2016 Electoral College Prediction

Clinton 347—–Trump 191

2016-08-26 (2)


Click here for my 2012 Electoral College Prediction. I got lucky.

The most important thing to note about contemporary American politics is how consistently predictable it has been in the last 20 years. If you look at mid last century elections like in 1964, 1972, or 1984, you’ll see absolute blowouts–total landslide victories for Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan with double-digit victories in the popular vote. But a sweep of the electoral college after these years is unheard of, particularly after 2000, and it seems incredibly unlikely to happen in this election either, even though Clinton is currently sky-high in the polls. Why?

Most political science research chalks this up to the fact that the Democratic and Republican parties weren’t all that ideologically different in this era. There was a traditional left and right, but they were mixed between the two parties. And so it was common for people to be truly swing voters who voted from party to party based on candidate and issue preference. Voters often split their ticket voting, voting for Democrats at the national level but Republicans at the local level. This doesn’t happen anymore. The general population reliably votes one direction or another down ballot because the parties have defined themselves more reliably as conservative and liberal ideologies, with little room for non-partisans in between.

Despite how bizarre this presidential cycle has been, these trends are by and large holding in the polling nationwide, with only a few caveats. Trump’s train wreck of a campaign has clearly eroded support in swing states and given Clinton a historically large lead for this stage of a campaign. Despite the exciting buzz from Clinton supporters about gains in Missouri, Georgia, Arizona, even South Carolina, its hard to imagine that these reliably red states would actually swing for Clinton unless Republican turnout was shockingly low and Democratic turnout absurdly high. Sorry Dems, if Trump’s absurdity hasn’t already turned these states blue in polling during her post convention high, they aren’t going to turn as the race inevitably tightens a bit in the final weeks short of a Trump support exodus. Despite the craziness and understandable hype over how unprecedented this race is, it seems far more likely that the final electoral college map looks fairly ordinary, absent some sort of October bombshell revelation that Hillary went back in time and caused the assassination of Lincoln.

And even then, even if Wikileaks does unleash some damaging revelation about Clinton (unless she killed Lincoln), it is incredibly unlikely that Trump will win. Just look at the electoral map as it currently stands. This election will still, as it recently has, be decided in the states that are considered “battlegrounds,” states that are competitive in modern presidential elections. Clinton can afford to lose the traditional battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Iowa–states that she is currently polling very well with and has huge resources in– if she wins just Pennsylvania, which as much as the Trump campaign wants the world to think is a competitive battleground, it is not. Pennsylvania has voted for the Democratic candidate in every election since 1992. You can conjure up all the angry white steel workers you want, but they won’t be enough to overcome those odds. By just winning Pennsylvania and the other reliably Democratic states, Clinton easily wins the election with 278 electoral votes (270 needed). The modern electoral college math has been unfavorable for Republicans because of demographic change, regardless of a Trump catastrophe.

2016-08-26 (1)

Clinton has a lot of wiggle room in the polls to afford, and looks easily poised to take Ohio and Florida. The state Clinton is most likely to lose from a poll tightening would be North Carolina, which she can afford to lose without much worry.

“But AJ,” you scream. “There are still 70 days in the election and presidential debates left for the polls to shift!” And if the dynamics of the election were different, I might agree with you. Here’s why you are wrong:

Trump will not make a comeback

  1. Trump’s campaign is a joke of mismanaged resources. The challenge of controlling a gaffe machine aside, his campaign is allowing him to make stupid campaign stops in places like Connecticut, Maine, Oregon, which are incredibly safe Hillary States, and then places like Mississippi, which is unquestionably a safe red state. I get his urge to get out and see his supporters, but for a campaign that is struggling in every poll, and with the electoral math so stacked against him, it is beyond logic to spend any campaign resources on anywhere except the states which make a difference.
  2. Trump has virtually no traditional campaign infrastructure. He quite brilliantly made it through the Republican primaries without this infrastructure by garnering billions in free press coverage. But this isn’t the primaries where the small slice of voters he was aiming were active in the process. Trump mistakenly thinks he can glide to the general election without proper resources in ads and staffing. He has laughable numbers of staff on the ground in key states to do the hard grunt work of building support from people who could conceivably help close the gap. Instead, he is largely relying on the Republican Party to put resources into the national campaign effort, which itself is strained on resources trying to protect congressional races.
  3. The number of undecided voters in this election is a small 7% in average polling. As I alluded to before, most people vote reliably for their party’s nominee, regardless of how unpopular the candidate is generally. So while it’s likely Trump will be savaged in debate performance by Clinton on any number of ludicrous statements he’s made, there aren’t a lot of people who are hinging their votes on debate performance. It’s political theater. Trump has proven that he can say racist or outrageous things and still have a considerable support. So unless he physically attacks Clinton, its hard to imagine the polls shifting more than a couple of meaningless points in either direction.
  4. Trump, for obvious reasons, has decimated his support among Women and minorities. This severely limits his comeback potential in the battleground states, and is precisely why he is doing poorly in some traditional red states. On top of this, there are signs of cracks in Trump’s key demographic of white men. It is impossible for Trump to win the election if he both alienates women and minorities and fails to garner enough of the white male vote. Romney famously needed about 60% of that demographic in 2012 to win, and he received only about 54%. As the link above illustrates, Trump is below expectations of where Romney even was. Trump’s hiring of the Breitbart chairman as his campaign manager is a clear signal that Trump is not going to moderate his tone or pivot well enough to halt all this bleeding.

Clinton is unlikely to substantially expand her lead

  1. Clinton is a campaigning juggernaut with incredible resources and campaign infrastructure, but given that Trump has survived in polling up until this point, it seems nonsensical to think polls will suddenly give way to a tremendous lead just because of another round of outrageous comments, especially given Clinton’s unfavorable rating. Trump would have to do something out of this world shocking to erode his support further than it has recently.
  2. As much of a train wreck the Trump campaign is, national Republicans are probably going to step in and do everything in their power to help do damage control with Trump where they can, if only to prevent down ballot losses from a Trump loss. Simply put, it’s really difficult (not impossible) imagining the Trump campaign doing worse than it has in the past month. As entertaining as it would be to see a total implosion with the Trump campaign blowing Georgia and Arizona, at some point he is more likely to mitigate at least some of the losses he’s been suffering because he is at rock bottom. As much as the democratic party thinks it is seeing the bright demographic shift on the horizon in places like these and South Carolina, Democrats are unlikely to complete that shift in this cycle so suddenly unless Republicans stay home en masse on election day.

There is understandably a lot of caution to make these sorts of predictions a couple of months out from an election. If I were a major news outlet I would be sensitive to the idea of some bombshell changing the race dynamics, not to mention the public outcry of a premature call on a democratic process. But I am not a major news outlet in any sense, and I am at little risk in saying that even minor shocks to the election as it stands will produce a clear and predictable Clinton victory. Despite the weirdness of the race, it is still very much measurable and within the bounds of explainable political science. The states that are legitimately up for grabs are all leaning fairly consistently for Clinton, and the minority and women demographics of those states are precisely why they are likely to go for her in a somewhat comfortable margin. Trumps catastrophe as a candidate might have Republicans worrying about wavering support in states like Georgia, but I ask, if Trump can get away with everything he has said and done up until this point without losing every single state entirely, what would he have to say or do to lose more than he already is? Who among those polled is genuinely at risk of being swayed one direction or the other at this point by an oddity as polarizing as Donald Trump? Clinton is a skilled and methodical politician, and she has to do something truly horrendous at this point to blow her comfortable margins of victory in the future.

Clinton 347-Trump 191

Think fondly of me on election day.





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