Democracy at Work, Part IV: The Presidential Slugfest

From left: Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (D), Donald Trump (R), Gary Johnson (L), and Jill Stein (G)
From left: Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (D), Donald Trump (R), Gary Johnson (L), and Jill Stein (G)

The Jam concludes its examination of Americans’ ballots with a look at the very top of the ticket.  This race for President has been one of the nastiest, most scandal-filled campaigns in recent memory, and has most Americans just wishing for the end.  I won’t sit here and re-hash all the controversies, as the last month alone has given us plenty that have been overplayed on every media outlet imaginable.  Instead, I’m going to look at this from purely an electoral perspective:  how might the Electoral College play out on the big day, and why?

Let’s get one thing straight out of the gate for my fellow millennials: Neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein are going to win this election.  Nor are they going to come particularly close.  You can blame it on not letting them on the debate stage, the two-party system, blah blah blah, but it’s not happening.  Not this year.  Jill Stein’s (Green) support in polls is so small that she’s probably not going to have much of an impact on the result.  Johnson (Libertarian) might in a few states, though, and I’ll mention that where appropriate.

Let’s also get another fact straight: The Trump campaign is in serious trouble.  And it might actually be getting worse.  While the IBD/TIPP and LA Times/USC Dornsife tracking polls continue to hold out, most professional pollsters show Hillary Clinton with a lead anywhere from 4 to 7 points.  And every few days, we get a poll like the ABC News tracking poll that shows Clinton up double digits (12 in this particular case).  In addition, state polls have come out in places like Texas and Alaska (!) showing Trump narrowly ahead or even behind.

Usually, I save my predictions for the end of a post, but I think in this case it might be instructive to lead with them, and then break down the electoral map from there.  Here it is:

You can go to and make your own map if you’d like to make your own prediction.

Immediately, a few of these predictions jump off the page if you’re not an elections geek like me.  Arizona turning blue?  Clinton getting an electoral vote in Nebraska?  And why the hell is Utah shaded a different color?  Let’s break it down:

First off, Trump’s position in typical swing states is pretty dire.  FiveThirtyEight, whose polls-only election model uses polls and adjusts them based on past accuracy and house effects, shows him behind by 4 points or more in Colorado, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Florida.  The main problem there is, Trump needs almost all of those states to win, especially if Clinton is knocking on the doors of some traditionally red states.  There are many reasons he’s doing poorly in these states; his bragging about his ability to sexually assault women because he’s “a star,” is hurting him with female voters everywhere, but his comments about several different minority groups and resultant weakness with those groups is likely what’s hurting him in varying degrees in other states.  African-American voters are likely mobilizing against him in Virginia, while Latino voters are likely hurting him badly in Florida and Nevada.  There is evidence that the polls don’t capture Latino turnout as easily as other groups’, so he could be losing by even worse margins in those states than we think.  Clinton’s campaign also has a superior get-out-the-vote operation whose infrastructure they inherited from President Obama’s previous efforts, and that sometimes means a campaign could overperform its polls by a point or so.  Trump also does badly among highly-educated voters, which is probably hurting him in all those states, but Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado probably worst of all.

You may have noticed that there are two swing states I didn’t mention.  That’s because Trump’s numbers have held up reasonably well (or, at least, are not disastrous) in Iowa and Ohio.  One subgroup that Trump is strong with this year is non-college educated white voters, and both of those states have a lot of swing voters that fall into that group.  Trump’s rhetoric on trade deals and the loss of manufacturing jobs probably resonates with these people more than most.  I think that Ohio has enough Democratic base voters in the major metropolitan areas of Cleveland and Cincinnati to complicate Trump’s efforts.  There’s also enough college towns scattered around (Dayton, Akron, Columbus, Oxford, etc.) that Clinton can probably eke out a win even if Trump does better there than he does nationally.

Iowa, on the other hand, looks better for Trump.  FiveThirtyEight has Clinton up by around a point and gives her a 56% chance of winning the state, but I’m projecting Trump to score a mild upset here.  Iowa has more non college-educated whites than Ohio, and less minority and college-town voters to balance them out.  The aforementioned trade and jobs rhetoric will also play well here, and Trump’s polling has been (relatively) strong.  I think we may see a repeat of the 2014 Senate race here, where strength among these voters resulted in now-Sen. Joni Ernst’s overperforming her polls by about 6 points on Election Day.  Granted, a presidential year will bring a different electorate, but non college-educated whites have slowly been turning away from the Democratic Party, and Trump may accelerate that trend.


Despite these bright spots for Trump, Clinton’s expansion of her territory into traditionally Republican-leaning states is where she is creating huge (yuge?) problems for Trump. The last three polls of Arizona have shown Clinton either tied or leading Trump, and she has opened up a 1.3-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average.  I think, like Nevada and Florida, Clinton’s strength with Latino voters and turnout operation will elevate her to a narrow victory in that state, the first time it will have gone Democratic since it voted for her husband in 1996.  I also think she can pluck an electoral vote out of Nebraska by winning its Second District, as Obama did in 2008.  Though her support among the millennial college voters that she’d have to dominate among to win the district isn’t great, I think she’s done just enough.  Clinton also should win North Carolina, a state where she has held a small but consistent lead.  Black and highly-educated voters that powered Obama to a 2008 win there are overcoming traditionally Republican constituencies in the state such as evangelical voters.

I’m more skeptical of Clinton’s chances in the other red states where we’ve seen a close race.  Georgia’s polling numbers are sometimes close, but Trump has led in the vast majority of surveys.  Independent voters lean Republican here, so if Gary Johnson peels off some of them, maybe Clinton could sneak by.  But that’s a thin rope to hang onto.  Texas, South Carolina, and Alaska have all seen surprisingly close polls recently, and people are wondering if any of them could be like Indiana was in 2008, going Democratic seemingly out of nowhere thanks to the Obama turnout machine.  If I had to pick one state that might do that, I’d pick Alaska, a state that leans Republican but has enough of an independent streak (just look at their governor) that you could have a lot of Gary Johnson voter leakage.  Texas is often thought of as the Great Latino Hope for Democrats, and those voters could make it close, but I’m not seeing it… at least not this year.  South Carolina will only go Democratic if we’re witnessing a 1964-style landslide.

And then there’s the craziness unfolding in Utah.  Former CIA agent and House national security adviser Evan McMullin has launched an independent candidacy for President, describing himself as a conservative alternative to Trump.  McMullin is polling surprisingly well in his home state, where conservative-leaning Mormon voters who make up the majority have largely turned their backs on Trump.  This is creating a weird race where McMullin, Trump, and Clinton all have around 20-30% of the vote in recent polls.  While most of those show Trump ahead, I’m going to go out on a limb (hey, gotta take some risks when you predict stuff, right?) and project that McMullin can take advantage of a split vote and capture Utah’s 6 electoral votes.  Don’t forget Gary Johnson either, who is polling at around 7%.  I think McMullin could very well pull some of Johnson’s voters into his camp, too.  Come to think of it, Mormon voters could help Clinton in other states out west, especially if they flee Trump for Johnson or McMullin.  I don’t think McMullin will be able to win more states or deadlock the electoral college, as are his dream scenarios, but I like his chances in Utah.

Independent candidate Evan McMullin is trying to stir up some chaos in Utah.
Independent candidate Evan McMullin is trying to stir up some chaos in Utah.

So all of this adds up to what I believe will be a strong Clinton win.  But just because I’m predicting that, don’t forget to vote!  Polls have been wrong before, and we should never cede our right to vote.  There are also very important elections other than the presidential race on the ballot, which is part of why I analyzed those first.  And there’s also state-level and local elections, which is where individual voters can make much more of a difference.  That alone is worth turning out, even if the presidential candidates annoy you.  No matter who you support, your vote counts and your vote matters.  No matter what some people say, this election isn’t rigged.  If you’re passionate about your candidate, get out there, organize, and volunteer.  Grassroots activism still matters!



One comment

  1. I really enjoyed this article. I wonder about AZ and UT. I think Trump may eke out a win in Utah. AZ going blue just seems so out of character. And while newspaper endorsements seem to mean less and less these days, perhaps the Arizona Republic’s endorsement of Hilary Clinton indicates an electoral shift.

    Trump has been spending a great deal of time in Florida which makes sense given that it is critical to his path to victory. He has also been spending time in Virginia, which has fallen solidly in the blue column since before the summer. The latter decision seems strange. You would think Trump would be spending time in Arizona, perhaps. But I am sure John McCain would just as soon Trump not campaign there given his very short coattails.

    I wonder if Nevada will go blue. It is very close and Hilary has the momentum, but I wonder if the polls understate Trump’s support. The logic goes something like this: many Republicans so dislike Hilary they are willing to support Trump, but are too embarrassed to say so. Perhaps the recent allegations and Trump’s self-inflicted wounds now dampen that effect enough for Hilary to eke out a win in Nevada.

    It is striking to see the contrast in the two campaigns at this point. Hilary is working with her surrogates to excite millennials still bitter about Bernie’s defeat. The Democratic ground game is in full swing. There is plenty of cash to buy commercial time in close contests. By contrast, only a few loyalists (Guiliani and Christie) seem willing to hang in there with Trump. His ground game is non-existent. He can’t seem to match Hilary’s funding. If Virginia is any indication, he is buying airtime in states where it won’t make any difference.

    The supreme irony of this election (and one Republican strategists must rue every day) is that Hilary was eminently beatable. That the Republican primary process yielded a candidate unable to do so is a reminder that the primary and general
    election electorates are two different animals.

    The polls show significant swings. Is this a 4 point election or an 8-10 point election? Brexit is a reminder of less than reliable polling. That said, it is hard to imagine that the polls are so out of whack that Trump is all that close.

    NBC news had an interesting observation: if Hilary wins big in the eastern time zone (OH, FL) and is the projected winner early will dispirited Republicans stay home, giving Democrats a better shot at an unquestionably closer election: control of the Senate.

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