How to track the presidential election

By Michael Incavo | Guest Columnist

As American citizens, it is our duty to stay informed, especially during an election. Keeping track of a presidential race can be hard work, but it’s a lot easier if you know what to look for. There are four main areas to keep an eye on: polling, electoral math, voter turnout, money and media.

First, take a look at the polls. Sites like RealClearPolitics aggregate polling from a number of sources to give you the best picture possible. If you see three polls or an average indicating “Trump +2” for example, it is safe to expect news stories about a Trump gain. As of now, while the race is tightening, Clinton is ahead, as she has been for quite some time. The most recent RealClearPolitics average shows Clinton up by 1.9 percent over Donald Trump.

Next, get yourself an electoral map. It labels each state with its number of electors. States with more electors have more say in electing the president. Each candidate starts out the race with a set of states, which they will most likely carry; the election often comes down to seven or so swing states. Clinton starts with up to 242 electors behind her, so she has more paths available than Trump does to reach the necessary 270 electors. One path CNN has described for Trump to win after alienating so much of the electorate involves taking the solid red states and North Carolina, winning all of the other swing states and flipping at least one state that President Barack Obama won in 2012. Clinton has many easier options, from replicating Obama’s success with Latinos to sweeping the Rust Belt states.

This election may very well come down to voter turnout—the number of people who actually show up on election day. Revolutionary and entertaining Donald Trump is the kind of candidate who draws people to the polls through enthusiasm. This is what he means by the “silent majority” — a sizable group of people who don’t show up in polling but are significant enough to turn the election. Since Democrats have struggled in the past with low voter turnout, voter registration and “get-out-the-vote” efforts matter a great deal. Despite these advantages, Trump has far fewer offices and volunteers than Clinton, who has established a robust ground game to bring people to the polls.

Since the landmark Citizens United court decision, money and the media for which it pays will have a significant impact on the results of this and future elections. Look at fundraising, earned media, advertising, and the ways in which the candidates are preparing for the debates. Clinton has been ahead of Trump for months in fundraising and advertising, and although Trump has led substantially in earned media, he has an aversion to all normal debate preparation practices, an area where Clinton has previously excelled. Surrogates represent the candidates in the media, and Clinton has a lead here as well.

For Trump to win this election, he will need to mobilize a “silent majority” and perform well in the debates, both of which are far from certain. The facts certainly look to be in Clinton’s favor. But this election is always changing, and by tracking the election based on these areas, you can draw a conclusion for yourself.