The impact of protest votes varies throughout the US heres a quick guide to where third party votes could affect which of the two main candidates wins

Another day closer to the presidential election, another slew of surveys most of them showing that Hillary Clinton is in the lead. But the size of the Democratic candidates advantage varies considerably from poll to poll, partly because some questionnaires ask voters to consider the fact that there are more than two presidential nominees. Green party candidate Jill Stein is on the ballot in 45 states and voters in another three states can choose to write her name in. And the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is on the ballot in 50 states.

Progressives who are feeling turned off by Clinton and/or Donald Trump, the two most unpopular candidates in decades, might be considering a protest vote for one of these other parties (protest in the sense that third-party candidates have a less than 0.1% chance of winning). With just four days to go until the election, they might be wondering who will be hindered more by a protest vote Democrat Clinton or Republican Trump?

As with all of the articles I have written so far about polling data, the answer is a very unsexy it depends. The impact of protest votes varies throughout the country.

In total, 33 states can probably be viewed as safe states based on the fact that one of the candidates is leading by at least seven percentage points (the numbers are polling averages collected by Real Clear Politics). When analysts talk about the electoral map working in Clintons favor, they are referring to the fact that 14 of these states (plus the District of Columbia) look like theyll vote Democratic and together theyre worth 187 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidency. Based on the same threshold of safe, Trump can only count on 152 college votes.

More importantly, there are 17 states in the US that can be viewed as competitive based on the fact that six percentage points or less separate Clinton and Trump. Some of these states are unlikely to swing the entire election, though, because they dont have many electoral college votes. Alaska is one such example; although Trump has a narrow lead, the state is only worth three electoral college votes so has little power in changing the national result.

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Who will be hurt more by a third party ‘protest’ vote Clinton or Trump?
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