As soon as election night gets underway, things are going to get pretty chaotic pretty fast as states begin getting called for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. So that you have an idea of how various state calls will impact the overall race, what are the states that Hillary Clinton absolutely must win in order to win the election? Are there any states where a loss would instantly signal her defeat?
For Donald Trump, the list of must-win states is quite long; his path is narrow enough that he essentially needs every single battleground in his corner if he wants to get up to 270 Electoral College votes. But Hillary Clinton’s path to the presidency is far easier thanks to the existence of Democratic strongholds that get her close to 270 essentially by default.
There are 13 states and regions that Hillary Clinton is pretty much automatically going to win based on demographics, recent history and polling. Those states are:
- Maine’s 1st Congressional District
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
These states bring Hillary Clinton to 190 Electoral College votes already. For comparison, with the states that always vote red like Texas and Kansas, Donald Trump only starts with 159 Electoral College votes by default.
Then there are four states that pretty much always vote for the Democratic candidate but that Donald Trump believes he can turn red this year. Polls have shown that Clinton still is the favorite in these states, but if Trump is able to flip any of them, that would spell trouble for the Democratic candidate. Those states are:
If Clinton wins all four of these as she is expected to, that will take her up to 235 Electoral College votes. She needs 35 more to win.
Next we have the true swing states, ones that are realistically in play and where either candidate could win. Here are those swing states, accompanied by which candidate is currently leading in Real Clear Politics’ polling average:
- Florida (Trump +0.4)
- Iowa (Trump +3.0)
- Nevada (Trump +0.8)
- New Hampshire (Clinton +0.6)
- North Carolina (Trump +1.0)
- Ohio (Trump +3.5)
- Pennsylvania (Clinton +1.9)
- Virginia (Clinton +5.0)
Although Donald Trump needs virtually all of these battleground states in order to win, Hillary Clinton only really needs a few of them. If Clinton maintains control of all of the solidly blue states mentioned above, plus she wins the swing states where she’s currently ahead in the polls (Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire), she will win with 272 Electoral College votes, just over the required 270.
As you can see, Hillary Clinton has a tremendous amount of freedom in her pathway to 270, and so there aren’t many states in play where Clinton must win or she will lose the election. Even if she were to lose both Colorado and New Hampshire to Trump, but she retained all of the blue states and and picked up Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, she would still win the election.
Really, all Clinton has to do to win is maintain control of all of the states already in her corner, which explains why she has been holding rallies in states like Pennsylvania and New Hampshire in recent days. It’s Donald Trump who must go on the offensive and capture states to win; Clinton can fail to win a single state that she isn’t expected to and yet still come away with the victory.
The New York Times’ The Upshot illustrates this beautifully with a model that displays exactly how many pathways to victory both Trump and Clinton have. Hillary Clinton has 693 ways of winning, whereas Donald Trump only has 315 ways. If Clinton loses Florida, she still has 224 ways of winning. Even in an absolute worst case scenario where Clinton loses Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and New Hampshire, she still has three pathways to victory. She could simply win Florida, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa and Nevada, and she reaches 270 even after having lost five major states.
So as the results begin rolling in, the first thing to look out for is if Clinton holds on to Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, as she is expected to. If Trump manages to pick off one of those, that’s the precise moment when the Clinton camp will begin getting very, very nervous. The other thing to look out for is if Clinton wins Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Virginia. If that happens, the race is over, and Hillary Clinton becomes the next president of the United States.