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Could Trump Actually Win?

Modified from photo by Gage SkidmoreIt’s a question that’s kept me up at night: could Trump actually become President? Assuming a Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton general election contest (Sanders supporters, just roll with me here), could Trump pick up so many disaffected working class white voters that he wins? That’s the scenario that I keep reading about: Trump could boost turnout from his base of whites without a college degree, and become competitive in places like Ohio and Wisconsin.

Then I discovered that Nate Silver’s site, FiveThirtyEight, has actually put together a simulator that lets you see how changes in turnout and voter preference would affect the election, starting with Obama vs. Romney 2012 as a baseline. It divides the electorate into some pretty broad groups (college-educated white, non-college-educated white, black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian/other), but it still offers some interesting insights. And I found it addictingly fun to play with…

So anyway, could Trump win? I wanted to see how the aforementioned nightmare scenario would actually play out. I gave Mr. Trump the most charitable possibilities I could think of for each group. I started with the premise that he somehow pulls off a “white miracle” and not only attracts Reagan-levels of the non-college-educated white vote to the GOP, but also boosts that group’s turnout to unprecedented heights, matching college-educated turnout for the first time in polling history!

Next, as we know, his rhetoric and temperament have appalled many “establishment” Republicans, and folks with college degrees in general. So I moved the college-educated white vote a tiny bit towards the Democratic side, but also reduced its turnout a couple points (figuring some Republicans and maybe young Sanders supporters stay home): probably a best-case scenario for Trump. I don’t think there’s a way to avoid the non-white vote sliding towards Hillary Clinton in this scenario, after all the things Trump has said. But I only shifted it a bit and only moved turnout up a tiny amount: maybe fear of Trump is not that much stronger than having an inspirational black candidate like Obama? I don’t know, but again, this is supposed to represent the most charitable scenario for Mr. Trump.

When all of that is entered in, here is what we get:

Trump Scenario 1

The results surprised me! It may be hard to read, but Clinton wins with 294 electoral votes to 244. Even with unfathomable record-breaking support from his base, it only takes a small shift among other groups for Trump to still lose. Why does this happen, even with Trump picking up places like Ohio and (usually true-blue) Wisconsin? The reason, I found, is that states like Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada have all gotten more diverse and more college-educated on average. Playing on racist and xenophobic fears just doesn’t cut it in those places.

And that was supposed to be the good scenario for Trump! Here’s a more (in my eyes) likely scenario, where Trump makes some gains with the non-college-educated white vote, but turns off all of the other groups just as much, if not a little more, and a lot of college-educated Republicans choose Clinton or stay home:

Trump Scenario 2

In this scenario, Clinton wins Texas, and even states like Mississippi and Alaska are within reach.

In conclusion, the Trump victory scenario that I keep hearing about is really far-fetched. And that’s without even factoring in all the negative ads that will run against him for the next several months, a potentially divisive convention fight, conservative plans for a third-party ticket, and a poll showing nearly 25% of Republicans would choose Clinton over Trump. So, I’m not going to tell you to stop fearing or fighting Trump, because he’s still frightening and still hurting the country. But I can tell you, I’m definitely going to sleep a little better at night.

PS: I was thinking about posting possibilities for other match-ups, like if Sanders or Cruz somehow grabbed the nomination, but that would be a lot of screenshots. Feel free to try out your own scenarios with the simulator!

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