Donald Trump's Most Realistic Election Path to 270

President Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College last time out, and polling suggests this is his most feasible route to winning re-election in 2020.

State polling is also looking to be in Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's favor, with forecasts touting him for an Electoral College win. However, Trump was also behind in polling before election day in 2016, with analysts hesitant to write him off in 2020.

Should Trump carry the large states he did in 2016, such as Texas, with 38 Electoral College votes, and Florida, with 29, he could build a strong foundation towards the 270 outright majority he would need. Those two states alone get him to 67, close to a quarter of the way.

"Our forecast views Trump as a fairly significant underdog," Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight, told Newsweek. But despite this, Skelley said he did not think the Republican incumbent was behind enough to brand his re-election bid as a write off.

Chris Jackson, head of public polling at Ipsos, suggested Florida is an essential win for Trump. While Trump might be able to counter Biden with upsets elsewhere, for example taking states such Pennsylvania again, he would have to do more work to move the balance in his favor.

With Biden likely to win California, which has the most Electoral College votes at 55, and New York, which is joint third at 29, Trump will likely need to win a couple of large states of his own.

For example, to counter a defeat in Florida, Trump would perhaps need to respond with surprise wins in Pennsylvania and Michigan, which would get him 30 Electoral College votes between them. Although not impossible, winning the requisite votes with multiple smaller upsets will likely prove more difficult.

"Of the states that are currently tossups, Trump must win Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Ohio to have a chance. But even sweeping those tossups, he still has to pick up a few states where Biden currently looks to be winning," Jackson said.

If Trump were to win all of the states mentioned by Jackson, he would have 116 of the Electoral College votes he needs.

With Florida the key prize, two other states also emerge as feasible victories for Trump to forge a path to an Electoral College majority—Pennsylvania and Arizona, both of which he won last time out but are leaning Biden at present.

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President Donald Trump gestures during a campaign rally on October 18, 2020 in Carson City, Nevada. He trails Democratic candidate Joe Biden in most polling, though analysts have still suggested he is in with a chance of winning in the Electoral College. Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Florida

For Trump to emerge victorious, one state has been deemed a must-win: Florida. Worth 29 Electoral College votes, the state marks a major step towards the 270 absolute majority required for a presidential victor.

"The premise that Trump could still win is very much worth exploring. If he doesn't win Florida, then it becomes essentially impossible for him to win. Trump is behind, but we can see a path for him," said Skelley of FiveThirtyEight.

Trump won Florida in 2016 and the state has a strong track record of going with the victor at presidential elections, having done so nearly every year since 1964 except for 1992.

Some polling has put the state as a dead heat, though on average Biden has been given a slight advantage.

However, this has been in the low single-digits and within the margin of error for polling, with the chance of a Trump victory by no means ruled out.

Pennsylvania

Described as a potential "tipping point" in terms of which way the election could go, Pennsylvania and its 20 Electoral College votes have made it a focus of each campaign.

Biden is up by 4.4 points there on average, according to tracking of state polling from Real Clear Politics.

Trump unexpectedly won there last time out by around 44,000 votes, roughly 0.7 percent of those cast, according to numbers collated by The New York Times.

Prior to Trump's win, the state had gone for the Democratic candidate at every election since 1992.

"Can Trump pull that off twice? It's tough, but it's not impossible," Skelley said. "If there's a path for the presidency, I think Pennsylvania."

Arizona

Arizona was also flagged as a potential target for Trump, with Jackson of Ipsos having suggested Trump taking the state along with Pennsylvania could set him on track to victory.

Real Clear Politics has Biden up by 3.9 points on average there, though the state has not been won by a Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1996.

Survey Monkey's latest results from the state, with 5,909 likely voters asked September 19 to October 17, put Biden up by eight points, with 53 percent compared to Trump's 45 percent of support.

A YouGov/CBS News poll put the pair closer, with Biden ahead by three points. Of 1,064 voters asked October 13 to 16, 50 percent opted for Biden whereas 47 percent said they would go for Trump. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent.

Newsweek has contacted the Biden and Trump campaigns for comment.

How the Electoral College Works

Each state is assigned a number of Electoral College votes, to be cast by selected electors in the state, based upon its representatives in Congress.

This number is determined by the combined number of how many members of the House of Representatives and the Senate a state has.

If a candidate wins a majority of the votes in the state, in most states they take all of its Electoral College votes. Only Maine and Nebraska differ from this, in which the votes are split between the state and congressional districts.

Following this, all the electors from the state would generally cast their votes in the winner's favor, though they are able to opt for a different candidate, those who do so being dubbed "faithless electors."

A candidate needs to hit 270 for an outright majority of the 538 votes from the Electoral College, which sees them become the president.

As happened in 2016, a candidate can do this without getting the most votes overall (the popular vote) due to the winner takes all nature in each state.

The list below details the number of Electoral College votes each state has, as detailed by Ballotpedia:

  • Alabama - 9
  • Alaska - 3
  • Arizona - 11
  • Arkansas - 6
  • California - 55
  • Colorado - 9
  • Connecticut - 7
  • Delaware - 3
  • District of Columbia - 3
  • Florida - 29
  • Georgia - 16
  • Hawaii - 4
  • Idaho - 4
  • Illinois - 20
  • Indiana - 11
  • Iowa - 6
  • Kansas - 6
  • Kentucky - 8
  • Louisiana - 8
  • Maine - 4
  • Maryland - 10
  • Massachusetts - 11
  • Michigan - 16
  • Minnesota - 10
  • Mississippi - 6
  • Missouri - 10
  • Montana - 3
  • Nebraska - 5
  • Nevada - 6
  • New Hampshire - 4
  • New Jersey - 14
  • New Mexico - 5
  • New York - 29
  • North Carolina - 15
  • North Dakota - 3
  • Ohio - 18
  • Oklahoma - 7
  • Oregon - 7
  • Pennsylvania - 20
  • Rhode Island - 4
  • South Carolina - 9
  • South Dakota - 3
  • Tennessee - 11
  • Texas - 38
  • Utah - 6
  • Vermont - 3
  • Virginia - 13
  • Washington - 12
  • West Virginia - 5
  • Wisconsin - 10
  • Wyoming - 3