The Phlip Side: Presidential Election Math

By Sean Phillippi 

The Electoral College is an arcane, and not completely democratic, way of electing a president. That being said, it is the system we have, so we must look at this election through the lens of the Electoral College map. For historical reference, here is the 2012 Electoral College projection I posted two days before the presidential election that year. Recent history is usually a good guide to use in determining how current elections might go. As I wrote last week in The Phlip Side, Donald Trump puts more states in play than would have been in play if the Republican Party would have chosen any of the other candidates that ran this year. Here is what the Electoral College map would have looked like if the Republicans had nominated a more traditional candidate:


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Democrats have won 18 states plus Washington, D.C. in each of the last six presidential elections, with those states (plus DC) totaling 242 electoral votes. Had Ted Cruz been the Republican nominee, Hillary Clinton could have put those electoral votes in Al Gore’s Social Security lockbox and put her entire focus on getting the addition 28 electoral votes needed to become president. Since Clinton will be facing a much more unconventional candidate in Donald Trump, it opens up the map for both parties. Here is what the Electoral College map looks like, as of today:

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One could think that more states in play would mean more possible outcomes, which would make it harder to predict what might happen, but that is not the case with this election.  While there are literally several hundred possible winning combinations with a map that has 14 swing states, the overwhelming likelihood is that one of the major party candidates will win most if not all of the states in play.  Also, I am not saying that a blue state like Minnesota can’t go red or that red states like Indiana, Kentucky, and Georgia can’t go blue.  States put in one column at this point can be won by the opposing party, but a landslide big enough to make that happen would likely put all of the swing states in the winner’s column before switching red states to blue (or vice versa).

One of the more interesting quirks with this election is that Hillary Clinton will likely do better in traditional swing states than states that have been more reliably blue. Pennsylvania and Michigan, for example, haven’t been won by a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. According to the US Census Bureau, though, both states have a lower percentage of people with a college degree (by more than 7% each) and a lower median household income (by more than $10,000 each) than Virginia. That is significant because Trump performs worse among wealthier and more educated voters ceteris paribus. It also looks like Trump will perform more poorly than his Republican predecessors with minority voters. Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all have White populations that are north of 75% while Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida all have White populations lower than 65% (with Florida being around 55%).

History tells us this election is not going to be close as close elections are the exception and not the rule. Since 1920, as many victorious presidential candidates have received more than 500 electoral votes (three) as have won with less than 300 electoral votes (with 10 more presidents each winning with between 400-500 electoral votes). We are going to hear non-stop coverage of this race going back and forth, but it is going to do so in predictable ways. Once Clinton becomes the presumptive nominee and Bernie Sanders endorses her, her numbers will go up. Trump will likely surge during and right after his convention, as will Clinton after Democrats gather in Philadelphia. Even though the media narrative will be a close race through Election Day, as they want you to stay tuned, we should know after the final debate who is primed to bury their opponent in a landslide.

Though a close race to the end is not probable, if this race does prove to be an exception it is plausible that this odd presidential election could conclude with the following Electoral College map (which looks different from what recent history has conditioned us to expect):

Click the map to create your own at
Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state, and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.


  1. Patti Lynn · ·

    It’s going to take me awhile to digest this report. Thank you for your analysis.


  2. Love the map and analysis. Unfortunately, basing it on history is a huge mistake. Pundits have been wrong this whole election. They will continue to be wrong. Will Hillary be able to rely on the Obama voters to vote? Will Bernie supporters vote 3rd party,stay home, write in Bernie, or worse vote for Trump? Will Republicans rally around Trump? Will Hillary’s F.B.I. investigation blow up in her face. I don’t know. The only thing i can say for sure is that if Bernie were running against Trump, he would blow him out of the water.


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