play in the 11 key states, along with a handful of other, nontraditional states that each campaign thinks it can make competitive:

The Sun Belt states (72 electoral votes): Colorado (22 percent nonwhite in 2012), Florida (33 percent), Nevada (36 percent), North Carolina (30 percent), Virginia (30 percent):

While this grouping of states stretches from the Mid-Atlantic all the way through the Mountain West, they have much in common. All five states voted for George W. Bush twice, then all reversed in 2008 to give their electors to Obama. Only North Carolina flipped back in 2012, with Obama losing it by two points.

Four of the five states are also more diverse than the country as a whole: Nonwhites exceeded their 28-percent share of the national electorate in each of these states except Colorado.

Latino voters make up significant and growing shares of the electorate in three of these states: 19 percent in Nevada in 2012 (up from 15 percent in 2008), 17 percent in Florida (up from 14 percent) and 14 percent in Colorado (up from 13 percent).

 

In North Carolina and Virginia, African Americans make up at least one-in-five voters — combining with a long-term influx of college-educated white voters to move the state toward Democrats.

Polling of a Clinton-Trump matchup in these states is spotty. In the Eastern states — Florida, Virginia and North Carolina — polls are more robust and show a general Clinton lead. In Florida, her advantage is about 3.4 points, according to a POLITICO analysis. In North Carolina, Clinton’s lead is smaller, about 2.6 points. In both states, there has been significant polling conducted over the past months.

There are fewer polls in Virginia, with the most recent survey showing a tied race, while older polls gave Clinton a significant lead.

Neither Colorado nor Nevada has seen a reliable public poll of a Clinton-Trump matchup this year. Obama won 53 percent of the vote in Colorado in 2008, slipping to 51 percent in 2012 — roughly mirroring his national numbers.

Nevada was slightly more Democratic than the nation as a whole in both elections: Obama won 55 percent in 2008, and 52 percent in 2012.

The “Blue Wall” states (74 electoral votes): Iowa (7 percent nonwhite in 2012), Michigan (23 percent), New Hampshire (7 percent), Ohio (21 percent), Pennsylvania (22 percent), Wisconsin (14 percent):

This set of states, on the other hand, have been more reliably Democratic over the past few decades. Obama won all six states in both elections, and John Kerry won all but Iowa and Ohio in 2004. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin appear on this list, even though Republicans haven’t won Michigan and Pennsylvania since 1988, and Wisconsin since 1984.

But they are all whiter, in some cases overwhelmingly so, than the nation as a whole. And some Republicans think the combination of white voters’ drift to the GOP and Trump’s appeal puts these states firmly in play.

Polls thus far don’t show a dramatic rejiggering of the map in these states, however. The race appears close in Iowa and Ohio, according to polls going back to last year. But more recent surveys this year show Clinton with about a 9-point lead in Michigan, a 7-point head-start in New Hampshire, a 6-point edge in Pennsylvania and an 11-point advantage in Wisconsin.

Trump’s map: California (45 percent nonwhite in 2012), Connecticut (21 percent), Maine (4 percent), New Jersey (33 percent), New York (33 percent):

It wasn’t so long ago that California was a Republican-leaning swing state. At one point, from 1952 through 1988, the state voted for the Republican candidate in nine out of 10 elections, with the exception of the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide.

Trump clearly pines for those days, telling supporters at a rally in California last week that he will be back there for the general election: “I think we can win.”

That’s extremely unlikely, however. The state has been trending Democratic since Bill Clinton won it in 1992, and Obama captured at least 60 percent of the vote in both 2008 and 2012. Polls show Clinton with about a similar, 20-point lead on Trump.

California is also rapidly becoming more diverse: The nonwhite share of the electorate jumped from 37 percent in 2008 to 45 percent in 2012.

Similarly, New York is likely beyond Trump’s grasp, despite the real-estate tycoon’s swagger. Obama won 63 percent of the vote in 2012, and polls show Trump doing little to close that gap, trailing Clinton by nearly 20 points in recent surveys.

Trump also faces uphill battles in some smaller Northeastern, traditionally blue states. But his deficit in Connecticut is just 7 points, according to a Quinnipiac University poll out this week. And a Monmouth University poll last month showed Trump also within striking distance in New Jersey.

There hasn’t been any polling in Maine, which also hasn’t voted for a Republican since 1988. Maine assigns an electoral vote to each of its two congressional districts, so Trump might have a shot to steal an electoral vote from the more-Republican 2nd District in the northern half of the state.

But if Trump is competitive in states like Connecticut, Maine and New Jersey, it likely means he has won New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania and is on his way to the White House anyway.

Clinton’s reaches: Arizona (27 percent nonwhite in 2012), Georgia (36 percent nonwhite in 2014 midterm election), Texas (34 percent nonwhite in 2014 midterm election):

In much the same way, Clinton’s reaches are states that have been solidly Republican — but also include significant minority populations.

These states are probably two or three elections away from moving into the battleground column. But in a landslide election, particularly one that galvanizes African-American and Latino voters, they could be theoretically competitive.

Hispanics made up about one-in-five voters in Arizona in 2012, when Obama won 44 percent of the vote. A Clinton floor might be higher in Georgia, which has a larger nonwhite voting bloc, and where Obama won 46 percent four years ago.

Texas and its 38 electoral votes are a bigger reach; Obama won just 41 percent of the vote there in 2012.

It was Clinton herself who suggested she could win Texas in an interview with New York Magazine published last week — even as the author of the story pushed back.

“If black and Latino voters come out and vote,” Clinton replied, “we could win Texas.”

Both groups represented distinct minorities in the last statewide election: In the 2014 midterm races for governor and Senate, Latinos were 17 percent of the electorate, and blacks were 12 percent.

Similar data is unavailable for the 2012 presidential election, however: The news organizations that commission the exit polls were forced to cut back the number of state surveys they conducted because of cost constraints, and Texas wasn’t viewed as a competitive state.

 

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