Hillary Clinton has a three point lead in the cumulative national polls, 45-42, but that does not ensure anything. As Al Gore knows, it’s possible to win the popular vote and lose the election. Winning the Electoral College is all that really matters. There are multiple paths to victory for both her and Donald Trump among the states in play, too numerous to describe here. State polling does show Clinton with a lead in electoral votes as well, but several states are within the margin of error.
Among the states where the polls close first, Florida and New Hampshire are the ones to watch. New Hampshire is trending toward Clinton but it has many independent voters so the outcome there will tell us something about how independents will vote elsewhere. Florida looks like a tossup going in. It’s really a must-win for Donald Trump, less so for Clinton. She’s counting on Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. A loss in one of those would definitely complicate things for her. Other than Florida, it looks like the toss-up states are North Carolina and Nevada. It’s not impossible that we could be up late waiting to see who gets Nevada’s six electoral votes.
There are other questions that will be answered on election night. Are there silent Trump supporters who are not showing up in the polls but will show up on Election Day? It is possible that there are a significant number of voters who don’t tell pollsters they will vote for Trump but end up doing so. Registration patterns in areas where Trump is popular don’t predict this happening, but we don’t know for sure.
Will a surge in Latino voters help bring Clinton a win? They have certainly been a focus in the campaign. Early voting shows a large Latino turnout in Florida and Nevada. A major question for the Republican Party is how to engage this growing voting block going forward.
Will African-American voters turn out in numbers close to their turnout in the last two elections? They are important for Clinton in Florida, North Carolina, and other states. Less enthusiasm in the African-American community would be a problem for her.
Control of the Senate is also a coin flip going in to Election Day. A 50-50 Senate is entirely possible, with the new Vice President breaking ties. The closest states are New Hampshire, Nevada, and Missouri. The Democrats probably need two of those to retake the majority, but there are other states in play that could change the equation.
In a nearly equal Senate, the drama won’t end for a while. Louisiana will likely end up in a runoff, which takes place in December. The Republican is going to be the front-runner, but that would turn into a national battle. Then, if Clinton wins the White House, there would be a special election in Virginia to replace Tim Kaine. If the Senate is still in the balance, that race would become an enormous fight in an evenly divided state.