The General Election Electoral Vote Map: Hillary vs. Bernie
All elections are decided by turnout, but given how closely divided the American electorate is, the 2016 Presidential election is even more sensitive than the norm to turnout. 2016 will be decided by which party has the candidate that can accomplish three things: generate enthusiasm from their own base, add new members to that base, and doesn't inspire the other side's base to turn out in opposition.
In my view, who the Republicans nominate will have minimal effect on turnout; all of their candidates are roughly equal in motivating both bases and independents. The real variable will be who the Democrats nominate: Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. I am not the world's leading expert on elections but I do study politics for a living and I have followed US politics very closely for over 30 years. Based on what I have learned from past election results and applying that to the trends in this election cycle, here are the two possible electoral maps.
But why the near landslide loss? It's a perfect storm, led by the nation's mood. Over two-thirds think we are on the wrong track. People want change. Hillary is The Establishment politics-as-usual candidate in an election cycle where a significant portion of the American electorate is demanding change. Hillary turns off every American wanting change which includes significant portions of the Democratic base. If Hillary is the nominee, there will be record low turnout from traditional Democratic constituencies like students, labor unions, and minorities. She will get little support from Progressives many of whom will, if they vote at all, vote Green. Among independents, Hillary is viewed unfavorably by a large majority (net -27 in the latest poll), and she strongly motivates the Republican base to vote to defeat her--Conservatives hate her even more than they hate Obama. A Hillary nomination guarantees Republican victory.
My only real doubt on this map is Illinois--Hillary could lose that state also if Chicago turnout is low enough to be overcome by downstate Republican votes. Some will express surprise that I predict Pennsylvania would go Republican but that state is far more in play than some pundits realize. Outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the state is solidly Conservative and therefore, a large turnout in the large cities is needed to overcome that. If the Democratic nominee cannot inspire a large turnout from the base and attract independents, Democrats cannot win. Similar arguments back my predictions about Virginia, North Carolina. Minnesota, and Colorado--states that would easily go Democratic if there is a candidate who motivates above average turnout from the Left. The balance is so on edge that Democratic turnout losing even 5% turns a comfortable victory into a huge defeat. Which leads us to the other possible electoral map.
If Democrats Nominate Bernie Sanders:
Does Bernie really make that much difference? Yes, because even a 5% swing of turnout means that many states flip from one column to the other. Bernie is the only candidate offering change and whether you like his Progressive ideas or not, Bernie is clearlynot an Establishment, status quo candidate. Arguably, even a smaller change in turnout could make this dramatic of a shift. Bernie excites the Democratic base far more than Hillary does, and he brings new voters into the Party who would sit out if Hillary is the nominee. Bernie polls better against Republicans with independents and rather than call Republicans to the barricades in opposition like Hillary does, Bernie actually attracts some Republican votes. Unions will find it much easier to motivate their members to turn out for pro-worker Bernie than for Corporatist Hillary and that swings Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania into the Democratic side. My one doubt on this map is Wisconsin, which bizarrely thinks Scott Walker is acceptable. But even if Bernie can't carry Wisconsin and even Virginia and North Carolina, he still wins.
Mostly, it comes down to Ohio and Florida. These are states that slightly lean to Republicans, particularly on Conservative hot button social issues. so the question is whether the Democrats can offer a populist pro-working class message to overcome that. Hillary does not offer that; Bernie does.