What to expect on Election Night

With Trump closing fast, G.O.P. chances for White House and Senate improve.

Welcome to the main event! Today is Election Day, which means that this year’s election, one of the most brutal and divisive in modern history, may finally come to a close late tonight. Here’s what to expect from tonight’s battle.

Click here to jump to an overview of the U.S. Senate races.

The presidential race

In view of the survey data released this week, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump is still the underdog, but his chances are much better than they were back in October. He has only led two of the most recent national polls, including a poll by Investor’s Business Daily that has been the most accurate over the past three presidential elections. He also lags in several crucial swing states, though he has closed the gap with Hillary Clinton enough to threaten several Democratic-leaning states. In Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump now is consistently polling within the margin of error, and one survey taken in Michigan gave the businessman a two-point lead.

The most likely place we will see a Trump breakthrough is New Hampshire, where the polls disagree on how the candidate is faring. A Gravis poll taken last week showed Mr. Trump with a two-point advantage, but more recent surveys have given Mrs. Clinton a lead as large as 11 points. Other states in the Northeast also are opportunities for Mr. Trump, who could capitalize on low black turnout and small Hispanic populations to turn these states red.


This map from Pew Research shows the concentration of Hispanics by state. Darker states have higher concentrations of Hispanic populations, and vice versa. The Rust Belt and Northeast are overwhelmingly white, which creates an opening for Donald Trump.

“[A]ll eight of the counties with the most early/vote-by-mail votes cast so far relative to 2012 totals are heavily Republican […] while turnout has lagged behind the state average in all five counties with the highest percentage of African-American voters.”
– David Wasserman, FiveThirtyEight, Oct. 31

As the New York Times’s Nate Cohn reported on Monday, Hispanic turnout has been strong in Florida and Nevada so far. Especially concerning for the Trump campaign should be Nevada, where early voting patterns suggest that record numbers of Hispanics, who disproportionately favor Mrs. Clinton, are voting there. But unlike in Nevada, Florida’s Hispanic population is disproportionately Cuban-American, and 52 percent of these voters, many of whom are angry with President Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic ties with Cuba, are supporting Donald Trump. For Democrats, black turnout is far more critical to clinching Florida, but the early voting data does not look good for them there.

If other states replicate Nevada’s Hispanic surge, Mrs. Clinton will only shore up the western states where she already has an advantage, like Colorado and New Mexico. She would keep Nevada in her column and might threaten G.O.P.-leaning Arizona, but Texas and other stalwart conservative states are far beyond reach, even if record-breaking numbers of Latinos swamp the polls.
“In Nevada, Latino turnout propelled Democrats in Clark County — the population center that’s home to Las Vegas — to a record-breaking close on Friday, driving up the Democratic lead in early ballots cast to 72,000. That’s enough, according to veteran Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston, to essentially tie a bow on the state for Clinton.”
Politico, Nov. 6

To win, Donald Trump is counting on strong turnout from white working-class voters in the Northeast to flip a blue state (or two). If Pennsylvania or Michigan moves to his column, he can afford to lose Colorado, Virginia, Nevada, and possibly even North Carolina without foreclosing his path to the White House. The problem, however, is that neither northeastern state has polled quite well enough for him this election cycle. Mr. Trump has closed the gap in these states and is outperforming Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, substantially in both. But, Mrs. Clinton still has enough cushioning elsewhere on the map that even a major breach of her so-called “firewall” will not doom her candidacy.

2016 Battleground Poll Standings
State Prediction 2016 RCP Average % Change from 2012
Florida Tossup +0.2 Trump +1.1 R
N.C. Tossup +1.0 Trump +1.0 D
Nevada Leans D +0.8 Trump +7.5 R
Colorado Leans D +2.9 Clinton +2.5 R
Virginia Likely D +5.0 Clinton +1.1 D
Arizona Likely R +4.0 Trump +5.1 D
Pennsylvania Leans D +1.9 Clinton +3.5 R
Michigan Leans D +3.4 Clinton +6.1 R
Ohio Leans R +3.5 Trump +6.5 R
Iowa Leans R +3.0 Trump +8.8 R
N.H. Leans D +0.6 Clinton +5.0 R
Wisconsin Likely D +6.5 Clinton +0.4 R

Losing Pennsylvania, for example, would be a huge blow to the Clinton campaign. But if Mrs. Clinton’s early signs of strength in the West hold tonight, Mr. Trump will have to win other uphill battles in the Northeast to capture the presidency. Ohio, Iowa, Florida, and Pennsylvania would not be sufficient in this scenario; the Republican would need to secure North Carolina to win or take New Hampshire and Maine’s 2nd district to tie with Mrs. Clinton.

In short, Donald Trump has many ways to lose. Barring a significant countrywide polling error, few paths to victory are available to him. With Mrs. Clinton’s grip on the western swing states tightening, he must win just about every battleground state in the East and then some, taking a Democratic-leaning state (or two) as well, to pave his path to the presidency.


Our projections for the presidential election. Though Mr. Trump holds an imperceptible lead in Nevada according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, early voting returns suggest that Mrs. Clinton will win there. (Graphic: 270towin.com)

The battle for the U.S. Senate

According to FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast, Republicans and Democrats have about an equal chance of winning control of the U.S. Senate. Compared to a month ago, this is a much better position for Republicans, who are defending far more vulnerable seats this year than Democrats. Of the eight most heavily contested seats, seven are held by the G.O.P. and only one—in Nevada—by Democrats.

Fortunately for the Republicans, however, some of these vulnerable seats are defendable. Senator and former G.O.P. presidential candidate Marco Rubio holds a comfortable advantage in Florida. In Indiana, Democrat Evan Bayh led some early polls by more than 20 points, but since then, voters have soured. The most recent surveys give Mr. Bayh’s Republican opponent a narrow but growing advantage. North Carolina’s Richard Burr is hanging onto a slim but consistent lead against his Democratic opponent.

Other races look like tossups. New Hampshire and Missouri are both extremely tight races featuring embattled Republican incumbents. In Pennsylvania, Democrat Katie McGinty is slightly favored to swipe the seat of Republican Pat Toomey, whom she has narrowly edged in the most recent surveys. Republican Joe Heck, who hopes to defeat Catherine Cortez Masto and take Harry Reid’s former seat in Nevada, has slipped in the polls in just the past two weeks, but is still a formidable challenger. He performs better among Hispanic voters, for instance, than does Mr. Trump at the top of the ticket.

The 2016 Senate Battlegrounds
State Prediction 2016 RCP Average NYT / 538 Win %
Wisconsin Leans D +2.7 Feingold 67% D / 76% D
Pennsylvania Leans D +2.0 McGinty 63% D / 62% D
Nevada Leans D +1.8 Cortez Masto 60% D / 55% D
N.H. Tossup +1.5 Ayotte 54% D / 52% R
Missouri Tossup +1.3 Blunt 60% R / 57% R
N.C. Leans R +2.0 Burr 62% R / 70% R
Indiana Leans R +0.7 Young 65% R / 63% R
Florida Likely R +3.7 Rubio 85% R / 90% R

With so many tossups in the mix, the G.O.P.’s chances of retaining the Senate heavily depend upon the strength of Donald Trump’s performance. If Mr. Trump surges in the Rust Belt, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin will likely stay in the Republicans’ column. On the other hand, if he falters across the country, the G.O.P. could face a bloodletting down ballot, with virtually every vulnerable seat falling into Democratic hands.

In my view, the most likely outcome is that the Republicans will hold off challenges in New Hampshire, Missouri, North Carolina, Indiana, and Florida. Democrats will capture the remaining contested seats in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. Should this occur, the Republicans will maintain a 51-49 seat majority in the U.S. Senate. But if Hillary Clinton wins big, things could get ugly for the G.O.P. in the Senate.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments section below, and analyze the election with us tonight by liking our Facebook page and following us on Twitter!


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