DAVID GREEENE, HOST:
In this presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton appears to have many of the traditional advantages in poll numbers, in fundraising and also in demographics - race, ethnicity, gender, income levels in all of the states. So the map favors Democrats. NPR's Asma Khalid wanted to look at what it would take for Donald Trump to overcome those disadvantages and hit that important 270 electoral votes. Asma covers demographics and politics, and she's here with me in the studio. Hey, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, David.
GREEENE: So let's start with the basics. Why does Hillary Clinton seem to have the natural advantages, as of now?
KHALID: So let's go back to the 2012 election, when President Obama won that election pretty convincingly by about 126 electoral votes. And just because of demographic changes, particularly along racial lines, this election is expected to have the most diverse electorate to date. That is an inherent advantage for Democrats. You know, think of Latinos, Asians and African-Americans. A majority of them in 2012 supported President Obama.
GREEENE: OK. But we have two different candidates now. We have Hillary Clinton, and we have Donald Trump. And you've actually worked with some colleagues on a tool that would actually show us, I mean, what it would take for Donald Trump to sort of move the numbers in a lot of states and actually pull out a victory.
KHALID: That's right. David, we created election sliders for five different demographic groups. We looked at white men, white women, African-Americans, Latinos and others.
GREEENE: OK. And you're calling them sliders?
KHALID: Sliders, yep. And so these are sort of interactive tools that allow you to adjust both the margin of victory and raw turnout in 20 battleground states. You can adjust them, a percent at a time, to see what it would take for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to win a particular state.
GREEENE: OK. A lot of people have been talking about the state of Pennsylvania - I'm not just bringing up that state because it's my home state - Donald Trump was actually there this week. I mean, it's been a clear focus for him. And there have been a lot of - a lot of question about whether Democrats sort of in a lot of those industrial areas, like around Pittsburgh, might turn to Donald Trump. I mean, is that a good case study?
KHALID: It is. You know, Pennsylvania's been a blue state for years and years. But when you look at the current demography, I think it's a really good example of a state that, demographically speaking, looks like a true toss-up. You know, we found that just 1 percent change in how the white male population votes could flip the state Republican. I mean, think about that. So if Donald Trump can maintain Mitt Romney levels of support and Mitt Romney levels of turnout with all those other different demographic groups who we were talking about - African-Americans, Latinos, white women - and he can just bump up that white male margin by a percent, he could theoretically flip the state.
GREEENE: So I could see that on this tool. I could sort of raise the white vote 1 percent in the state of Pennsylvania. And as I slide that over, I would see it turn red.
GREEENE: This sounds like a lot of fun for political junkies.
GREEENE: I mean, so, sort of look at the map overall as you've played with this tool, any sort of takeaways when you think about Donald Trump and his chances here?
KHALID: I would say that it is a very difficult path for Donald Trump. I mean, one state that I think kind of exemplifies that is Virginia. You know, it's a state that traditionally has been thought of as battleground turf. We ran probably six or seven different scenarios to see how Trump could carve a path to the White House. And in all of our scenarios, Virginia remained blue. And I think that's partly because, you know, Virginia's demography has changed. It has a growing Asian and Latino population in the state.
But it's also kind of an example of how difficult the path is for Donald Trump. I think his best strategy is to focus on some of the old Rust Belt states. You know, Trump has repeatedly insisted that he could win a state like Michigan. So we looked at Michigan. And we also looked at Wisconsin. I would say they both seem sort of like long shots, partly because of their large, historically left-leaning white populations. But, I mean, look, Michigan is plausible. If, you know, he could win white voters by, say, 5 percent more than Mitt Romney did and hold everything else constant, he's got a shot in Michigan.
GREEENE: So we will not be surprised to see Donald Trump spending a lot of time in the Midwest as we go (laughter) towards the fall.
KHALID: I think it would make much more sense. You know, this whole battleground map that we traditionally think of in election cycles, I think, is changing.
GREEENE: Asma, thanks a lot.
KHALID: Thanks so much, David.
KHALID: That was NPR's Asma Khalid who covers demographics and the campaign. And you can use the new tool she was talking about to try and predict the election through demographics. It is called The 270 Project, and you can find it in npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.