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Minhaz Merchant

Minhaz Merchant is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla and author of The New Clash of Civilizations (Rupa, 2014). He is founder of Sterling Newspapers Pvt. Ltd. which was acquired by the Indian Express group

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Who Won Clinton-Trump Debate?

Trump and Clinton are the two most disliked presidential candidates in US history. Each has an unfavourability rating of around 60 per cent. Trump though is disliked slightly more than Hillary. That could decide the presidency

Photo Credit : Reuters,

Broadcast live to over 100 million Americans and millions more worldwide, the first US presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump smashed primetime records.

Who won? Tough to say. Clinton was calm, assured but defensive. Trump was, well, Trump.

How will the debate change the trajectory of the race? With nearly six weeks to go before polling day on November 8, Hillary leads Trump in opinion polls by an average of 2 per cent nationally. Barring gaffes in the remaining two presidential debates on October 9 and October 19, that should see Hillary through to the White House.

And yet, it's not as simple as that. Popular national vote doesn't decide US presidential winners - "electoral college" votes do.

There are a total of 538 electoral college votes apportioned to states based on population. California with 55 votes has the highest number of electoral college votes followed by Texas (38) and New York (29).

It's possible to win the presidential election even if you lose the popular national votes. President George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore in 2000 but still won with 271 electoral college votes to Gore's 266 (one abstention).

The Clinton-Trump race this year could be as close. Hillary can count on a secure 200 electoral college votes while Trump has 164 in his bag. These are states that traditionally vote blue (Democrat) or red (Republican) more or less regardless of whose standing for president from their party.

That leaves 174 "toss-ups" - votes that could go either way in battleground states.

Hillary (200) has a seductively simple path to the White House, needing just 70 more votes to win the presidency.

Trump (164) needs 106 votes but the momentum in the toss-up states has lately swung in his favour. Nonetheless Trump has a much narrower path to victory than Hillary. But that path has visibly widened over the past two weeks.



If he wins these nine toss-up states, Trump with 275 electoral college votes (164 secure + 111 toss-ups) will be the next US president. Thus Trump can afford to lose Pennsylvania (20), Wisconsin (10), Virginia (13), New Hampshire (4) and Michigan (16) - and yet win.

Three states - North Carolina, Colorado and Florida - are the Democratic firewalls. The other six toss-up states among the nine listed above are firmly in Trump's corner. If Hillary wins even one of these three states, she'll win the presidency. Trump has to win all the three states - he has zero margin of error.

So the US presidential elections may boil down to three states: Florida, North Carolina and Colorado. The silver lining for Trump is that he's currently competitive in all three.

The Latino turnout in Florida could decide the outcome. While Trump is unpopular with Hispanics over his pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border, Marco Rubio, the charismatic senator from Florida, will campaign with Trump and could tilt the race in his favour with his own strong Latino support.

Meanwhile, North Carolina, following the horrific racial riots in Charlotte over police shootings last week, is tilting towards Trump. Colorado is too close to call but a recent poll showed Trump ahead by 2 per cent. The race remains dynamic with Trump making gains in even 'blue' states like Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

In the end though, Hillary's ground game and infrastructure (she has a core campaign team of 2,000 staff against Trump's skeleton 300) could win the day.

Trump and Clinton are the two most disliked presidential candidates in US history. Each has an unfavourability rating of around 60 per cent. Trump though is disliked slightly more than Hillary. That could decide the presidency.



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