As I write — a qualifier that seems particularly necessary given the flood of recent polling and the variance between them — the twelve closest states in the 2016 contest according to the RealClearPolitics polling averages are:
1. Ohio, where Donald Trump leads by 0.5 points.
2. Arizona, where he leads by 0.7.
3. North Carolina, where Hillary Clinton leads by 3.
4. Iowa, where Trump is up 3.3.
5. Florida, where Clinton leads by 3.6.
6. Minnesota, where Clinton leads by 4.
7. New Hampshire, where she’s up 4.3.
8. Indiana, where Trump is up 4.5.
9. Nevada, where Clinton is up 4.7.
10. Maine, where Clinton is up 5.
11. Georgia, where Trump is up 5.3.
12. Texas, where Trump is up 5.7.
(These are head-to-head averages. In the four-way average, meaning polls that include the two third-party candidates, Clinton leads in Arizona thanks to a poll released on Wednesday that shows her up by 5.)
Setting everything else to the side for a moment, consider what that means. It means that Arizona — a state that has voted for the Republican in every election since 1952 save one — is closer than Florida and North Carolina. It means that Texas and Georgia are both closer than Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. It means that Indiana, home of Trump’s running mate, is closer than the perennial swing-state Nevada.
It means that the map has gotten weird.
Trump would need to sweep the seven closest states and hold Indiana, Georgia and Texas in order to win the presidency. If he wins all of the 12 closest states except Texas, he loses. If he wins all 12 except Florida, he loses. If he wins all 12 except Ohio, he wins the electoral college by 4 votes.
Consider how this year differs from 2012.
In 2012, President Obama won 10 of the 12 closest states. Eleven of those were states he’d won in 2008, the exception being North Carolina. As it stands, Clinton is poised to win 9 of those 12 states, giving up Ohio and Iowa as well as Georgia.
In 2016, the 12 closest states include five that Mitt Romney won four years ago.
That alone is a problem, since Romney lost. The good news for Trump is that he currently leads in four of those five states, while Clinton leads in five of the seven close states that Obama won in 2012. If nothing else changes, though, Trump would only gain 9 electoral votes over Romney, who lost by 126.
That’s if nothing else changes. Losing Arizona, for example, hands all of those electoral votes back, and then some.
The enduring question is how Trump wins. Five of the 12 closest states not only went for Romney in 2012, but have backed the Republican fairly consistently since at least 1992. (The one year Arizona backed the Dem was 1996.) That wasn’t the case four years ago; the 12 closest states then were mostly blue.
We’re running out of ways of saying the same thing, over and over: Donald Trump is almost certainly going to lose the election on Nov. 8. At no point in the last 100 days of the election has he held a lead in the electoral college according to those RealClearPolitics polling averages, and according to averages compiled by other outlets. We can conjugate what’s happening with the verb “to lose”:
Donald Trump has been losing.
Donald Trump is losing.
Donald Trump will be losing — unless something unprecedented happens. And, in fairness, we’ve seen one or two unprecedented things so far this cycle.