What are the fewest number of swing states whose outcome will actually determine 2016

So most states you can already predict if they will be red or blue. Vermont and California will be blue, Mississippi and Alabama will be red.

The way I see it, there are probably only 2 states that really matter. Ohio & Florida.

There are states that ‘could’ flip, but the problem is that if these states flip then the election was so lopsided that it didn’t matter. Example, in 2008, Obama won the exact same states he won in 2012 but he also won Indiana and North Carolina. That gave him 365 EVs. in 2012 he didn’t win those states because his margin was smaller, but it didn’t matter. He still won 332 EVs and you only need 270 to win. Indiana and NC may be swing states, but if they flip then the election was so lopsided that it didn’t matter.

States that are considered swing states like North Carolina, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa, etc. to me seem to fit this bill. Yeah they could flip, but if they do flip then the election was so lopsided that it didn’t matter. If Iowa and Wisconsin go red then the GOP has so many EVs above 270 that they didn’t need Iowa or Wisconsin.

Could Virginia truly matter in 2016? Like, is there any realistic chance of a 2000 style showdown where Virginia is the state where everything hinges?

I know in 2004 when Kerry lost ohio by something like 120k votes, it was brought up that if Kerry had won those 120k votes distributed in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada then he could’ve won in 2004 despite losing Ohio and Florida. New Mexico and Nevada aren’t as much of swing states, but Colorado only had about a 5 point margin for Obama (which again is still much larger than Ohio or Florida).

Anyway, unless Ohio & Florida flip one way or another, none of the other states matter.

I’m not sure you are definng swing states in this way but if you look at the 270 to Win interactive map the answer is only three swing states are needed for the Democrats to win - Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.

If the D candidate gets those and none of the blue states flip red then that is it - game, set and match.

Actually Virginia is the state where a person is most likely to effect the outcome of an election

Nate Silver is THE MAN when it comes to this stuff - this tool lets you play around and see for yourself:

Not sure how you play with that app and conclude either one. The thing that tool illustrates is that the state that are the critical flips vary with what different demographics do. A Trump map could have PA, WI, NH, and CO being closer and more vital tossup tipping points than OH, VA, or FL.

My point however is that if the GOP wins Pennsylvania, then the election was so lopsided that they didn’t need Pennsylvania. that is like the democrats winning Indiana, if they win that state then the election was so lopsided that it didn’t matter.

The dems don’t even need Ohio & Florida if they win the southwest (Nevada, Colorado, New mexico). They will get 272 EVs. with the west coast, southwest, northern midwest and northeast.

And my point is that depending on what different demographics do that is not automatically the case. It is the case if demographics vote in relative turnouts and shares as in 2012 and 2008 but a Trump Clinton race may induce changes in those dynamics in very hard to predict ways. Yes odds are that OH FL and VA are all likely to be pretty key …

The OP assumes that the states have the same tipping points relative to each other. But in reality each state has its own dynamics. For example, here in Iowa, even though we went blue in the last two elections, things have been trending closer and closer to going red in recent years. I don’t think Trump is the candidate to flip us, but that kind of thing is hard to predict. It would not surprise me if Iowa went red despite other swing states going blue.

Ohio and Florida are must-win states for the Republicans. If Democrats win either of these: Game over.

Pennsylvania is a must-win state for the Democrats. If the GOP gets it: Game over. The dichotomy between Ohio and Pennsylvania is interesting since the states are similar economically and in location (though PA extends farther to the East, Ohio farther to the South). Please note that the GOP is more likely to get PA than you might expect: It has a lower Hispanic population than most states, the ethnic group Demos are depending on, especially if Trump is the nominee.

So the key swing state is … Virginia! I predict that whoever wins Virginia will win the Oval Office.

Virginia (along with OH and FL) will not be quite enough for the GOP to win the election – they’ll need one more swing state as well (NH or WI or CO or IA or PA). (If the GOP gets PA, of course they won’t need VA … but if they’re strong enough to get PA they’ll get VA as well.)

Virginia. Virginia. It’s all up to Virginia.

It’s easy to find polling numbers, Hillary -vs- Trump or Hillary -vs- Cruz. Do they show the results in Virginia specifically? That’s what matters.

Playing around with the interactive election simulations, see that Virginia is the most likely of the swing states (behind OH and FL) to tip red. So the Democrats winning 272 evs to 266 may be rather likely.

Democrats win the White House 272-266 despite losing Virginia!! There’ll be a big spurt in sales of anti-anxiety medicine if that’s the cliff-hanging scenario!

Okay let’s play with one simple not too outrageous set up:

College-educated Whites move from 56%R/77%turnout to 51%R/72% turnout. (Some stay home rather than vote Trump and a few flip.)

Non-college-educated Whites move from 62%R/57%turnout to 69%R/64%turnout.

Nothing else changes from 2012. The Democrats get Obama level Black share and turnout and Hispanics and Asians both stay the same too.

Popular vote D by 1.6% and EV 273 to 265 GOP win. VA is in the Democratic column with FL, OH, NH, IA, and WI all narrowly going R. The closest on the edge in that one? WI. If just a few vote the other way in WI it is a Democratic win. Yes just a smidge more Hispanic turnout and share does it but then a bit less than Obama level Black share and turnout offsets that easily.

And to support Sterling Archer’s point is the graphic in this article showing how much states can shift their relative lean in just one cycle: nearly as many states shifted relative position by 3 or more points than did not. And that was the same Democrat vs a fairly traditional GOP contender each time.

DSeid - you’re making some big moves with the White vote, while leaving other groups unchanged. I think Hispanics will be more Democratic and have increased turnout.

And you assume a huuuge difference between educated and uneducated whites. I strongly doubt the split is so big. Virginia has many educated whites; that’s why GOP won without VA in your model.

Using the same tool but with more conservative shifts
56/77 --> 57/79 (*)
62/57 --> 66/61
93/66 --> 90/63
71/48 --> 75/53
67/49 --> 68/50
the GOP squeaks out a victory with OH, FL, VA (they need all three of these) and IA, NH (either of these would be enough).

(* these parameters are very critical. Change this to 57/78 and GOP loses Virginia and the election.)

A big question: Will educated whites who like neither candidate stay home on Election Day? Or hold their nose and vote for a least-of-evils. Given the huge importance of the election, I’ll guess the latter.

ETA: Answering Wesley Clark, there are also settings where PA is the key state tipping it to the GOP!