Final NPR Battleground Map: The Race Snaps Back, But Clinton Maintains Advantage

Nov 7, 2016
Originally published on November 8, 2016 8:23 pm

Election Day is nearly upon us. So where does the electoral map stand? It's a close race, with Hillary Clinton retaining a broad and consistent but shallow advantage, according to the final NPR Battleground Map.

Compared with a couple of weeks ago, when Clinton hit her peak lead, the race has tightened. So our map reflects that — almost all of the moves benefit Trump, though because of one potentially determinative move, Clinton still surpasses the 270 electoral votes needed to be president with just the states in which she's favored.

It's worth noting that for all the vacillations in this race, Clinton has been above 270 with just Lean Democratic states in the NPR Battleground Map in every NPR map since May, except one. And even in that, she was just 2 electoral votes shy of 270.

The big moves in the final map: Former Toss-ups Ohio, Iowa, Georgia and Arizona are now in Trump's corner; New Hampshire was moved out of Clinton's column and back into Toss-up. But Nevada has also shifted from Toss-up to Lean Democratic. Clinton has driven up the score with early voting there.

That could prove crucial, because even if Trump picks up the remaining Toss-ups — New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina and the two electoral votes between Maine and Nebraska — Trump would still come up short.

Let's repeat that: Even with Florida and Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina and New Hampshire, Trump would still need to pick up one more Democratic-leaning state. It's why he's barnstorming the country with a dizzying final push, hoping to pick off one state — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia or even Minnesota, a state that's been closer in recent presidential elections than many might think.

The Trump campaign all but acknowledges it's behind in the Lean Democratic states in NPR's map, but notes that many of the races are tight.

If the Blue Wall holds, Clinton wins

There's an important reason Clinton's campaign is focusing on turning out black voters in Philadelphia and Detroit in the final days. If the Blue Wall of states leaning Clinton's direction holds, she wins.

Clinton continues to lead in Pennsylvania, though, by narrower margins than a few weeks ago. And polls have tightened in Michigan. President Obama is heading to Michigan and has acknowledged a lack of enthusiasm among black voters, whom he is strongly urging to turn out to protect his legacy. The Clinton campaign continues to be confident about both places, but acknowledges potentially close races, especially in Michigan.

Campaigning in both states in the final days of the race is also a strategic move by the campaign, because there's no early, in-person voting in either state. All voters have to be mobilized on Election Day. Clinton isn't going back to Florida, and that's because almost 60 percent of the state's voters are expected to vote before Election Day, an increase from 40 percent in 2012.

Even though we have Ohio as Lean R, and really only very slightly, Clinton isn't giving up on it. Some polls have shown the race to be within the margin of error there. The state has shifted slightly more in Trump's favor in the past two weeks, but the Clinton campaign is trying to mobilize voters in Democratic areas like Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland. She has the backing of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, and the campaign held a concert focused on early voting, with Jay Z and Beyonce.

"I want my daughter to grow up seeing a woman lead our country and knowing that her possibilities are limitless," Beyonce said, backed up by dancers wearing blue pantsuits, a nod to Clinton's campaign fashion. "And that's why I am with her."

Early in-person voting in Ohio ends Monday.

Political gravity and a race that has been, in some ways, very stable

The contest between Clinton and Trump has been volatile in some ways, but remarkably stable in another — the views of both candidates remain largely unchanged since after the primaries ended. So perhaps it's not surprising that after the FBI's letter to Congress, all but reopening the investigation into Clinton's emails, that the race has snapped back to a natural position.

FBI Director James Comey on Sunday closed the investigation for a second time, saying from what the bureau saw of the emails, he still wouldn't recommend prosecution. NPR's Carrie Johnson reported that the emails were duplicates of what the FBI had already seen.

The FBI letter perhaps doesn't account for all the tightening in the past couple of weeks, though it certainly gave Republicans who were wary of Trump a reminder of why they distrust Clinton. Throughout this campaign, when a Trump controversy brewed, Clinton's lead expanded; but after a couple of weeks, the race slowly regressed to a natural position. Clinton's expanded leads — after the Democratic convention and the Access Hollywood tape just a couple of weeks ago — have proven to be soft. That's largely because of moderate Republicans.

There is also a natural tightening that generally happens close to elections. Third-party support drops (and it has in this election), and people revert back to their party corners. There's no greater indicator of how someone will vote than how he or she has voted. It's a little like Thanksgiving — the kids might threaten to stay away, especially at tense family moments through the year, but most of the time, they go home.

The NPR Battleground Map is based on a blend of historical voting patterns, demographics, on-the-ground reporting and polling.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


There's really just one question left to answer in the 2016 presidential campaign, and that's who is going to win. Hillary Clinton heads toward the finish with a lead and a letter in hand. That would be from FBI Director James Comey, who wrote Congress that he hasn't found anything after all in those newly discovered emails. Donald Trump is trailing but is far closer than many people would have imagined just a few weeks ago. NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro has been revising our electoral map showing the state of the race. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Well, let's start with the Comey letter, briefly. Does that change anything?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, it could potentially stop what was this tightening of the polls between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Clinton had a peak lead just a couple of weeks ago after that "Access Hollywood" tape was leaked. And then this letter came out. And after what might be some natural tightening as well as this letter, you wind up seeing a race that sort of reverted back to where we were before, with Clinton with a broad, consistent but shallow lead.

MONTAGNE: And so on that new map that we're out with - NPR is - what - what - is there something changing that is so different from a couple of weeks ago?

MONTANARO: Well, I think the important thing here is that it's - the red map expansion that Hillary Clinton may have seen had stopped. You know, she could have won what looked like an electoral landslide - pretty big proportions going into places like Arizona and Georgia. Even Texas was leaning - just leaning toward Republicans at that point.

All of that has gone back to more of a traditional map. And it's where you actually have now seen the candidates going to the kinds of states that you would expect in what's a traditional race. So the thinking here is that if the blue wall holds - in other words, the states that are leaning toward Hillary Clinton - then Clinton would win.

And that's why you're seeing President Obama go to a place like Michigan to try to fire up black voters. They're going to have rallies in Philadelphia, Clinton back in Detroit as well. So if Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Colorado, those places hold, then Clinton would win.

MONTAGNE: Stay with us so that we can leave now, for a moment, this conversation and get a sense of where the candidates are, in fact, focusing their time and energy. NPR's Tamara Keith starts us off. She's traveling with the Clinton campaign.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton has always had a very deliberate travel schedule, informed by the campaign's data analytics team. So when she went to church Sunday morning in Philadelphia, it was in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, a Democratic stronghold where Clinton needs solid voter turnout to help carry the state of Pennsylvania. The choir was singing "America The Beautiful" when she arrived.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) America.

KEITH: And the music seemed to lift her up.


HILLARY CLINTON: I needed that.

KEITH: Clinton's plane was in the final approach to Cleveland when the FBI news broke. An aide said the campaign was glad to hear the matter was resolved. But on the ground, Clinton didn't mention it, instead basking in the endorsement of basketball legend LeBron James and delivering a more positive message than in recent days.


CLINTON: I know there's a lot of frustration and even anger in this election season. I see it. I hear it. Sometimes, you know, I'm the subject of it. I get it. But anger is not a plan. Anger is not going to get us new jobs with rising incomes that will create a strong, thriving middle class.


KEITH: Closing out the night in Manchester, N.H., Clinton promised to be a president for all Americans, including those who don't vote for her.


CLINTON: We will have some work to do to bring about healing and reconciliation after this election. We have to begin listening to one another and respecting one another.


KEITH: She was joined at the rally by musician James Taylor, who bookended the day with his own version of "America The Beautiful."


JAMES TAYLOR: (Singing) America, God shed his grace on thee.

MONTAGNE: And that was a report by NPR's Tamara Keith, traveling with the Clinton campaign. Meanwhile, NPR's Sarah McCammon is traveling with Donald Trump's campaign, which touched down in five battleground states yesterday.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Donald Trump has been keeping an ambitious schedule in the final days of the campaign, holding four or five rallies a day, sometimes in unexpected places.


DONALD TRUMP: We weren't going to come back to Iowa.

MCCAMMON: That's a state where he's been leading in most recent polls. Then he was on to two Midwestern states that lean Democratic in presidential years - Minnesota and Michigan. Outside Detroit, singer Ted Nugent urged thousands of Trump supporters in an open-air venue to make sure to vote.


TED NUGENT: So each of you, if you really believe you're a real American Michiganian [expletive]-kicker...

MCCAMMON: After Trump followed Nugent to the stage, he mocked his rival Hillary Clinton for campaigning alongside celebrities, claiming she needs them to draw a crowd.


TRUMP: And by the way, my language is much, much cleaner, as you know, than Jay Z and Beyonce - boy.

MCCAMMON: Trump also took issue with the findings of FBI Director James Comey, who said in a letter to Congress that the agency has finished its review of newly discovered emails sent and received by Clinton. Comey said the review didn't change the bureau's conclusions from last July, when the investigation ended without charges. That, Trump said, without offering any evidence, is more proof of a rigged system.


TRUMP: Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it. The FBI knows it. The people know it.

MCCAMMON: Trump continued on to Moon Township, Pa., and finally Leesburg, Va., his last stop of the day, where he was nearly three hours late.


TRUMP: Oh, this is a marathon today.

MCCAMMON: Trump will spend his last full day of campaigning holding five more rallies in key states, ending late tonight with his running mate, Mike Pence, in Michigan, a state they're hoping to turn from blue to red tomorrow.

MONTAGNE: And that's NPR's Sarah McCammon traveling with the Trump campaign. And we turn now back for just a moment to NPR's Domenico Montanaro. You know, let me round this out, and it's not an election story, per se, but - but we are remembering Janet Reno this morning, the first U.S. female attorney general, longest-serving in 150 years. She died earlier this morning. How much of an impact did she have in another time?

MONTANARO: Well, she had quite an impact. You know, she was the first woman to be attorney general. She was the longest-serving attorney general, serving almost all of the eight years of the Clinton White House. Compared to today, she's a very different kind of figure. She was more blunt than a lot of the folks you might hear and see today. She's the last attorney general, by the way, to be confirmed unanimously by the Senate. And a lot of those wind up being fights today.

You know, she landed in lots of controversies because of some of that blunt talk and decision-making - things like the handling of the Waco compound or Elian Gonzalez, who was forcibly removed to go back to Cuba. She ran for governor in 2002 for - in Florida but lost in that primary. And she'll be looked back on for some of those things.

MONTAGNE: Well, Domenico, thanks very much. That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.