Given the almost unendurable length and hysteria around U.S. elections, you would think that states across the entire country were winnable for each candidate. But that’s completely untrue, of course.

The outcome in most states is pre-ordained by virtue of demographics and the ideological makeup of their voters.

The states that have a real chance of going to either major political party are rare, and they’re called “swing states.”

Trump has a severe swing state problem, at least based on current polling. How bad? If the general election were held today, he would lose to Clinton 347-191, an historic landslide, according to the New York Times. 

But obviously there’s lots of time until the election. These select swing states will ultimately determine whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is inaugurated president next year – though this year there is also chatter about Trump’s unpopularity bringing normally reliable red states into the blue column.

Ohio

Number of electoral votes: 18

How it voted in 2012: Barack Obama (D), 50.1%; Mitt Romney (R), 48.2%

How it voted in 2008: Barack Obama (D), 51.4%; John McCain (R), 46.8%

Who won its 2016 primary: Hillary Clinton (D), 56.5%; John Kasich (R), 46.8%

How it looks so far for 2016 general election: Hillary Clinton (D), 45%; Donald Trump (R), 42% [as of May 2, via Public Policy Polling]

State leadership: Republican governor; Republican state legislature; one Republican and one Democratic senator; 4 Democratic members of Congress and 12 Republican members

Ohio is the ultimate swing state in the sense that its political balance means it is always up for grabs. The state voted for Barack Obama twice, for George W. Bush twice, for Bill Clinton twice, and on and on. In fact, since 1896 Ohio has voted with the actual outcome of the general election 28 out of 30 times, according to the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

In elections during the Obama years the state has voted overwhelmingly Republican, bringing in a Republican legislature, a Republican governor (John Kasich), and one new Republican senator. But that’s been the trend in many states across the country, and presidential elections are different beasts, in part because turnout among key Democratic constituencies is so much higher.

While even some Republican political operatives argue there’s no chance Trump can win Ohio in a general election

the latest poll puts him within three points of Clinton. Some are urging her to choose Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown as her vice presidential running mate to help ensure a win in this key battleground.

Florida

Number of electoral votes: 29

How it voted in 2012: Barack Obama (D), 50%; Mitt Romney (R), 49%

How it voted in 2008: Barack Obama (D), 51%; John McCain (R), 48%

Who won its 2016 primary: Hillary Clinton (D), 64.4%; Donald Trump (R), 45.7%

How it looks so far for 2016 general election: Hillary Clinton (D), 49%; Donald Trump (R), 36% [as of May 1, via AIF]

State leadership: Republican governor; Republican state legislature; one Democratic and one Republican senator; nine Democratic members of Congress and 18 Republicans

If Ohio is the ultimate swing state because of its shifts, Florida is the ultimate prize in terms of its electoral votes, and the state’s population only continues to surge, passing New York as the third most populous state in 2014.

Like Ohio, it truly shifts from election to election, but it has been a bit more reliably conservative, voting for George H.W. Bush over Bill Clinton in 1992. And like Ohio (and many other states), politics at the state level have been dominated by Republicans since 2010.

From the latest poll above, it’s obvious that Trump has a much steeper climb here than Ohio. In part, that’s because of his horrible standing with Hispanic voters.

A Republican political operative put it differently:

Virginia

Number of electoral votes: 13

How it voted in 2012: Barack Obama (D), 51%; Mitt Romney (R), 47%

How it voted in 2008: Barack Obama (D), 52%; John McCain (R), 46%

Who won its 2016 primary: Hillary Clinton (D), 64%; Donald Trump (R), 35%

How it looks so far for 2016 general election: Hillary Clinton (D), 44%; Donald Trump (R), 35% [As of April 6, via Christopher Newport University]

State leadership:  Democratic governor; Republican legislature; two Democratic senators; 3 Democratic members of Congress and 8 Republicans

Virginia is one of those southern states that has become a swing state only more recently, in part driven by the growth of the commuter suburbs around Washington, D.C., which are teeming with Democrats. George W. Bush won comfortably here in 2000 and 2004; Bob Dole defeated Bill Clinton in 1996.

It’s actually becoming increasingly hard for Republicans to win statewide in Virginia. Its governor is a Democrat, as are its two U.S. senators. “Yeah, look, it’s gotten harder,” Republican political operative Tucker Martin told local station WTOP. “It’s more favorable for Democrats, but it’s not impossible for Republicans. We have to do a better job at persuasion.”

That doesn’t bode well for Trump in November. It’s hard – though not impossible –to see Trump winning here. Consider that he just barely beat Marco Rubio, a more mainstream conservative, in the primary.

North Carolina

Number of electoral votes: 15

How it voted in 2012: Barack Obama (D), 48%; Mitt Romney (R), 50%

How it voted in 2008: Barack Obama (D), 49.9%; John McCain (R), 49.5%

Who won its 2016 primary: Hillary Clinton (D), 54%; Donald Trump (R), 40%

How it looks so far for 2016 general election: Hillary Clinton (D), 44%; Donald Trump (R), 44% [As of April 27, via Public Policy Polling]; another poll around same time from the conservative Civitas Institute gave Clinton 49-37 lead

State leadership: entirely Republican, except for three Democratic members of Congress

Like Virginia, North Carolina is another southern state that’s only recently come to be considered a swing state. But unlike Virginia, it is far less reliably Democratic in statewide elections.

Barack Obama just barely won in 2008 and lost to Mitt Romney in 2012. And it’s hard to tell exactly which way the state is leaning this cycle, with some polls calling it a tie in North Carolina while others give Clinton a large lead.

With an unfavorable electoral map elsewhere for Trump so far, Carolina is coming to be considered an essential must-win precisely because it is so winnable for a conservative but not a guarantee. As the Charlotte Observer put it: “If Trump loses North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes, a second President Clinton will surely be sworn in Jan. 20.”

Colorado

Number of electoral votes: 9

How it voted in 2012: Barack Obama (D), 51%; Mitt Romney (R), 46%

How it voted in 2008: Barack Obama (D), 54%; John McCain (R), 45%

Who won its 2016 primary: Sanders (D), 59%; Will not vote directly on candidates

How it looks so far for 2016 general election: No Trump-Clinton polling yet available

State leadership:  Democratic governor; split legislature; split U.S. senators; 4 Democratic members of Congress and 3 Republicans

People often lump Colorado in with the liberal states because of stances on things like marijuana, but before Barack Obama the state voted for Republicans in three state presidential elections (it would have been a far longer streak without Ross Perot’s 1992 third-party candidacy taking away votes from George H. W. Bush).

It’s especially hard to tell which way the state is leaning this cycle, though, because it didn’t hold a true primary on the Republican side but a complicated election for delegates to the convention that Cruz dominated.

But there’s deep reservations about Trump among Colorado Republicans. One Cruz delegate told Fox31-Denver that Trump “still has to prove himself. There is a little bit of shock, disbelief. We got to see how he is doing, what kind of candidate he is.”

States that people call “swing” but aren’t really all that swing

People tend to call these “swing states,” but at least in presidential elections the evidence isn’t very strong. These states may often keep elections close (see the George W. Bush years), but ultimately they typically vote Democratic.

Pennsylvania

Number of electoral votes: 20

Last time it voted for a Republican president: George H. W. Bush in 1988

How it looks so far for 2016 general election: Clinton destroys Trump 54-39 in April 24 NBC/WSJ/Marist poll. One poll in recent months put Trump as close to three points, but they generally show Clinton dominating.

Michigan

Number of electoral votes: 16

Last time it voted for a Republican president: George H. W. Bush in 1988

How it looks so far for 2016 general election: Clinton leads Trump by 10 or more points, via EPIC-MRA and SurveyUSA polls from March.

Wisconsin

Number of electoral votes: 10

Last time it voted for a Republican president: Ronald Reagan in 1984

How it looks so far for 2016 general election: Clinton leads Trump by as much as 14 points in a collection of polls from March and April, but no fewer than 10.