It Takes 290 to Win

Terry Welshans

ballot-box-isometric-with-handOn November 8, 2016, ballots will be cast to elect the 45th President of the United States. We elect our President in a two-step process that was established at the Constitutional Convention September 6, 1787. The first step is when we, the people, cast our ballots in “the popular vote.” The second step is an election by the Electoral College. The popular vote guides the Electoral College in casting their votes, and the outcome of that election will determine who will be President.

The Electoral College has 538 electors divided among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, each with a minimum of three, with the state’s population determining how the 385 remaining electors are distributed. The electors in all states except Maine and Nebraska are elected as a single block on what is called a “winner-take-all” basis, and are pledged to the candidate who won that state’s popular election.

California, with 55 electors, and Texas, with 38 electors, (combined total 93) have more electors than the twenty-one least populated states (combined total 92). My state, Kentucky, is one of those stares with eight electoral votes. The eleven most populated states have a total of 290 electoral votes. Click here for a graphic of the complete elector distribution as of 2012.

Once the popular vote is counted, the electoral votes are calculated by state. A candidate with 290 or more electoral votes wins, as an absolute majority (more than 50%) is needed.

Polls help predict the outcome of elections to some degree. If the candidate you favor is doing well in the polls then you are confidant the polls are right. If the candidate you favor is not doing well, then you ignore the poll as you feel it is a lie. When other factors are combined with polls, the results become statistics and probabilities. Sports fans are familiar with this process, and use this technique to predict the outcome of football, baseball and basketball games. Click here to see  a search result for “sports odds” using a typical search engine that shows how statistics are used to predict the outcome in several sports.

A well known and highly respected sports statistician has applied this complex mathematical technique to predict the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. His odds, recorded on July 30, gave Donald Trump a 50.1% chance of winning the election with twenty-one states voting in his favor. This is the highest percentage chance of winning he has obtained to that time. It was also the peak of his popularity. Unfortunately those twenty-one states, except for Texas with 38 electoral votes, have low population and at most twelve electoral votes each, most states are in the three to eight range. Donald Trump has no more than 191 electoral votes in his favor, and there is little hope of gaining more. Today, the statistician places the odd of winning the 2016 election at 88.7% for Hillary Clinton, 11.2% for Donald Trump and less than 1% for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian party candidate.

Trump said it best, himself on February 24th at the Nevada caucuses. In his victory speech he boasted of his greed and his popularity with under-educated voters. Watch and listen to his speech here:

The video of his speech includes this quote: “I love the poorly educated!” It is ironic that Trump’s proud embrace of less educated voters may only cause those less educated voters to embrace him all the more.

Donald Trump has done an excellent job in gathering his flock. His message was clearly delivered, and those who appreciated it have responded wonderfully. Donald has blown his dog whistle, and the hounds are baying. His message was not well received in states with large numbers of Electoral College electors, except for Texas, and that was his undoing.

About Terry Welshans

I grew up in Burbank, California. My dad worked at a company that made sub assemblies for about every airplane made in the 1960-1970 era, so it was only natural that the aviation bug bit me while I was quite young. I hold a commercial pilot certificate and fly as much as I can. I live in Bardstown, Kentucky with my wife, moving here after we retired. I am a Vietnam veteran and a cancer survivor. I like to keep politicians honest, and do so when they open an avenue where I feel they have erred.
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4 Responses to It Takes 290 to Win

  1. Nate Silver, the famous sports statistician, has several models on his 538 website. He has the Polls Only model which places the odds at:

    Clinton 86.4%
    Trump 13.6%
    No one else has a statistically significant number

    If you look in he left hand frame of he 538 website, there is a Polls Plus link. You may get a more realistic set of odds, because it is based on polls, plus other known variables that pop up during September and October:
    The Polls Plus Forecast (at this moment) has the odds at:

    Clinton 76.2%
    Trump 23.8%
    As before, no third or fourth party candidate has a statistically meaningful number

    Earlier this evening, I saw Professor Larry Sabato talking about candidates relying on crowd size and enthusiasm as an index of winability. If you don’t know who Dr. Larry Sabato is, he is one of the nation’s leading political scientists, and is from Virginia. Tonight, Dr. Sabato reminded us that in 1972 reporters told their editors that the 1972 election was going to be a McGovern blowout because of the size and enthusiasm of his crowds. Talk about egg on their collective faces. McGovern lost to Nixon by 49 states, winning only one state, Massachusetts. McGovern even lost his home state of South Dakota.

  2. rafflaw says:

    It amazes me that Trump can get between 13 and 23 percent. I did not think there were that many white nationalists around!?

    • Raff, the data from 538 are the odds of winning the election, not polls. Nate Silver has two ways of treating the data. He does a ‘polls only’ in which the odds are calculated based on every available poll, with their past known accuracy factored in. Polls with a history of low predictive accuracy are given proportionally lower value than historically high accuracy polls.

      The ‘polls plus’ numbers are based on a combination of current polling numbers, but factors in the the effect events that have not yet happened, but historically influence elections when/if they do happen. That includes the effects of yet unknown so-called October Surprise, economy and international affairs.

      I notice that in the polls, Trump seems to hover around the 40% range of likely voters. Remember, by definition, IQ scores are statistically based on what is called a normal distribution. That is illustrated by the normal bell curve, and exactly half the population scores below the arithmetical mean; i.e., average. That should explain where most of them come from.

      Here is a great speech the President gave at Rutgers University last May. He points out that ignorance is not a virtue.

  3. Terry Welshans and Chuck Stanley, I think that Donald Trump’s comment was taken out of context. The fact of the matter is that the reason for education being in the state that it is in academically is due to the bureaucratic micromanagement of it. What does government do well? Not very much.

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