With one week until election day, more than 23 million Americans have already voted – and it’s becoming clear that Donald Trump has a lot of ground to make up.
Analysis of early voting trends shows Hillary Clinton is building a potentially insurmountable lead in some traditional battleground states, narrowing Trump’s potential path to victory while fighting Trump to a draw in other states that are must-wins for the GOP nominee.
While there are some bright spots for Trump, particularly in the Midwest, early voting is reflecting recent polling that shows Clinton is likely to be the next president, in spite of recent news that the FBI is looking into newly discovered emails of a top aide.
“I’d rather be Clinton than Trump at this point,” said University of Florida Professor Michael McDonald, the head of the U.S. Elections Project and an early voting expert.
Clinton’s numbers in swing states with large populations of Latinos and college-educated white people are looking especially good.
In Nevada, Clinton is building the same big early voting margin Las Vegas that gave President Obama an 8-point victory in 2012, and is holding her own in the swing county that includes Reno.
“It looks a lot like 2012,” said Jon Ralston, the dean of Nevada’s press corps. “It’s highly unlikely that Trump will win Nevada.”
Clinton looks just as solid in Colorado and Virginia, two formerly swing states that for months have leaned towards her in polling. In North Carolina and Florida, both states where a Clinton win would likely end the race, analysts in both parties expect nail-biters.
North Carolina’s laws have changed since 2012, and the biggest spike in early voting has come from independent voters, making apples-to-apples comparisons difficult. Republicans are doing slightly better comparatively than four years ago when Romney won narrowly, but Democrats think they’re turning out more new voters.
“There are 94,000 Democrats who didn’t vote in 2012 who voted early already, and 69,000 Republicans,” said John Hagner, a Democratic analytics expert. “We’re ahead of where we want to be.”
In Florida, GOP numbers are up slightly – but Hispanics are making up a larger share of the electorate than in the past, a big boon for Democrats, especially since it appears the spike is coming from more reliably Democratic Puerto Rican voters.
“In Florida it’s a dogfight but things are looking positive for us right now, we have more Republicans who have cast ballots than previously,” said Republican National Committee National Targeting Director Jon Black. “In North Carolina, you’ve seen Dems slightly underperforming 2012 but the big story is the Republicans and how big they’re over-performing 2012.”
Democrats also see bright spots in both states, though they similarly think both are still up for grabs.
“It’s a mixed bag. I could sit here today and argue both sides of who’s winning, so it’s a classic Florida election,” said Steve Schale, who ran Obama’s Florida campaigns in 2008 and 2012. “It’s all trending in the right direction but I would not say sitting here today that this thing is a lock or anywhere close to it. It’s still very much up for grabs.”
The two candidates’ campaign travel schedules bear out the reality that Clinton just needs to win one of the true toss-up states to become president, while Trump needs a big last-minute shift in the map or the electorate.
Clinton’s team has been wearing a groove into the traditional swing-state map with repeated visits to Ohio, North Carolina and Florida in recent days from her and top surrogates. If she can win any of those states, the race is over.
Trump, on the other hand, headed to Democratic-leaning Michigan, New Mexico and Wisconsin in recent days, a sign either that he’s either making a last-minute push to expand the map or isn’t as laser-focused on hitting the trail in crucial battleground states in the campaign’s final 10 days as Clinton and her team are.
“If you’re looking at Virginia, Colorado and Nevada being in Clinton’s column, that makes it really difficult for Trump,” said McDonald. “If Nevada goes the way it’s looking Trump really has to pull something out of the hat, he has to win every battleground state we have and he then has to win something else. I saw he’s campaigning in Michigan and Wisconsin, and I think that’s recognition that they just don’t have enough right now, they have to flip something else that has been viewed as Clinton’s column.”
Ohio, along with Iowa, hold the best early numbers for Trump. Democrats traditionally win big in early voting in both states, but their advantage has dwindled. There has been markedly low turnout in some key Democratic strongholds in Ohio, and analysts in both parties say Trump is looking strongest in the two swing states where he’s polled well for months.
“Iowa and Ohio are definitely states we have a hole to dig out of,” said Hagner.
Wisconsin has unusual early-voting laws where elderly people can vote early with no excuse, but anyone under age 60 needs a reason, making the state’s early-voting numbers very difficult to interpret. Michigan similarly doesn’t have data that shows solid indications one way or the other.
But polling in both traditionally Democratic-leaning states has consistently shown Clinton with a lead.
Black said the party’s analytical modeling shows some good news in both states, but Democrats scoff at the idea that Trump will be able to outperform Mitt Romney’s 2012 performance in both states enough to actually win.
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