There are eight days left before Americans will choose whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. And, although October – and its surprises – have become cliche in politics at this point, it’s hard to remember a final month of a presidential campaign that has contained so many twists and turns.
So, where, exactly, are we? Here’s what (I think) we know.
1. The electoral map (still) favors Clinton (by a lot)
Trump is making campaign stops in New Mexico on Sunday and Michigan on Monday. Those last-minute visits may lead you to believe that he is expanding the map into Democratic strongholds. But there’s very little evidence that either state is all that competitive. Clinton holds a seven-point edge in Michigan, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average; she is up 8.5 points in New Mexico, according to Real Clear.
The underlying truth of this contest remains the same despite the major developments for both candidates over the past month: Clinton has a clear edge in terms of the electoral college. In addition to the fact that 18 states plus D.C. – totaling 242 electoral votes – have gone for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election since 1992, Clinton is now leading in lots of places – Colorado, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia – that have been swing states for the past few elections.
And Clinton is competitive in places such as Alaska, Arizona, Georgia and Utah that haven’t gone Republican in decades.
2. Organization still favors Clinton (by a lot)
Trump has said, time and time again in this campaign, that he thinks things such as data and organization are overrated – and that he prefers big crowds as the key to his success.
The problem for Trump is that early voting, which is heavily dependent on organization, is becoming more and more common. More than 21 million votes have been cast early in this election, according to calculations made by the U.S. Elections Project. In Florida alone, more than 3.5 million votes have been cast; 36 percent of likely voters say they have already voted in the state and they favor Clinton by 17 points, according to NBC political director Mark Murray.
And Florida is far from an isolated example. At the end of August, Democrats had 4,200 staffers compared to fewer than 900 for Republicans, according to calculations made by NBC.
3. People don’t like either candidate
It’s important to never forget that these are the two least popular presidential nominees in history. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted earlier this month, 42 percent of registered voters had a favorable opinion of Clinton compared to 56 percent who had an unfavorable one. Trump’s numbers were even worse, with 37 percent favorable and 62 percent unfavorable.
That level of unpopularity makes it difficult to predict what undecided voters – and, yes, there are still are some not-insignificant number of people who haven’t made up their minds yet – will do as they are faced with choosing between two unsavory options.
Trump’s unfavorable numbers are – and have been – worse than Clinton’s. But do voters simply choose her as a “least worst” option or is their calculation more complicated?
4. Turnout matters
Yes, this is the most obvious point ever – right up there with “the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.” But, the X factor in all of the polling – both in swing states and nationally – is whether Trump can make good (or come even close to making good) on his pledge to reshape the electorate.
In 2012, about 125 million people voted – 65 million for President Obama, 60 million for Mitt Romney. That electorate was 72 percent white, 13 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Asian. Women made up 53 percent of the electorate. Thirty eight percent were self-identifying Democrats, 32 percent were Republicans and 28 percent were independents.
Even slight changes in that composition – what if the electorate stays as white as it was in 2012 rather than dipping into the high 60s, as most projections assume? – can alter outcomes in key swing states.
And because of Trump’s completely unorthodox campaign, predicting turnout is even more difficult than normal.