Donald Trump's Battleground States Map Tests The Bounds Of Optimism — And Reality

If its fundraising emails are any indication, Donald Trump's presidential campaign is still optimistic about his chances to win the White House. An email sent to supporters on Monday morning listed potential toss-up states in an electoral map with, apparently, plenty of room left for a Trump victory. At first glance, Trump's swing state email seems as out of touch with reality as his comprehension of partial-birth abortion, which was on full display during the third presidential debate. Michigan a swing state? Virginia, the home state of Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine?

It may seem ridiculous to any politics junkie (or Clinton supporter), but as citizens of a post-Brexit United Kingdom can attest, sometimes widespread certainty can inadvertently pave the way for a surprise victory.

The email includes a memo from Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, which announces plans for a $140 million ad blitz in what the Trump campaign has identified as battleground states.

The perplexing thing about the email isn't the plan to buy ads in the final days of the election, of course. It's the campaign's assertion that they have reliable poll leads in states like Ohio, Florida, and Nevada. Would it be possible for Trump to win any — or all — of those states? I decided to find out.


Colorado is an interesting place to start, considering that Clinton has led in the vast majority of polls conducted there over the last few months. The state is also one of the relative best in the country for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Pundits are divided about whether Johnson, who has made appeals to fiscal conservatives and social liberals, is taking more support from Clinton or Trump.

An editorial by Kathleen Parker in The Denver Post last week stressed that polling in Colorado may not be completely dependable, because it doesn't reflect that many voters are not particularly attached to their candidate and could still change. Parker predicts that many wavering voters will end up voting for Trump, citing polls that indicate that voters are dissatisfied with the current direction of the country.

Rating: Don't hold your breath, Team Trump.

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The race in Florida has consistently been tight — unsurprising, given Florida's historical importance in determining presidential elections — though nearly all recent polls give Clinton a slight edge. Trump knows he has to win Florida, and he kicked off a campaign blitz in the state on Sunday. It just may be enough, considering that Trump's popularity in the Sunshine State already led him to a primary victory over Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. On the other hand, that win was more than seven months ago, and a whole lot has changed since then. In the FiveThirtyEight compilation of polls, Clinton has a 72.9 percent shot of snagging Florida.

Rating: Not entirely impossible, but that's about the most positive thing one can say.

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Clinton is no big favorite in Iowa, where she lost the caucus in 2008 and won by only the narrowest of margins in 2016 ("virtual tie" ring a bell?). The Minneapolis Star-Tribune cites the state's "old, male, white, and angry" population as an asset for the Trump campaign, and he has led in several recent polls there.

Rating: Trump has a real shot at this one.



Maine is a bit more complex than many other states, because it awards two electoral votes to the overall winner and one vote to the winner of each of its two congressional districts. FiveThirtyEight's polling aggregations predict that the statewide votes and District 1 will go to Clinton, while District 2 seems much harder to predict. Adding to the confusion are recent troubles for the state's very conservative governor, Paul LePage, who has been heavily criticized for racist remarks. LePage's troubles could motivate his opposition to mobilize against conservatism, but it could just as easily motivate his supporters to demonstrate their support at the ballot box.

Rating: Like your relationship with your friend with benefits, it's complicated. District 2 is a possible Trump win. A statewide and/or District 1 win is unlikely.

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On its surface, it seems ridiculous that Michigan is on Trump's list. Polling indicates a clear chance of Clinton victory. Granted, journalists and pollsters were all shocked when Clinton lost the Michigan primary to Bernie Sanders, something the polls had indicated was highly unlikely. However, in a postmortem analysis of that error, FiveThirtyEight suggested that polling failed to capture Sanders' support amongst young and black Michiganders, which is unlikely to be a problem with the general election, since Trump performs poorly with both groups.

Rating: Trump will sink in the Great Lake State.



While the most recent polling looks bad for Trump, he has come within striking distance of Clinton on a number of occasions in recent months, particularly in late September and late July. Moreover, the state is home to one of the few major newspapers ( The Las Vegas Review-Journal ) to have endorsed Donald Trump, although the impact of those endorsements is difficult to measure.

Rating: Relatively better for Team Trump, though that isn't saying much.

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New Hampshire

Trump seems to be making a very serious effort to win New Hampshire. It is one of the states where his recent ad spending outpaces Clinton's. However, Clinton has also been very actively campaigning in the state along with popular Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Despite Trump's efforts, though, recent polling looks very good for Clinton.

Rating: Trump is unlikely to crack through the Granite State.

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North Carolina

Clinton has consistently come out on top in the last several polls held in the state. However, her single-digit margins of victory have been small enough that Trump may have a fighting chance. Despite their hopes, though, the fact remains that Clinton's polling edge is not strong enough to call North Carolina a guaranteed blue state this year.

Rating: Not all hope is lost for Trump here, but it would take a small miracle.

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Ohio is an absolute must-win state for Trump. Polling has been quite close for months, though The Washington Post has called it "one of Trump's best states." Absentee ballot data from Ohio also seems to indicate that Democrats in a few key counties are under-performing, according to ABC News, another indicator that a Trump Ohio victory is possible.

Ohio is definitely one of the states on this list most widely considered a swing state or toss-up. Trump absolutely needs the Buckeye State to win, and it's definitely possible that he could do it.

Rating: Possible victory for Trump, but more importantly, it's an absolute must-win.

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Buttressed by urban centers Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania seems to be leaning Clinton. It's fair to call it a swing state, because it has been considered one for decades, but Pennsylvania also has a long tradition of going blue, even for Al Gore and John Kerry.

While the race looked tight at the start of the month, with Clinton having less than a two-point lead over Trump according to the Real Clear Politics polling average for Pennsylvania, that gap has widened to more than six points in Clinton's favor.

Rating: Trump needs a miracle in the Keystone State.

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Clinton's lead in Virginia has been consistent. Moreover, her running mate, Tim Kaine, is a longtime Virginian who has won many elections there before. Recent polls have showed Clinton with a 12-point lead in Virginia, and Salon reported that the Trump campaign "showed signs of surrender" there.

Rating: Virginia is for lovers, and that does not include Trump.



Despite what a weekend web hoax would have you believe, Trump is not leading in Wisconsin. In fact, he's consistently down by about seven percent, according to FiveThirtyEight, which overall gives Clinton an 88.7 percent shot of winning the state.

Rating: Trump isn't scoring with the cheeseheads.

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...So Can He Do It?

Granted, it appears that if his campaign has an enormous, unprecedented amount of luck in the coming weeks, it is still possible for Donald Trump to become the next American president. But the Trump campaign's projected path of victory suggests he and his staff are living in the kind of world where Trump is the "best for women" and he actually pays his income tax.

Image: Donald Trump campaign website.