Sunday, November 6, 2016

Trump v. Clinton - The Official Election Projection

It's finally over. Well, almost. In fewer than 36 hours, we will likely know the winner of the 2016 Presidential election. Barring some wild, unforeseen circumstance, Hillary Clinton will likely emerge as the President-Elect and the first woman to become Commander -in-Chief. It will not be the blowout that it would have been had the election been held two weeks ago. At that point, Secretary Clinton had a six or seven point lead and was tied or even leading in some states that are now leaning towards Trump such as Arizona, Iowa, and Ohio.  

The headline, of course, is that Clinton will win, but she will likely do so without a majority of the popular vote. It's possible, of course, that Secretary Clinton could over perform via her massive get-out-the-vote operation and inch just above 50%, but it's more probable that no candidate will reach that magic number, largely due to the presence of multiple third party candidates running this year.  

Of course, Presidential elections are not won or lost, necessarily, in the popular vote. So is Mrs. Clinton's popular vote lead secure enough to win 270 electoral votes? In short, yes. The map below shows Battleground270's 50-state electoral projection. 

This map is good for 322 electoral votes for Secretary Clinton, which is 52 more than she needs to win. Therefore, she could lose three of the four next closest states in her column (North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, and New Hampshire), and still come away with the win. Speaking of the individual states, let's take a look at which states we project Clinton to win on Tuesday.

The closest state (for either candidate) will probably be North Carolina. The Tar Heel State will represent the only Romney state to go for Clinton, but that should not be terribly surprising, as it's electorate has gotten more racially diverse and more highly educated, even in just the past four years. Mitt Romney won North Carolina by about 2% in 2012, but it'll go to Clinton with Trump at the top of the GOP ballot.

Florida will also be a relatively close state, though it will not be the closest state, as it was in 2012. Current polls show a dead heat in Florida. Therefore, Clinton's historic ground game (and Trump's complete lack of one) is going to make all the difference.  

Both Nevada and New Hampshire are two states that have tightened a bit in the past couple weeks, and recent polls show both of them as ties. In Nevada, polls are almost always off in the state, and early voting numbers have shown that it will be nearly impossible for Trump to catch up on election day, as greater than 70% of the vote will have already been cast by Monday night. New Hampshire does not allow early voting, but it is a highly elastic state, meaning that it swings as the overall popular vote does. With Clinton's polls rebounding in recent days, it's probable that her lead in New Hampshire will do the same.  

The remaining blue states make up Clinton's so-called firewall, or "blue wall", as some commentators have dubbed it. While there's a lot of talk of Donald Trump picking off the rustbelt states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, or even Minnesota , that's not likely to happen. He has not led in a single credible poll in any of those states since his convention. Some of those he has never led in. They will safely go to Hillary Clinton.

Moving on to the 'Trump states', we'll start with Ohio. Yes, it's looking as if Trump may just win Ohio, though it will be by less than 1% (just like North Carolina for Mrs. Clinton). While some people like to equate Ohio and Pennsylvania, Ohio has a very different electorate. Racially, they are basically identical, with the electorate being 84% white. However, Ohio has more evangelical Christians, fewer registered Democrats, and more voters without a college degree. Further, Ohio is one of the states that has been hardest hit by trade deals such as NAFTA. Polls currently show Trump with a 2-3% lead, but we're projecting Clinton's massive ground game to make up about half of that deficit.

Arizona is a state that Secretary Clinton likely would have won if the election was two weeks ago. Polls then had her either tied or up by a couple points over Donald Trump. However, she's since lost that lead, and even massive latino turnout is unlikely to put Arizona in the 'win' column for Mrs. Clinton.  

The state that represents the largest electoral shift from 2012 is Iowa. President Obama won Iowa then by about 6%, but Trump will likely win it this year by about 3%, representing a 9% swing. Iowa's electorate is tailor-made for Trump : heavily white, working class voters without a college degree. 

Like Arizona, Georgia was trending in Hillary Clinton's direction before the Comey letter was sent to Congress 10 days ago. While it was not likely she would win it at that point, Clinton could have finished within a point or two of Mr. Trump. Now , however, it's out of reach for her campaign.  

The final state we'll discuss is Alaska. Some may be surprised that it is this far down on Trump's list, and it's very possible that Donald Trump will win the state by double digits. Polling in Alaska is historically unreliable, but the polling we do have shows Trump with a lead somewhere between three and eight points. The 'X-factor' is Gary Johnson. Alaska is a very libertarian-esque state, and Gov. Johnson has hit double digits in some polls. If he gets upwards of 15% of the vote on election day, Clinton could squeak out a win. If he's under 10%, Trump will win.

You may be wondering how I've come up with these projections; .. In short, I use a mix of data and subjective analysis The polls almost certainly will not be 100% correct In most polls, close to 10% of voters remain undecided . It could be that those voters stay home on election day, or they may all vote for one candidate. I've tried to use historic and short-term trends as well as demographic make-ups and voting patterns in order to accurately predict where I think each state will end up. After all, in 2012, I called all states but Florida correctly, and that one was only off by less that 1%. I'm excited to see how close it'll be this time.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Who’s the Real Winner of the 2016 Election? President Barack Obama

It is worth remembering that President Reagan was not always held in such high esteem by the American public, or even by his own party.  Even at a time when America was much less polarized, Reagan’s approval rating was often below 50% and even dipped below 40% for a short period.  Then, in his final year of office, the American public began to give the President higher marks, and Reagan ended his second term with over 60% of Americans approving as his job as President, about 10% higher than President H. W. Bush’s approval during his first days in office.  

2016 is shaping up to look a lot like 1988.  President Obama’s approval rating has gradually increased since the campaign seriously got underway.  In November, only 42.9% of Americans approved of the President’s handling of his job, and his net approval was -8.7%.  Now, his job approval stands at about 49%, with his net favorability at +2.5%.  For reference, at this point in Reagan’s Presidency, Reagan was also at 49%.  

So what accounts for the rise in Obama’s popularity over the past six months?  Two things: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  While Hillary Clinton has always been seen as the likely Democratic nominee, the same cannot be said for Mr. Trump.  In November of 2015, few expected Donald Trump to wind up becoming the Republican nominee for President.  Most political pros and pundits expected him to get no more than 25-30% of the vote and for one of the more mainstream Republican candidates to end up consolidating support against him.  
However, as Americans have become more and more accustomed to believing Trump will in fact be the nominee, their approval for the President has spiked.  True, correlation should never be confused for causation, but there is little evidence that anything else can account for Obama’s current bounce in the polls.  

Besides Trump and Clinton’s overall unfavorability with the public, there are two main things that have probably helped Obama’s image among his fellow Americans.  First, instead of running away from the President’s legacy, as Al Gore and John McCain did in 2000 and 2008, both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders have largely embraced the President.  This is likely due to the fact that the President is enormously popular with the Democratic base, i.e. those who actually turn out in primary elections.  A Gallop poll conducted in March of this year showed that 82% of Democrats approved of his job as President.  Further, those who identified as ‘liberal Democrats’ gave the President a 89% approval rating.  

In debate after debate, the two Democratic rivals have attempted to court these voters by praising the President as well as his many accomplishments.  Even as Bernie Sanders has sought to run to the left of both Clinton and Obama, he has still only offered mild criticism of the President, usually followed up with a line about how Obama has done as much as he could given the Republican opposition to him.

The second thing that has helped the President is the messy Republican primary.  For the first few months of the primary, the GOP candidates were attacking the President and his policies non-stop.  However, as the primary got closer to the first voting states, Republicans (most notably Donald Trump) have resorted to attacking each other while ignoring the sitting Democratic President.  

Now, it is apparent to the voters that they will have a choice in November between two candidates with record breaking favorability numbers and who are both less popular than President Obama.  Trump’s favorability rating stands at about 36% and Clinton’s is only marginally better at 42.5%.  Their unfavorability ratings are 60% and 54%, respectively.  Never before have the two nominees for President been so universally disliked.

With a likely extremely negative campaign looming and eight more months of Obama’s Presidency, the American public just may be wishing that they could instead vote for him for a third term.  This is a recipe for President Obama’s popularity to continue to rise, just as Ronald Reagan’s did in 1988.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Despite Recent Wins, Bernie Still Not Winning

That headline may not make a whole lot of sense.  Or maybe you think I mean that Bernie is still behind in the pledged delegate count (which he is), and that is why he’s not winning.  Right, but wrong. 

Bernie Sanders is still not winning by the margins he needs in order to overtake Hillary Clinton’s pledged delegate lead, which as of April 1st was about 222 delegates.  After winning both Wisconsin and Wyoming since then, Clinton’s lead has only shrunk by 10 delegates to 212. 

Why is this a problem? Wisconsin and Wyoming are among the final few states that are extremely favorable to Sanders.  The majority of the rest of the states are either those in which Clinton has sizable leads or is likely roughly tied with Bernie.  That won’t do. 

I’m sure you’ve heard this number quite a bit recently.  Fifty-seven percent.  It is the average amount of the popular vote Bernie Sanders must win in the remaining contests in order to overtake Hillary Clinton in pledged delegates by the convention.  Actually, the number was 56.6% until Bernie underperformed his targets in Wisconsin and Wyoming this past week.  Even after winning those two states, he’s actually in a worse position, mathematically speaking, than he was prior to the contests.  The chart below illustrates Bernie’s current predicament:

You see, Sanders was expected to win both Wisconsin and Wyoming.  Demographically and geographically, those states were among those that should have been extremely favorable to him.  And to an extent, they were.  Sanders still won both states.  But he didn’t win them by the margin that he needed. 

The chart above divides the total delegates remaining into amounts that Sanders must shoot for in each state in order to overtake Clinton.  In Wisconsin, Bernie’s target was 53 delegates, or approximately 62% of the popular vote.  Instead, he only won 48 delegates.  Same story in Wyoming; Sanders won 4 fewer delegates there than he needed.

To complicate matters even further for the Sanders campaign, he is behind his popular vote targets, in many cases by double digits, in nearly all of the remaining states.  Does that mean he cannot catch up?  No, there is technically still time; in the same way that there is technically still time for President Obama to repeal Citizens United, enact sweeping immigration reform, pass strict new gun laws, and obliterate ISIS completely before he leaves office. 

If you want to know whether Sanders has a real shot at winning the nomination and not just an over-hyped hope, look to New York on April 19th.  Not only must Bernie win here, he must win by nothing short of double digits.  He is currently averaging about 40% in recent polls, so a current prediction of him getting 43% in the primary is not unreasonable. 

If Sanders can win with over 55% of the vote in Clinton’s home state, then yes, he will have a real shot at winning the nomination.  If he loses New York, however, he’s toast, and anyone telling you anything different is either just blowing hot air or is delusional.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How Ted Cruz Wins the GOP Nomination

Senator Cruz’s path to the Republican nomination is looking smaller and smaller as we speed toward the first votes.  When I wrote about how Trump could win the nomination, Cruz was leading nearly all the polls in Iowa and beginning to slowly climb in New Hampshire.  However, a lot has changed since then.

First and foremost, Trump recognized the threat Cruz represented and moved to halt his momentum.  According to the most recent polls, Trump is now projected to win Iowa, a result that would surely diminish Ted Cruz’s chances of being the Republican nominee.  So how does Senator Cruz win?

His chances hinge on Iowa.  Ted Cruz pretty much must win Iowa in order to go on to win the nomination.  A close second probably won’t do unless no other candidate comes close; then, it will likely be seen as a two-man race between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. 

Turnout among evangelical voters and new voters is essential for Cruz.  He needs the former to come out in droves and the latter to stay home.  Furthermore, Cruz needs to hope that supporters of other candidates that share his social conservative support will instead decide to caucus for him.  These candidates include Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson.  Collectively, those three candidates make up about 12.4% of the polling average in Iowa.  If they consolidated around Cruz, he would win in a landslide.

After winning Iowa, Cruz will need to grow his support in New Hampshire to collect at least 20% of the vote there.  It may not be enough to win, but it would likely be enough to create a story that he is gaining momentum and has relatively strong support, even in a more moderate and secular state such as New Hampshire. 

From there, the voting will turn to South Carolina, where Trump is currently leading the field and where Sen. Cruz is in second.  Trump’s standing would likely diminish after losing in Iowa, and Cruz should hope that his chief social conservative rivals drop out by this point.  Carson, Huckabee, and Santorum make up about 11% of South Carolina’s polling average.  If the majority of those voters moved to Cruz, he will have a strong shot of winning the state, particularly if no establishment candidate can claim victory in New Hampshire.

Victories in Iowa and South Carolina, along with a split decision in New Hampshire will fuel Cruz for the later states.  Ted Cruz will be strongly positioned for wins in the so-called “SEC primary” on March first.  These primaries include those in many southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Cruz’s home state, Texas. 

Importantly, all but one of these states (Virginia) has a threshold a candidate must reach in order to win delegates.  In some the threshold is 15% and others it is 20%.  This means that a candidate like Ben Carson or even Marco Rubio could receive zero delegates if they cannot reach the threshold.  That is good news for Cruz (and Trump) who are the only two candidates currently breaking those thresholds.

Like with the scenario for a Trump win, the nomination will likely be a long and drawn out process, possibly leading all the way to the GOP convention.   Cruz would need to rack up a majority of the delegates by the SEC primary in order to show that he has the momentum and claim the title of eventual nominee. 

His problem, however, is that he is just as despised among the Republican establishment as Donald Trump.  Therefore, it is unlikely that all of the establishment candidates such as Rubio or Bush will drop out of the race anytime soon.  In order for Cruz to win the nomination, he will need to rack up his delegate count in the more conservative southern states and the ‘bible-belt’ and either hope that breaks 50% or receive a clear plurality by the convention.

As I mentioned at the outset, Cruz’s chances have diminished since two weeks ago.  While he still has plenty of money and time, he is faced with the possibility that several candidates will not drop out soon after the first couple primaries, and the nomination will therefore take months to lock up.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

How Donald Trump Wins the GOP Nomination

If you had told me twelve, six, or even three months ago that with only three weeks left until the Iowa caucuses Donald Trump would be leading the Republican pack for the nomination, I would have laughed in your face (and then cried in the fetal position while holding my dogs and telling them that it will be ok). 

But lo and behold, that scenario has played out.   In the RealClearPolitics poll of polls, Trump holds a commanding 13.3% lead over his nearest rival (Sen. Ted Cruz) nationally.  Furthermore, Trump is fairing well in the early states.  In New Hampshire, the Donald is beating a divided establishment field by 16%+; in South Carolina, he leads Cruz by double digits; and even in Iowa, Trump is only four points behind the leader, Ted Cruz. 

If he were any other candidate in any other year, his case for the nomination would be open and shut.  Politicos such as myself wouldn’t be forecasting his eventual downfall.  But it isn’t just any other year, so how does Donald Trump win?

Beginning with the first voting state, Donald Trump needs to make sure that those who say they are supporting him in the polls actually come out to vote.  If Trump loses by a larger than expected margin (which currently would be about 4-8%), he will have to give a good reason why he himself shouldn’t be branded a “loser”.  This is important, because one of Trump’s strengths is his ability to project confidence in his winning ability and his perceived frontrunner status.  If that is challenged, Trump will go into New Hampshire wounded, and he likely won’t perform as well as his current standing would project.

To be clear, Trump doesn’t need to win Iowa.  There is already a perception in the political world that Iowa is Cruz’s to lose.  Winning Iowa would certainly cement Trump’s lead in other states, but losing by a few points to the perceived frontrunner would not necessarily harm him. 

Additionally, Donald Trump needs to ensure that an establishment candidate such as Marco Rubio does not break out and do unexpectedly well.  If Rubio comes close to matching Trump’s support in the state, he will be the story going into New Hampshire.  This is why Rubio is now making a big play for Iowa.

Next up: New Hampshire.  Currently, there are four establishment candidates (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich) vying for a ticket out of The Granite State, and because they all are pulling roughly equal support in the polls, none of them are able to break out to seriously challenge Trump. 

Donald Trump has proven very effective at diminishing a candidate by attacking them when he needs to, so he needs to make sure that he attacks the “most likely” establishment the hardest.  New Hampshire is a state in which Trump needs to win.  He can do this by turning out his supporters as well as doing moderately well in Iowa.

Following New Hampshire are both South Carolina and Nevada.  First and foremost, for Trump to continue winning states, candidates who are not winning need to stay in the race.  For example, should Kasich and Christie not do well in New Hampshire, they could get out of the race, and their supporters would then flock to another candidate who is a close ideological fit, such as Bush and Rubio.  Donald Trump needs to hope those candidates stay in the race a little longer in order for those campaigns to not gain momentum.  As I mentioned above, Trump is doing well in South Carolina and Nevada, so he just needs to continue winning, even if it is only with about 30-35% of the vote.

Beyond the early voting states, Donald Trump begins to have a problem.  While he would still be the perceived frontrunner for the nomination, candidates will begin dropping out and consolidating behind either Cruz or a more establishment candidate.  At this point, Trump will need to begin spending a lot of money to hit Ted Cruz as well as the establishment candidate. 

Because most states have a proportional delegate allocation system, he will need to begin winning states with 50% of the vote.  Doing so will mean he wins all the delegates (save for one delegate each for a candidate who can cross a certain threshold. 

However, chances are that Donald Trump will not be able to win a majority in most states.  Therefore, the nomination will go all the way to the Republican convention in July.  Because the bulk of the GOP establishment will not be inclined to give Trump their support, he will need to use the most important leverage he still has in order to persuade them to do so: a third party run. 

Donald Trump is a billionaire and has a strong a devoted following within the Republican Party.  He could easily run (or threaten to run) as a third party candidate, which would undoubtedly end in disaster for the Republican Party in November.  The Republican establishment will deem it necessary to nominate him, despite their deep reservations, in order to keep the party united against the eventual Democratic nominee and win back the White House. 

There are other scenarios, of course, in which Trump could win the nomination.  He could turn out new voters who aren’t showing up in the polls, do better in the early states than expected, and win some supporters of other candidates currently running.  But as it currently stands, it seems the best shot for Trump to be the GOP nominee is to accumulate a plurality of delegates and then use his popularity as a way to ensure the GOP establishment doesn’t choose someone else at the convention.