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The road to 270: Electoral College could provide dramatic finish

Clinton, Trump pick up big wins

To win the office of presidency, each candidate seeks the 538 votes available through the Electoral College. In order to secure a victory, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump must earn 270 of those votes.

While Clinton has long been considered the favorite to win the election, with some prediction models putting her chances of winning tomorrow at 99 percent, the figures have tightened up substantially in recent weeks.

The reasons for this tightening of the gap are varied, including a historical precedent for the polls narrowing just ahead of the election. Most analysts, however, point to the recent public letter by FBI Director James Comey that reopened interest into Clinton’s emails from her time as Secretary of State.

Analyst Nate Silver’s widely-lauded FiveThirtyEight data-journalism site has provided a particularly close model for examination.

Silver, who accurately predicted the outcome of 49 states in the 2008 election and predicted every state correctly in 2012, has explained his site’s numbers as properly reflecting the volatility of this election.

Will Tomer/The Round Table

Will Tomer/The Round Table

If you have a model based on public polling, it ought to do a good job of reflecting the public polling as the data comes in, or it might be doing something wrong,” Silver told POLITICO. “Our forecast — with Clinton as about a two-to-one favorite — seems both empirically and intuitively consistent with public polling that mostly puts her ahead, but with a lot of volatility and a lot of disagreement and a ton of undecided voters (and a rather leaky Electoral College firewall for Clinton, such as in New Hampshire).”

FiveThirtyEight’s projection model has seen Clinton slip nearly 22 points from her October high.

“Everything depends on one’s assumptions, but I think that our assumptions — a Clinton lead, sure, but high uncertainty — has repeatedly been validated by the evidence we’ve seen over the course of the past several months,” Silver told POLITICO. “The idea that she’s a prohibitive, 95 percent-plus favorite is hard to square with polling that has frequently shown five- or six-point swings within the span of a couple weeks, given that she only leads by three points or so now.”

As it stands, the two states that are most integral to the election would appear to be Pennsylvania (which has 20 electoral votes) and Florida (which has 29 electoral votes). The former seems fairly in Clinton’s camp, thanks in large part to the large metropolitan populations in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Florida, however, is less certain. Polls are going back and forth on which candidate might grab the Sunshine State, but Trump has gained a slight lead in the immediate lead up to the election.

With two of the biggest states split among the candidates, more swing states emerge. Ohio and its 18 electoral votes are almost certainly going to Trump. North Carolina, which has become a much more middle-of-the-road kind of state over the past 10 years, is likely to go to Trump, but Clinton could easily sneak in and grab the state’s 15 votes. Nevada’s six electoral votes are also a toss-up, though the latest polls suggest they will go to Trump.

Utah will be an interesting state to watch, as independent candidate Evan McMullin has the potential to snatch the state’s six votes away from Trump. Such a thing could seriously damage Trump’s chances for a victory. Fortunately for the Republican nominee, he is still projected to win that state.

The Round Table’s projections for the election, based upon an analysis of many other predictions and forecasts, show an incredibly close election. Giving McMullin Utah puts the mainstream candidates in a precarious position. Clinton would emerge with 273 electoral votes and Trump would have 259. Assuming the more likely scenario that Trump does in fact take Utah, Clinton’s figure would remain the same and his would rise to 265.

This result would make the 2016 election among the closest in American history.

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