With Donald Trump now the certain Republican nominee and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton almost equally certain to be his opponent in the November general election, the focus of politics watchers now shifts to the electoral college — the mechanism established by the United States Constitution that really picks the President of the United States every four years.
Each state has a number of electors equal to the number of its congressional representatives in the U.S. House and Senate. In all but two states — Nebraska and Maine — the electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis to the candidate who wins the most total votes in that state.
Legally, electors are allowed to vote for anyone they want when the Electoral College casts ballots in December. But while instances of electors going rogue have happened over the years, they have been extremely rare.
There are, with 50 states in the union, 538 total electors. To win the presidency, a candidate must win votes from 50 percent of those electors, plus one — 270 electoral votes. The winner of the national popular vote usually wins at least 270 electoral votes as well, but not always.
Cook Political's latest Electoral College forecast: Clinton 304, Trump 190 https://t.co/s0yGtYuv0J pic.twitter.com/NcESGIYr3BFour times in U.S. history, the winner of the popular vote lost the election in the electoral college, most recently in the 2000 election when Republican George W. Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore, despite collecting fewer overall votes nationwide.
— David Wessel (@davidmwessel) May 5, 2016
To win the presidency in 2016, either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton must win any combination of states that adds up to at least 270 electoral votes.
Which candidate is more likely to pull that off? According to the latest polls and other available data from each state, Donald Trump is already in a deep hole if he hopes to put together 270 electors — and Hillary Clinton needs only to stay the course to become the next president and first woman ever to hold the office.
In the following video, NBC political analyst Chick Todd explains some of Trump's difficulties in getting to 270 votes in the electoral college.
According to the election data site Election Graphs, which compiles polling data on a state-by-state basis as well as using data on past elections and other tendencies, even in a worst-case scenario for Clinton, she would still win a narrow victory over Trump, with 279 electoral votes to 259 for the Republican.
That worst-case scenario means that Donald Trump would win every one of the states that are now leaning "weakly" toward Clinton, that is, in which she has only a narrow polling advantage.
Those states include the important swing states of Florida and Ohio, where the most recent polling shows Hillary Clinton with leads over Donald Trump of 3.7 percentage points and 3.8 points, respectively.
Clinton's other two weak states as of May 5 are Nevada and Iowa — but winning just those four weak Clinton states will still not be enough for Donald Trump. He would need to somehow reverse Clinton's leads in states such as Minnesota, where she leads by 5.5 points, and North Carolina where she leads by 5.2, according to the ElectionGraphs polling averages.
If Trump wins none of the Clinton weak states, but Clinton also fails to win any of Trump's weak states — Colorado, Arizona, Georgia, and Missouri — Hillary Clinton takes home 338 electoral votes, leaving Trump with just 200, an easy victory for the Democrat.
LARRY SABATO: Electoral College Forecast for #Trump v. #Clinton https://t.co/bDYHiMqZ9C pic.twitter.com/TTGNmAMd0XMost other electoral college projection experts come to similar conclusions, though each using a somewhat different formula for combining polling, demographic data, and information on voter tendencies from past elections.
— Aloha Analytics (@Aloha_Analytics) March 31, 2016
The Cook Political Report sees an electoral map with 44 delegates from too-close-to-call "battleground" states remaining up in the air. But even leaving out those states, Clinton already appears likely to score 304 electoral votes to just 190 for Trump. Even if Trump won all of the battleground states, he still loses.
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Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, who claims a 99 percent accuracy rate in all elections — including congressional and gubernatorial races — since 2004 for his "Crystal Ball" project, also sees a near-landslide win for Hillary Clinton in the electoral college, with 347 votes to only 191 for Donald Trump, giving Clinton the clear victory in the 2016 presidential election.
[Featured Photos By Joe Raedle/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]