Although Hillary Clinton still leads Donald Trump in all major electoral forecasts, plenty of Democrats are freaking out over a recent run of polls showing Trump slowly gaining ground. The Republican candidate's chances of winning have just about doubled in less than a week, jumping from 15 percent to around 30 percent in FiveThirtyEight's polls-only forecast. And indeed, there are several entirely plausible ways Trump can get to 270 electoral votes — or at least prevent Clinton from doing so.
There are around 14 swing states this year, depending on who you ask; Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Iowa are the biggies. Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Michigan are also included in most swing state lists, though Clinton has had strong leads in each throughout this cycle, and so I, personally, am skeptical of how swingy they are. Some people have also included Utah and Arizona as well, as both are traditionally red states in which Trump has been struggling to retain a lead.
The following electoral maps depict some of the most likely combinations of state wins that would give Trump the presidency, and you'll notice some similarities between them: Every map showing a Trump victory requires him to win Ohio and Florida, and most of them involve him taking North Carolina, too. It will be extremely hard for him to win the presidency if he doesn't take two, if not three, of them.
None of these scenarios are altogether implausible, however. Trump may well become America's 45th president, and if he does, it might look something like this:
The Maine Upset
This is probably Trump's most plausible path to 270 electoral votes. It involves him losing Pennsylvania but winning North Carolina, Florida, and Nevada — three states in which the polls are very close — as well as New Hampshire, where Clinton is a moderate but not overwhelming favorite. Trump's final electoral vote comes from Maine's second congressional district, which Trump is (barely) favored to win (Maine and Nebraska are the two states that split their electoral votes). This map illustrates the fact that Trump needs only to win a handful of swing states in order to clinch the election.
Colorado Comes Through
This scenario is similar to the above with some small changes. Here, Trump loses Nevada but wins Colorado instead. Because Colorado is worth more electoral votes, this would allow him to clear 270 without winning Maine's second congressional district. This is probably a less likely outcome than the previous map — FiveThirtyEight gives Trump just a 25 percent chance of winning Colorado, compared with a 47 percent chance of winning Nevada.
Pennsylvania Finally Goes Red
Although Republicans haven't won Pennsylvania since 1988, it inevitably becomes one of their most sought-after targets every year. If Trump wins Pennsylvania, that gives him a bit more latitude elsewhere in the country: He could lose North Carolina, Colorado, and New Hampshire and still become president. That said, it would involve him sweeping Nevada and Florida as well, which is a tall order: According to FiveThirtyEight, the odds of Trump winning both of those states in conjunction is around 22 percent.
The Electoral Tie
This is close to the worst possible outcome for Democrats. In this scenario, the swing states essentially split in half: Clinton wins Nevada, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, while Trump wins Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, and New Hampshire. This would result in an 269-269 electoral tie, which would throw the matter to the House of Representatives. In all likelihood, the Republican-dominated House would vote to install Trump as president. This would be a horrifying outcome for Clinton and her supporters — but it's not the worst one imaginable.
The Nightmare Scenario
Here's the worst outcome imaginable for Democrats — the kind of electoral map that would make the 2000 Florida recount look quaint by comparison. Here, third-party candidate Evan McMullin wins Utah, and Trump wins just enough swing states to keep Clinton below 270 electoral votes without winning 270 himself. This would be a nightmare of historic proportions for supporters of democracy: Although Clinton would have won more electoral votes than Trump (269 versus 263), the GOP-led House of Representatives would nonetheless get to decide the outcome, because nobody would have reached 270 electoral votes. And the House would, again, most likely put Trump in office.
The odds are still with Clinton in this election, but Democrats can't take it for granted that she'll win. If just the right combination of chips fall in Trump's favor on Tuesday, Clinton could easily end up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. This is yet another reason why it's so important for everybody to vote — especially if you live in Florida, North Carolina, or Ohio.
Images: 270ToWin (5)