Based on current polling and past election trends.
Clinton has the advantage in the Electoral College right now, because she has solid leads in Pennsylvania and Virginia — two states President Obama won in 2008 and 2012. Former President George W. Bush won Virginia in 2000 and 2004, but lost Pennsylvania. Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, was the last Republican to win the state, in 1988. Republican presidential nominees typically struggle in Pennsylvania, because the city of Philadelphia votes overwhelmingly for the Democrat in presidential elections. Philadelphia voted 85% for Obama, versus 14% for Romney in 2012. The large population of the Philadelphia area means there are enough votes to tip the whole state blue. Without coming close to Clinton’s numbers in Philadelphia, as well as the surrounding areas such as Bucks County, Montgomery County, and Lehigh County, it is virtually impossible for Trump or any Republican nominee to win the state. At this stage of the race, it would make sense if Trump spent his time elsewhere.
Trump had a shot at winning the commonwealth of Virginia, but it is not looking good for him there at this stage of the race. Northern Virginia helped deliver the state to Obama in 2008 and 2012 and it is shaping up to be a similar story in 2016 for Clinton. Northern Virginia, where many federal employees live, tends to vote Democratic, based on data from past elections. For example, in 2008 and 2012, Obama won Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Loudoun County, Manassas, and Prince William County. The margin of victory might not be as high for Clinton, but I expect her to win in those areas, as well. The large number of Democratic votes coming out of Northern Virginia makes it difficult for Trump to win. In August, he campaigned in Northern Virginia, but he should probably hold some additional events there to try to garner some more support. He should also revisit Richmond, which also voted for Obama by a substantial margin, before the election is held. Without peeling away at Clinton’s support in Northern Virginia and Richmond, Trump will likely lose the commonwealth’s 13 electoral votes.
It goes without saying that Trump needs to win North Carolina (15 electoral votes), Ohio (18 electoral votes), and Florida (29 electoral votes) to have a chance at defeating Clinton. Romney won North Carolina in 2012. The polls are tight there now, but Trump should be able to win. Obama won Ohio in 2012 by two percentage points and won Florida by less than one percent. Trump definitely has a chance to win both of these states; however, polls show he is losing the Latino vote to Clinton by a wide margin nationally, which poses a challenge for him in Florida, due to the size of Latino population. According to the 2010 census, the state has a Hispanic population of roughly 23 percent. On the campaign trail, Trump has highlighted his endorsement from the National Border Patrol Council and has emphasized the need to combat illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and gang violence with a border wall. Clinton has repeated the message that the GOP is anti-immigrant at her campaign rallies and in advertisements, which seems to be resonating with Latino voters, based on polling data. When speaking about immigration policy, the former secretary of state usually does not differentiate between immigrants that have gone through the legal immigration process and individuals who entered the country illegally. Trump has said he supports simplifying the legal immigration process and opposes unlawful immigration. Clinton has promised to work with Congress to pass a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally.
If Trump loses both Pennsylvania and Virginia, but wins North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida, where he is virtually tied with Clinton, then he needs to win several states Obama picked up in 2012, which have a lower number of electoral votes.
Winning the battleground state of Colorado is a tough task for Trump, given that the state went for Obama twice. It’s not impossible, though, because Bush won the state in 2000 and 2004. If Trump pulls it off, that would be 9 electoral votes in his column bringing him to 262 compared to Clinton at 276. Picking up a small state such as Iowa in addition to Colorado would bring Trump to 268 electoral votes and Clinton would still win with 270. Trump would also need a win in Nevada, where he is locked in a tight race against Clinton.
If Trump wins Nevada along with Ohio and Florida, he would lose 279 to 259. If Trump can win Iowa and Nevada together, he would still lose to Clinton 273 to 265. In that scenario, Trump would need a Colorado win to defeat Clinton 274 to 264.
The bottom line: if Trump cannot pull off victories in either Pennsylvania or Virginia, he needs to win Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada, along with Florida and Ohio. Expect both campaigns to be laser-focused on these five states until Election Day. Clinton definitely has a simpler path to 270 electoral votes. Even if Clinton loses Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, and New Mexico, all she has to do is win Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Florida or Ohio to become the next president. Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes is not impossible but much more difficult.