The Arena: I love (the Electoral) College

2/7/16 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Aren Torikian poses for a headshot on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

One more day. One more day until America has its new president and “Saturday Night Live” loses its only funny material. We are nearly 20 months into a process that has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but I still could not tell you who is going to win tomorrow.

Right now, the numbers still favor Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton; she is ahead nationally by a slim margin of three points.  After a few weeks of weakening poll numbers and “Carlos Danger,” poll numbers have started to stabilize. But remember that national numbers do not mean quite as much as state numbers, thanks to our Electoral College.

To explain the purpose and origin of the Electoral College, I would need 500-550 pages instead of the 500-550 words I get. To keep it brief, candidates receive all of a given state’s electoral votes if they win the state’s popular vote. That’s right, winning in California by one vote means the candidate wins every single one of California’s 55 electoral votes (electoral votes increase as state population does).

To win the presidency, a candidate needs a majority of electoral votes — 270 out of 538 to be exact. Yes, the popular vote loser does sometimes win in the Electoral College (@GeorgeWBush). It’s a stupid system, but it’s kind of fun. It can also end in a tie, but we’ll cross that bridge when, and if, we get there.

Coming into Election Day, it looks as if Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has the slimmer margin for error in competitive “swing” states. If we look at the states that are solidly leaning in Clinton’s direction, her current electoral vote count is 268. All she would have to do is pick off one more state to lock up the presidency. Trump needs to hold strong in states like Ohio and Iowa, but also win in competitive races in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Florida, among others.

At the same time, Trump has pushed back against Clinton’s 268 electoral vote “firewall,” as the cool kids call it. Clinton is worried enough about Michigan that she was in Detroit this weekend before heading to Ohio to campaign (and presumably shoot around) with LeBron. Bernie Sanders was outperformed by Hillary in every poll in Michigan, but beat Clinton there this spring. Trump would strike a big blow if he could win it, too.

If you have classes in the morning and don’t want to be up until the wee hours of the night, pay attention to these early states. If Trump is losing big in North Carolina or Florida, that will be a good indicator of his odds nationwide. If he flips Michigan or even Wisconsin, then it may be a long night.

As I alluded to earlier, assuming polls are not completely off, the advantage is probably in Clinton’s favor. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight (now you know where the name comes from) has it at almost two to one odds for Clinton. But (and I feel like I say this every week) this election has taught me not to assume anything.

I would be remiss if I did not send one last plea to everybody registered at Tufts to vote tomorrow. Hopefully your ballot is a bit more diverse than mine, where six out of seven positions were uncontested.


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