After Hillary Clinton’s crushing victory in the South Carolina primary, and with many other Southern states on the calendar for Super Tuesday, it is increasingly clear that she is the favorite for the Democratic nomination, even as national polls show that she runs worse than Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump (or Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz). She very likely could still beat Trump in the popular vote (since he has done so well in alienating virtually everyone except angry white males and the women who stand by them). But can she beat him in the Electoral College? Just ask Al Gore about that.
Let’s look first at the primaries. Because of her advantage with African American and Latino voters, Clinton is expected to do well in all the Southern and Southwestern states. Bernie’s strength with more highly educated, more liberal whites, will give him a good shot at winning many Northeastern, North Central, and Northwestern states. With California, Texas and Florida likely to be in Clinton’s column, Bernie will need to sweep the states where he’s strong, just to keep up. But Clinton is also favored in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. She even leads—narrowly—in Massachusetts. So even without the 450-odd super delegates who currently back her, Hillary has a clear edge on Bernie for delegates.
The paradox is that a huge chunk of Hillary's delegate count will come from states that she won’t carry in November.
The paradox is that a huge chunk of her delegate count will come from states that she won’t carry in November. African Americans and Latinos are large minorities in every Southern state, but they’re to typically on the winning side in November. A few Southern, Border, and Southwestern states might tip Democratic from time to time (think Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Missouri, or New Mexico), but overall these regions are still pretty well locked in as Republican.
Larry Sabato, the distinguished electoral analyst at the University of Virginia, has provided projections for minimal Republican and Democratic victories in the Electoral College. He produces one map that shows a minimal GOP victory. The map below shows an even narrower Democratic victory. The only differences between the two maps are that Sabato projects Virginia going Democratic and Colorado Republican for the Democratic win, and the opposite for the Republican win.
Of course, there are other swing states, notably Ohio and Florida, that might go Democratic; New Hampshire, Wisconsin or Nevada could go Republican. But the point is, on any reasonable projection it promises to be a very tight race in the Electoral College, even if the Democratic nominee (presumably Clinton) pulls in a popular vote majority.
It is conceivable that, with Trump as the nominee, enough normally Republican voters will defect to tip some states to the Democrats (perhaps by the mechanism of an independent run by Michael Bloomberg). On the other hand, how many of Bernie’s young enthusiasts will stay home?
Hillary will probably get the nomination, then, but her path to victory in November is narrow.