Why Minnesota will crown Hillary Clinton in 2016

The outcome of the 2016 election may already be a foregone conclusion.

Image credit: iStockphoto

The days of the national presidential campaign are long gone.

With the help of data, technology, and the diminishing existence of true swing voters, campaigns now focus even more specifically on a couple critical states, skipping approximately four-fifths of the country. In 2012, Obama visited fewer than half of the states in the US, only visiting 23 states (plus the District of Columbia) in the six months prior to the election, with Ohio and Florida accounting for nearly a quarter of his campaign stops. And it appears Hillary Clinton is following suit. By all accounts, Clinton is poised to follow a much more targeted campaign strategy, instead of following Bill Clinton’s 1992 path to victory that lead him through southern states now unimaginable for national Democrats to win today.

But as the field of decisive states narrows, which state will figure most prominently in 2016? While Ohio, Virginia, and Florida are the swing states that typically come first to mind, the state that ultimately puts Clinton into the White House is likely to be a much less talked-about player: Minnesota.

Taking a step back, let’s first look at the states that are definitely not the nail biters to get her over the 270 Electoral College threshold. The chart below shows the states where our presidential model predicts Hillary will win big, and the ones where she will lose terribly.

Solidly Blue Solidly Red
State Electoral Votes Expected Democratic Percent State Electoral Votes Expected Democratic Percent
District of Columbia 3 89.8% Utah 6 35.3%
Hawaii 4 71.4% Wyoming 3 36.0%
Vermont 3 67.3% Idaho 4 37.3%
Massachusetts 11 62.6% Oklahoma 7 37.6%
New York 29 61.9% Alaska 3 40.2%
Rhode Island 4 61.5% Alabama 9 40.8%
Maryland 10 61.4% Arkansas 6 41.0%
Delaware 3 61.2% Louisiana 8 41.1%
Illinois 20 59.4% Kansas 6 41.8%
California 55 58.8% Mississippi 6 42.4%
Connecticut 7 58.3% Nebraska 5 42.5%
Maine 4 58.0% Tennessee 11 43.3%
Washington 12 57.5% West Virginia 5 43.7%
Oregon 7 56.9% Kentucky 8 43.8%
New Mexico 5 56.5% North Dakota 3 44.0%
New Jersey 14 56.4% Texas 38 44.2%
Michigan 16 54.9% South Dakota 3 44.5%
Nevada 6 54.4% Arizona 11 45.0%
Pennsylvania 20 53.8% South Carolina 9 45.6%
New Hampshire 4 53.8% Missouri 10 45.7%
Wisconsin 10 53.7% Montana 3 46.4%
Indiana 11 47.2%
Total 247 Total 175

With the solidly blue states in her corner, Clinton still needs an additional 23 electoral votes to get to the White House, while her Republican opponent is short 95 electoral votes. Any of the following swing states could supply Clinton’s remaining 23 electoral votes. But of these, the state most likely to be the 2016 deciding vote– based on our analysis of demographic trends and past election results – is Minnesota.

2016 Swing States
State Electoral Votes Expected Democratic Percent Democratic Electoral College Total
Iowa 6 53.3% 253
Colorado 9 53.0% 262
Minnesota 10 52.8% 272
Ohio 18 50.6% 290
Virginia 13 50.3% 303
Florida 29 49.8% 332
North Carolina 15 49.8% 347
Georgia 16 49.4% 363

In other words, winning Minnesota, in addition to Iowa and Colorado by larger margins, is enough to put Clinton over the top electorally. Winning Ohio, Virginia, and other states is just icing on the cake. Too often we get caught up in candidates’ total votes, but once the candidate gets past 270, he or she is the President-elect. Like in baseball, whether you win by 10 runs or win by a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the ninth, you still win. While the walk-off homerun may keep people in their seats longer than the blowout win will, a win is a win at the end of the day.

Minnesota’s promotion to national prominence is not due to major shifts within the state. Rather, it’s the result of other states, such as Colorado and Iowa, that are moving more solidly into the Democratic column. For example, our model predicts Iowa’s Democratic vote share increases by two points in 2016, barely making the cut to be considered a swing state. But in 2012, Iowa had favored the Democrat by a smaller margin than Minnesota.

2012 “Deciding State” Rankings 2016 “Deciding State” Rankings
1.     Colorado 1.     Minnesota
2.     Ohio 2.     Ohio
3.     Iowa 3.     Virginia
4.     Missouri 4.     Florida
5.     Florida 5.     North Carolina
6.     Virginia 6.     Georgia
7.     Nevada 7.     Colorado
8.     Minnesota 8.     Iowa
9.     Wisconsin 9.     Indiana
10.  New Hampshire 10.  Montana

Source: Analysis by Lincoln Park Strategies

Of course the election is still many months away. But as long as national demographics continue to trend in Democrats’ favor, Republicans need to address their lack of support among minority voters in order to change the tide of presidential elections. Our model points to a very predictable end result with Minnesota being the most likely state to get the Democrat into the White House.

Stefan Hankin is President and Founder of Lincoln Park Strategies, a public opinion research firm based in Washington, D.C.