Many are anxiously awaiting US Election Day. As a political junkie, It was a day I used to look forward to – the culmination of a drama that adds another layer onto America’s democracy. But now, like many others, I am anxious. Will Joe Biden win? The polls seem to think so, but I needed to get a better sense of the map before I jump on the emotional roller coaster Tuesday night.
For a refresher, the 2016 presidential map shows the falling dominoes of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – states that had loyally voted Democrat in at least six consecutive elections. These three states alone total 46 electoral college votes, enough to swing the election to Trump.
I took a deeper historical look at the states that Hilary Clinton lost, but were won by the Democrats at least once since 1992 when Bill Clinton was elected the first time. If you add these states to Hilary’s effort, they account for 437 electoral college votes.
Since 1992, Ohio is the true swing state, going with the winner every time. Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hilary Clinton lost Ohio and look what happened. Bill Clinton lost Florida in 1992, but since then, it has also gone with the winner.
Bill Clinton’s winning maps in 1992 and 1996 were very different than the Democrats road to victory today. Bubba won Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Montana – these states are not in play today. Clinton’s ’92 campaign was the last time the Democrats won Georgia – they actually might win it this time.
Obama’s 2008 campaign rivalled Bill Clinton’s in terms of electoral college votes. Unlike Clinton ’92, Obama won Florida, North Carolina, and Indiana. He would lose the latter two in 2012, despite winning the general election.
Maine and Nebraska are oddities. Electoral college votes are apportioned by congressional district, whereas every other state awards them on a state-wide winner-take-all basis. Trump took 1 electoral college vote from Maine in 2016 – the first time that happened. The only time the Democrats took a vote out of Nebraska since 1992 was with President Obama in 2008.
Hilary Clinton did win states that had gone with the GOP in previous elections.
While President Obama had also won Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado in both of his victories, Kerry and Gore had each lost 4 out 5 of this set. Bill Clinton never won Virginia in either of his elections.
Looking at all 50 states and Washington D.C., the Democrats have a higher base of electoral college votes compared to the GOP when looking at the history of results since 1992. The Democrats have won 16 states (and D.C.) each time, totally 194 electoral college votes. The GOP have won 13 states each time, totalling 101 electoral college votes.
Here are the results of the 2016 presidential election in the states settled by a margin of about 10% or less. Any flips will happen here.
Trump won close races in 10 states and 2 districts, totalling 179 electoral college votes. He won with 306 votes – a buffer of 36 above ‘270 to win’.
Without picking up any blue states, Trump can only afford to lose 36 electoral college votes, with Pennsylvania (20) and Florida (29) the largest prize available for the Democrats of those states settled by less than 2%.
Clinton won 8 battleground states in 2016, totalling 55 electoral college votes. Trump has fewer juicy targets than Biden when it comes to flipping states. If you’re wondering about Maine, the state awards two electoral college votes for winning the state-wide result, in addition to one per district.
Nixon won the west coast, including California. While Nixon was from the state, California usually voted Republican then. Not now.
JFK won Texas, as the Democrats usually did then. With LBJ on the ticket, JFK cemented support in the South. There were still echoes from the Civil War in the 1960 map.
The GOP was nowhere in the South back then, losing everything from New Mexico to North Carolina (but winning Florida). A segregationist candidate, Democrat Senator Harry Byrd received 15 electoral college votes spread across Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma.
The point is that voter coalitions change over time. The Democrats’ support was eroded in the South as the civil rights era took hold. Wikipedia has an entry for Reagan Democrats, which refers to white, working-class Democrat voters that defected to the GOP under Reagan (pre-cursor to Trump’s win). The Democrats solidified their base on the east and west coasts.
On Tuesday night, we will see if coalitions shift again – Democrat breakthroughs in Georgia or Texas? Whither Ohio? GOP resiliency in Florida? According to the New York Times:
The president remains in contention in Florida on the strength of his support from working-class whites and his gains among Hispanic voters. He’s running more competitively with Florida Latinos than he did in 2016…
But, look, if Biden wins that one electoral college vote in Nebraska’s swing district, it will likely have been a good night for the Democrats. Keep an eye on the Cornhusker state.
We’ve seen and read a lot about the 2016 US presidential campaign, and most of it is dispiriting. My mind has wandered back recently to 1968 where serious issues were tackled by serious candidates in both parties. Campaigns attacked the issues of 1968 head-on with passion and eloquence. Like today, it was a campaign no one could have predicted months before and it is a campaign I have revisited many times thanks to my family’s own fleeting connection to RFK during the Oregon primary.
This autographed campaign poster adorns my office wall, as it did my father’s. Signed by RFK at the Portland Zoo, May 24, 1968. Also signed by Astronaut John Glenn (faded ballpoint).
Senator Robert F. Kennedy sat on the sidelines in late 1967 and early 1968, unwilling to challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic nomination. As the Vietnam war deepened during LBJ’s presidency, so did RFK’s opposition but he did not want to be the object of polarization by taking on a sitting president with whom there was mutual enmity. Instead, Senator Eugene McCarthy (Minnesota) took on the mantle of the anti-war movement and challenged LBJ in the New Hampshire primary, finishing second but succeeding in exposing the President’s vulnerability. McCarthy was one of those Democrats who caught fire on college campuses and with righteous liberals, like Bernie Sanders.
With a split in the party now wide open, RFK decided to join the race, launching a frenetic, relentless campaign that would last 82 days.
Within weeks of RFK’s campaign launch, LBJ shocked the nation by announcing he would not stand for re-election. From March 31st on, RFK was locked in battle with two Minnesotans – the insurgent McCarthy and the establishment choice Vice-President Hubert Humphrey – for delegates to the 1968 Democratic convention to be held in Chicago.
Attacked for his opportunism by McCarthy, and resented by President Johnson and the incumbent Democratic Party establishment, RFK had a difficult path. He was 42-years old and seen as ruthless and ambitious. He brought the powerful Kennedy machine, the emotional punch of his brother’s unfulfilled presidency, but most importantly, he brought a fervent passion that matched the temper of the times.
His campaign was launched on the fly. It did not have a corporate headquarters in Brooklyn or Chicago like the major campaigns of today. Rather, it was launched out of a cannon, heading to states where primaries were being held and where he still had time to get on the ballot.
Some of the initial events were in Kansas, hardly what we would think of today as fertile Democratic soil, yet 15,000 students jammed the field house at Kansas State University to hear him speak about Vietnam, race, and poverty. He spoke, he took questions, there were hecklers, there was give and take. He was greeted by throngs at airports and parking lots by people with handmade signs. He went out of his way to speak on Indian reservations – it was a priority for him, even if it defied conventional political calculus. His campaign was followed by teams of print reporters following his utterances. The reporters would know when to board the campaign train or bus as almost every campaign speech closed with a quote from George Bernard Shaw, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
Then, as the campaign turned into April, surprise struck again. On April 4th, Reverend Martin Luther King was struck down by an assassin’s bullet. It so happened that RFK was heading toward a rally in Indianapolis where about 1,000 were gathered, mostly from the black community. When he mounted the platform, he realized that they had not yet heard the news – no text messages or Facebook posts announced the news in those days. In what was one of his greatest moments he addressed the crowd, without notes, preaching against hatred, lawlessness, and violence, instead pleading for love, wisdom, and compassion. He spoke about the loss of Rev. King and speaking of the loss of his own brother by an assassin’s bullet. He quoted Greek philosophers. This was a man with considerable reach, to draw upon the words in the most volatile of moments. The video below is riveting.
Indiana was pivotal for RFK. It was not a natural constituency for his campaign. The Governor ran as a ‘favourite son’ candidate and had been the proxy for LBJ. He was backed by the major newspapers which ran negative Kennedy stories incessantly. McCarthy was also on the ballot and had his constituency of anti-war Democrats and college students. RFK stitched together a coalition of working-class whites and the black community, while tailoring his message to resonate with Indiana’s inherent conservative values. By the end of the Indiana campaign, the Kennedy motorcade would slowly drive through towns waving to crowds on the side of the road. His body-man would spend the entire day kneeling on the convertible’s back seat holding Kennedy while he leaned forth to shake hands. The campaign threaded the needle and the primary was won. Where JFK had settled on West Virginia as the narrative bedrock for his successful campaign, Indiana took on that role for RFK.
The campaign ultimately led to Oregon, a key primary state voting May 28th, one week before the massive California primary. Back in 1968, with fewer primary states, the California primary was extremely important, unlike today when the presidential primaries are essentially wrapped up by June.
The Kennedy campaign struggled in Oregon. It did not generate the passion and enthusiasm seen in other places. Crowds were polite and calm. Things were a little too good in Oregon to be ruffled by the anxiety and anger seething in other places in America. Senator McCarthy had traction and RFK was having difficulty keeping pace.
This is where the McDonald family from Haney, BC enters the picture. My father, Peter, organized (or rather, schemed) a family vacation down to Portland to coincide with the Oregon primary. The McDonald family (my parents, three sisters, and brother) crossed paths with the Kennedy family at the Portland Zoo on May 26, 1968.
I have heard the stories many times over the years from my parents and my older siblings. Their recollections provide an innocent glimpse into presidential campaigning in stark contrast to the events that unfolded a week later.
My siblings have remarked that the zoo wasn’t very busy that day and access to RFK was fairly easy – security was present, but not intrusive. There were handshakes and photos while the Kennedy family walked about the zoo. My sister Julia recalls that RFK said to her, “Is this your autograph book little girl?” She responded, “Yes. We live in Canada, but if we lived in the United States, my Dad would vote for you.” Family lore also suggests that my brother, Ian, was kissed on the forehead by RFK. Here are some McDonald family photos:
Ethel Kennedy in foreground, RFK chatting with voters (Julia McDonald scrapbook collection)
Not only was the Kennedy family campaigning, so was famous astronaut John Glenn. Glenn, who died this week at age 95, signed autographs and urged support for Kennedy. My sisters remember him as a class act.
My father collected my sisters together to meet Glenn. He asked where they were from and when hearing they were from Canada, my sister Julia recalls that he said he enjoyed hunting in Canada. Julia says that my mother’s recollection is that he told them to
study Science but attributes that to motherly-spin.
A great UPI photo of the Kennedy’s framed by a cooperative elephant. Michigan scholar Paul Lee notes that RFK has a rose pinned to his lapel, in honour of Portland – the “City of roses”
At some point, Kennedy was on the move toward the train that runs through the zoo. My father managed to get alongside him while they were on a staircase heading in that direction. Here is my dad, 35 years old, and having spent the 1960s as a very active volunteer for the Liberal Party. He was switched-on to politics, big time. He avidly followed the campaigns of Stevenson-Eisenhower, Nixon-JFK, Pearson-Diefenbaker, and was a delegate to the Convention that elected Pierre Trudeau. He managed campaigns, served as municipal councillor, and would soon be a provincial candidate. Add to that the atmosphere of upheaval in the US with the Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King a month earlier, and the rising voice of Baby Boomer student protest… What a moment!
So, here he was, Pete from Haney, on the stairwell with RFK. Family folklore advises me that the following happened.
Peter: “Senator Kennedy, I’m a big fan of yours… I’m from Canada”.
RFK: “Who the F8#k caahhhhhs”.
That may not be verbatim, but it’s close. RFK could be a little impatient.
RFK in front row with John Glenn and Ethel Kennedy
Despite this terse brush off (well, it can be argued my Dad was in the way of actual Oregon voters), RFK and his family continued to the train with the McDonald family, undeterred, in hot pursuit. My family boarded the same zoo train as the Kennedy’s. As the train went around a bend, Ethel leaned out and looked backwards and waved to may family’s car near the back of the train. My sister Sara, then 11 years old, said “It felt like she was waving at us and we waved back. It was a big deal!” As the train slowly made its way around the zoo, it was about to collide with another force – the McCarthy campaign.
Senator Eugene McCarthy
Senator McCarthy came to the zoo looking to challenge RFK to a debate. McCarthy was leading in the primary and had RFK on the defensive. As the train came to a stop, nervous Kennedy aides briefed their candidate that McCarthy was on the prowl and seeking a confrontation. An alert family member heard RFK say, “Let’s get the F*#k out of here”. My mother, Helen, recollects that the Kennedys literally disappeared in a cloud of dust, bodies everywhere sprinting to their motorcade. Sister Sara remembers Kennedy supporter Rafer Johnson, a US Olympian, scooping up Ethel and running with her in his arms to the motorcade and “threw her (as in really threw her)” into the car.
McCarthy missed Kennedy but jumped on the media bus, which was still parked at the curb, and took full advantage of the hasty departure by holding court with the national press. McCarthy went on to defeat Kennedy in the Oregon primary on May 28, 1968.
The McDonald family, no doubt exhilarated by this brush with fame and power, finished up its brief Oregon vacation and headed north up the I-5 back to sleepy Haney. A week later, they awoke to the news that Robert Kennedy had been slain in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after triumphing in the June 4th California primary. My mother recalls my then 7-year old sister, Sylvia, saying, “But how can he be dead when he was so alive?”
Six months after the assassination, Ethel Kennedy gave birth to her daughter Rory, on December 12th, 1968. My mother gave birth to me the next day on December 13th. Born hours apart, worlds apart, but connected for a few brief moments on the campaign trail at the Portland Zoo.
Unlike me, Rory did not have the privilege of knowing a father. And America will never know what could have become of the unfulfilled promise of Robert F. Kennedy, president or otherwise.
** UPDATE **
Since writing my blog post, I had the honour of receiving correspondence from Paul Lee, a scholar based in Highland Park, Michigan. Paul writes that he is working on a book on Bobby Kennedy’s “remarkable relationship” with non-“white” peoples. In his words, he is making the “critical interpretation of archival/historical photos, videos and sound recordings” a major part of his research.
Paul brought to my attention that it was US Olympian Rafer Johnson who scooped up Ethel and carried her to the motorcade to evade Senator McCarthy. Our family recollection was that it was Rosey Grier, but I have corrected the record above thanks to Paul’s research.
I have been asked about the curt exchange between RFK and my father. This was considered out of character. However, having known my mother for 48 years, I am pretty certain that she has the straight goods on this one. It seems Bobby was just having a bad day… it happens!
Old newspapers from June 1968: the Vancouver Sun, the Vancouver Province, and Life Magazine:
Kennedy campaign brochure:
Video: Kennedy and Glenn on the hustings in Oregon with a voiceover of one of Kennedy’s famous speeches during the campaign:
There are many excellent books about the 1968 campaign.
Two books focus solely on the Kennedy campaign. Witcover details the behind-the-scenes action leading up to, and taking place throughout the Kennedy campaign. Clarke captures the passion and excitement of the campaign trail.
Theodore H. White defined presidential campaign reporting and his 1968 edition covers both parties in detail.
This 1960 edition is viewed as one of the most important political books of the 20th century.
Joe McGinnis wrote this seminal work on how Nixon adapted modern advertising techniques to shape his candidacy. Nixon’s comeback after losing in 1960 and losing again in the 1962 California gubernatorial race was well-planned.
The key person behind Nixon’s strategy? Roger Ailes, late of Fox News. Thanks to Dick Drew, former owner of CKAY Radio in Duncan, BC, for recommending this book to me.
And finally, the full Julia McDonald scrapbook view. The giraffe gets a lot of attention:
There has been much discussion about the ‘divides’ in the US election. Race, gender, and income status all play a part. I would add a cultural divide between Cities and beyond the Cities, which revealed itself in the US election and also in Brexit. In both elections, the popular vote was very close nation-wide but very concentrated (either way) at the local levels.
US presidential results by County:
Democrats mainly concentrated in big cities and university districts with notable exceptions of black and hispanic voting clusters, and some rural Democrats (eg. Vermont). In Democratic states like Washington, Oregon, and Illinois, you see the polarization where most of the geography went Trump while the major cities went with Hillary.
Focusing on England itself, it was London (Remain) versus the countryside and regional cities (Leave).
After laying out all the reasons why Trump could win (for months and months), I blatantly ignored that evidence and confidently predicted (below) a decisive Clinton victory. The power of conventional wisdom and the ‘echo chamber’ was never greater than the past week in US election politics, only to be overcome by the voters who ultimately decide. For a matter of minutes, each voter is in charge – in the privacy of the voting booth. Each voter is equal – a single mother in Michigan or retiree in Pennsylvania has the same weight as a Hollywood celebrity or Wall Street trader. And the voters have proved, again, that they are very much in charge.
Can Trump win? That’s the question on everyone’s mind.
Yes he can – he has a pathway. But I’m betting that Hillary Clinton will be the 45th President of the United States and it won’t be that close. In fact, I have put my money where my mouth is by betting $5 through BC Lottery Corporation’s online election pool (expires at 4pm Tuesday).
45th and 42nd Presidents of the USA
First, a few starting points to consider when watching the results:
It takes 270 electoral votes to win. Just because a candidate wins the popular vote doesn’t mean they win the electoral college. Clinton gaining a higher popular vote in Texas or running up the margin in California is meaningless in terms of electoral votes. She needs to win states.
There has been a lot of early voting in places like Florida, where early turnout was much higher than 2012 and mostly before the FBI bombshell. That mitigates late-campaign swings to some extent.
No candidate in recent memory has been as much of a disruptor as Donald Trump. He is using social media as blunt-force trauma compared to Hillary Clinton’s better-resourced, data-driven approach. Trump has ‘macro-targeted’ and his winning scenario is moving non-university degree white voters en masse.
How many times have we been surprised lately? Justin Trudeau’s majority, NDP in Alberta, Jeremy Corbyn as UK Labour leader (twice), David Cameron’s majority then Brexit, the rise of Bernie, and the rise of Trump. The people will make up their own mind, thank you very much. Many voters simply don’t cooperate with polls. Will ‘cranky won’t says’ make the difference? That would be good for Trump.
The best available information
Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina says the Democrats have run 63,000 simulations every night since Obama’s first run for president. The data available to the Democrats and the GOP is the product of hundreds of millions, if not, billions of dollars of investment. The public polls may be indicative but, obviously, not wholly reliable. This is why we mere mortals often get surprised.
Let’s take a look at the work of those trying to figure this out.
Huh? Isn’t Clinton supposed to be further ahead? RCP has Trump edging Clinton in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, and Arizona. New Hampshire is in RCP’s Clinton column but has been flipping and flopping all week like a halibut sun bathing on a Boston Whaler.
This nightly tracking poll (via online panel) has been a consistent outlier for months. If Trump wins, they are geniuses – they have been about 4-5 points to Trump’s favour consistently compared to most pollsters. This poll does provide a view of campaign momentum. The RNC convention (7/25), subsequent self-induced Trump collapse (8/12), Clinton health scare (9/17), Billy Bush tape (10/17), and post FBI surge (today).
The pathway for Trump to win 270 electoral college votes is not easy. It would look something like this:
Win all of Romney’s states (206). Right now, he is forecasted to do that but has been vulnerable in North Carolina (15) and Arizona (11). He seems to be pulling away in Arizona but NC is a toss up. Utah is another wildcard where independent Evan McMullin has been in shouting distance of Trump.
Consolidate consistent leads in Obama states (24). Trump has been leading for a while in two states where Obama triumphed in 2012 – Ohio (18) and Iowa (6). Now he’s up to 230 total votes with steps #1 and #2.
Win Florida (29). It would be very, very hard for Trump to win the White House without this state. The polls are close. Running total: 259.
Find (11) votes from the following: New Hampshire (4), Maine 2nd district (1), and Nevada (6). That’s 270 right there in Steps 1-4. This is very similar to the RCP map above that has Trump at 266 – it’s just missing New Hampshire.
Hail Mary scenario – If Trump’s carpet bombing of previously considered safe Democrat states succeeds, it changes the calculation: Pennsylvania (20) and Colorado (9) could add to or replace Florida’s 29 votes; Michigan (16) or Wisconsin (11) would replace or add to the smaller states in #4 above. This would be white voters (college education or less) turning out “big time”. This scenario is a tall order, indeed.
I have unreliable data like the rest of you. So this comes down to a gut feeling. Trump will not win all of the Romney states. I believe he will lose North Carolina due to my perception of Clinton’s organizational advantage. I’m shaky on that prediction, but I’m going with it.
Further, I believe Clinton will win Florida due to early voting and organization. Nevada should also be in Clinton’s column.
Therefore, Trump has 191 Romney votes, plus gains in Ohio (18) and Iowa (6), and I will throw in New Hampshire (4) for a total of 219 votes to Clinton’s 319. My sense is that the FBI-induced fever that plagued Clinton over the past week broke over the weekend. Her campaign’s inherent strengths and Trump’s weakness with non-white voters will be a deciding factor in close races. It will take an uprising in states where there is a higher proportion of white voters to elect Trump, IMHO. I’m betting the surprise on election night will be the size of Hillary Clinton’s margin of electoral votes, not a Trump win.
On Election night, channel flip over to Global TV’s BC1 news channel. I will be speaking to results with Global’s Keith Baldrey throughout the evening.
Have you ever heard of Evan McMullin? He’s an independent candidate for president running in Utah and he has a chance of winning the state. Mormons are not huge fans of Donald Trump. Top Mormon-Republicans Mitt Romney and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman have openly opposed Trump.
The 40-year old McMullin is a former Republican staffer and former CIA operative. Born and raised in Utah, and a BYU graduate, he can certainly make the claim that he’s a home-grown, Mormon candidate. He likes to say that he was fighting terrorists while Donald Trump was judging beauty pageants.
Utah only has 6 electoral votes, so why is it important?
In a very close election, McMullin’s victory in Utah could deny Trump a majority in the electoral college.
Today, RealClearPolitics “no toss up” map forecasts 273 votes for Clinton/Kaine and 265 for Trump/Pence (the inclusion of VP candidates in this discussion is important, further down).
Based on the map below, if Colorado swings to Trump, he would have 274 votes to Clinton’s 264. However, if Utah goes with McMullin instead of Trump, then it would be: Trump/Pence 268, Clinton/Kaine 264, and McMullin 6. No candidate would reach the magic number of 270 required.
This is where it gets really interesting under the 12th Amendment. The House of Representatives then elects the president and the only candidates eligible are those that received electoral colleges votes: Trump, Clinton, and McMullin in this scenario.
But it’s not a one member, one vote scenario. Rather, each state’s delegation receives one vote. California = Vermont in terms of voting strength. Crazy rules but they’re stuck with them.
The Republicans will most likely have a majority in more states than the Democrats . Representatives can vote for any of the three candidates so it’s highly likely Trump would become president, even if Hillary won more electoral votes (but less than 270).
However, the House is only voting for president, not vice-president. The Senate elects the vice-president.
There is a reasonable likelihood that the Dems could control the Senate. Or there could be a tie (in which case Vice President Joe Biden would break the tie since he would still be in office). RealClearPolitics has the Senate at 47 Dem; 46 GOP and seven toss-ups today. Thus, there could be a split ticket. Imagine Trump-Kaine.
In a further constitutional fantasy scenario, House Republicans could choose the ‘real’ conservative, McMullin, and catapult him to the presidency. Highly, highly improbable, but not unconstitutional.
Another possibility: Faithless Electors
Some states do not require their electors (that comprise the electoral college) to vote for the presidential candidate with the highest popular vote in their state. In practice, they almost always do. There have been cases of an elector going astray – a Washington Republican voted for Reagan instead of Ford in 1976, a Minnesota Democrat voted for John Edwards instead of John Kerry. But those stray votes were not material to the outcome.
It is possible that some electors could abandon their candidate and go another way. The pressure on them would be massive if they did so, and, indeed, very contrary to the wishes of the voters.
In the final analysis, I think Hillary is going to win though it’s getting pretty uncomfortable, and moreso since my last post.
Yet, as Al Gore knows, anything can happen even after the votes are counted.
ps. A fictional account of electoral college machinations was written by US political journalist Jeff Greenfield in his book “The People’s Choice”. A good read for inveterate political junkies.
For some months I have sounded the alarm bells that Donald Trump could win the presidency in spite of breaking every rule of conventional politics. Every time I second guess that opinion, he roars back with another lunge to the throat of the Clinton campaign.
Today, RealClearPolitics has it at 304 Clinton, 234 Trump. This is a significant improvement for Trump over last week. Nate Silver has upped his odds of a Trump win to about 1 in 5. But of course, this is based on polling data – and there is a litany of polling debacles in recent years.
So what does the map need to look like for Hillary to lose
Trump needs to hold all Romney states
Mitt Romney had 206 electoral votes (with 270 required to win). Right now, Clinton is leading in North Carolina and Arizona, where Romney had prevailed. If Clinton, holds the lead in those states then Trump is almost certainly finished.
Trump needs to add 64 electoral votes from Obama states.
Trump has consistently led in Ohio, which Obama won twice. That’s 18 votes. He is close in Iowa (6) and, now, RealClearPolitics has a GOP advantage in Florida (29). There’s 53 new votes combined. He may pick up one vote in Maine (1) where it’s one of two states that is not a winner-take-all state. When added to Romney totals, that’s 260.
The final 10 votes are the hardest.
The next closest state would be Nevada, which only has 6 votes, but add Colorado (9) and that puts Trump over the top. Polling shows that both states are within 4 points.
Or, one of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota or Wisconsin. Polling shows Trump about 6 points off in these states.
It’s not impossible, though it is unlikely. The polling shifts become less and less relevant due to early voting. Trump leads in Florida but many Floridians have already voted, perhaps locking in a Clinton victory. Secondly, Clinton has a much stronger ground game. That may make the difference alone. But Trump supporters have zeal which is a hard thing to measure. He has defied conventional wisdom and we don’t know how bad (or good) the upcoming week will be for Clinton. Just when I thought Trump was finished, he continues to haunt this campaign.
Since WWII, which US presidential candidates have had the worst results?
For months, I have sounded the alarm that Trump had a chance to win. He defied the pundits by storming the GOP nomination and tapping into a rich vein of populist resentment. He had a bump in the polls following the RNC convention. He had a terrible August but rebounded following Hillary Clinton’s fainting episode in September. He stayed surprisingly competitive in Ohio and Florida. He now seems to have come crashing down. Though I think some wooden stakes should be kept on hand in the event they need to be driven through his political heart.
As Chart 1 shows, there has been a lot of volatility between the Democrats and GOP over time. However, in the past five elections, the Democrats’s worst showing was 48.3% in 2004. During that time, the GOP has only been above 48.3% once – in 2004 with George W.
Chart 1: Presidential popular vote (1948-2012)
The worst presidential candidate results, by popular vote, since WWII have been:
1992 – George HW Bush (37.4%) – vote was split by Ross Perot (18.9%)
1972 – George McGovern (37.5%)
1964 – Barry Goldwater (38.5%)
In fact, they are the only major presidential candidates to have sunk below 40% during that time.
The top showings since WWII are:
1964 – LBJ (61.1%)
1972 – Richard Nixon (60.7%)
1984 – Ronald Reagan (58.8%)
The worst presidential candidate performances, by electoral college votes, have been:
1984 – Walter Mondale (13)
1972 – George McGovern (17)
1980 – Jimmy Carter (49)
1964 – Barry Goldwater (52)
It’s unlikely that Hillary Clinton will be anywhere near the top results but holding the trend line of the last five Democratic showings will secure victory.
Will Trump continue to slide? Right now, he is tempting history. He appears well above historic lows in electoral college votes, in part due to GOP strength in the South and rural states, but his ranking on popular vote could become Goldwater-esque.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. A must-see for any political junkie. Amidst the exhibits on the 1960 presidential campaign, there was an electoral map of the results. The differences were striking. Many states that were red in 1960 are blue today; and vice versa. As the presidential candidates debate tonight, they will be facing a very different political map than the one that occupied the minds of JFK and Richard Nixon 56 years ago.
California was Nixon’s in 1960. Unfathomable as Republican today.
Texas was with JFK and LBJ all the way. Strongly Republican now for many years.
The Deep South was won by the ‘Dixiecrats’, but the fault lines had emerged.
JFK’s political math followed much different geography than Hillary Clinton’s
I count 23 states that switched colours between that election in 1960 and the most recent election in 2012, which encompassed a majority of the electoral college votes.
The Democrats in 1960 were shaking off segregationist voters, or rather, the segregationists were shaking off them. George Wallace would emerge in the 1960s as a regional force, breaking the bonds of Southerners to the Democratic Party (and many would become Reagan Democrats in the 1980s).
The Republicans of 1960 had moderating influences. They wore the mantle of Lincoln while having a sizeable following of Rockefeller Republicans, expressing an east coast, urban sensibility. Nixon, himself, had a decent civil rights record. They carried states like Vermont long before Bernie Sanders showed up.
Coalitions change over time. One might think the party of Kennedy and the party of Obama would follow similar patterns, but they found very different routes to power. No different in Canada where national parties have re-invented themselves as they have won and lost in regions over the years. Justin Trudeau forged a new regional coalition in 2015 that had been unattainable for Liberals for many decades. Brian Mulroney had built a “Quebec-Alberta” bridge in 1984 and 1988 that had seemed so tantalizingly close for Thomas Mulcair and the NDP.
In 2016, Donald Trump’s appeal to working-class white voters has threatened to destabilize Democratic states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, and make the difference in Ohio and Florida, while some have speculated that Hillary Clinton could reclaim a southern state or two. A key difference between 1960 and 2016 is that JFK and Nixon had a very wide battleground. The two largest states – California and Texas – went down to the wire. Famously, Illinois went Democrat by 9,000 votes, whether those votes were real, or imagined by the Cook County Daley machine. The political map in the US is more polarized now.
Figure 1: 1960 Electoral Map
The 1960 campaign was virtually tied – JFK with 49.72% and Nixon with 49.55% – and there was no room for third party candidates. The electoral college was not as close: 303 for JFK and 219 for Nixon. (The other 16 electoral college votes were unpledged delegates in Mississippi and Alabama who ultimately voted for segregationist Senator Harry Byrd as president, even though he did not seek election).
The Republicans were strong in the west and midwest, extending through the middle of the country to Virginia, but for Illinois and Missouri. They added three New England states and Florida. The Democrats mainly had Texas and the South, Missouri, Great Lake states of Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan, and populous east coast states like Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Figure 2: 2012 Electoral Map
By 2012, the map had changed. A majority of electoral college votes (302) changed hands between those two elections. With California and Texas switching sides, that’s a change of 93 votes (2012) right there.
In the South in 2012, from Texas to South Carolina, the Republicans picked up 118 electoral college votes whereas they had none in 1960. But they lost 74 votes on the western seaboard, and 47 between Ohio and Florida for a net loss of 121.
Table 1: State-by-State results, winning presidential campaigns in 1960 and 2012 (switching states in yellow)
One month ago, I put out the question in this blog: “Can Trump still win?” My answer was ‘yes’, and after a post-RNC/DNC convention nadir for Trump where I questioned my hypothesis (and my sanity), Trump has clawed his way back to contention. The race appears tighter than it ought to be, yet it is.
Here’s the Real Clear Politics tracking of polls (aggregated):
You can see that Trump spiked up during the RNC convention then sank immediately after. In the past few weeks, he has been climbing.
I’ve been watching the USC-LA Times poll, which tracks every night. It’s been among the most generous of polls to Trump. Even if there is a skew in the methodology, it shows the same picture – that the race has been volatile.
The polling junkies can check into Nate Silver’s site and see that he has Trump at a 31% chance to win. One out of three chance? Yikes.
Simple Math to get to 270 electoral college votes:
Hold Romney states (206)
Win Florida (29) and Ohio (18), then Michigan (16) to tie, or Pennsylvania (20) to win
Presto! President Trump
Easier said than done, but with two months left in the campaign – a political lifetime – and the debates yet to unfold, one thing can be said for sure: Hillary Clinton has not been able to drive the final wooden stake through the heart of this political vampire.
Any polling can only be viewed as a glimpse in time, and not very trustworthy, but let’s continue to play along. The latest Washington Post-Survey Monkey poll of over 74,000 Americans across 50 states shows Trump leading in Ohio, neck and neck in Florida and Michigan, and only four points back in Pennsylvania. That’s the good news for Trump. The bad news is that Clinton appears competitive in Texas – game over if that happens. Also, Romney states such as North Carolina and Arizona look shaky for the Republicans.
2012 Electoral College:
There are many other states that could go different ways than 2012. Wisconsin and Iowa could go Republican this time. Georgia could go Democrat.
But it could all go down to the Nebraska 2nd District. Unlike every other state except Maine, Nebraska apportions its electoral college by congressional district. The 2nd District in Omaha is the one area of Nebraska that could vote Democrat. So, if Trump holds Romney states, and wins Ohio, Florida, and Michigan, it might just be a committed group of Cornhuskers that makes it a 270-268 win for Clinton. So, if Hillary can’t drive the wooden stake through the heart of the Donald herself, maybe Warren Buffet can do it for her. Please.
It’s hard to imagine a worse stretch for Donald Trump than what has transpired since the DNC Convention. In my most recent blog post, I raised the spectre of a Trump presidency based on a 7-point lead in the USC-LA Times rolling-track poll. I went on CKNW 98 with Michael Smyth and talked about the importance of not underestimating Trump’s chances. The threat might almost seem to many like a moot point now. That’s a dangerous assumption. I still believe that Trump can win – it’s not likely that he will win, but he could win. Despite his egregious campaigning, his poll numbers could be a lot worse.
The USC-LA Times poll has a big sample (over 2000) and runs on a rolling track so that there’s fresh interviews every night, with the most recent night replacing the results from 7 days previous. Compared to other polls, this polls has been among the most friendly to Trump (other polls have Clinton up, on average, 7 points). Right now, USC-LA Times has the race tied whereas Trump had opened a seven point lead following the RNC Convention.
Perhaps the USC-LA Times has a built -in skew, which can happen in online panels, but what it does tell us is the trend and who has moved the hardest toward Clinton. In that respect, the answer is resoundingly women.
Chart 1: Female voters
Since July 26, Clinton has broadened her lead among women from one point to thirteen (50-37).
Chart 2: Male voters
Despite Trump’s self-inflicted bad press, his support is remarkably resilient among men. In fact, he hasn’t lost any support since July 26, holding at 52%. Clinton has moved up from 37% to 39%.
Trump’s support among white voters is also largely unchanged. He’s down about one point since July 26 while Clinton is up 2. Trump couldn’t do any worse with African-Americans so he’s constant there, getting absolutely blown out. Hispanics and “Other ethnicity” (not White, African-American, or Hispanic) have shown movement away from him.
Chart 3: Hispanic voters
Clinton has broadened her lead from 52%-36% to 59%-31%. That’s a twelve point gain.
Chart 4: Other Ethnicity
Trump had a sizeable lead on July 26 among this group but Clinton has now closed the gap, moving the numbers from 59% – 33% to a dead heat at 46% each. One can easily speculate that the controversy with the family of the Muslim-American war hero precipitated this change.
So how could Trump still win?
Narrow geographic pathway. Trump must hold all of Romney’s states (a tall order) and win Florida, Ohio, and either Pennsylvania or Michigan. He has been neck and neck in Florida and Ohio, and further behind in the latter two. He’s banking on his message of economic alienation working among traditional Democratic voters. It was going to be a narrow pathway for any Republican – Rubio, Cruz, Bush, Kasich or anyone else.
Clinton’s unpopularity. As poorly as Trump has seemed to perform in the past ten days, Americans are not crazy about Hillary Clinton either. Certainly, she has had an upswing, particularly with women, but she remains a juicy target for the Republicans.
Time. Trump has lots of it. Three months is a political eternity. If he continues to death spiral, some speculate he might not even make it to November. I wouldn’t rule it out, but the more likely scenario is that he regroups.
Stabilize. Just a little less craziness would be a big momentum builder for the campaign. Expectations are now so low for the Trump campaign that a solid week of on-message performance may completely change the narrative. There are so many media cycles between now and November, and so much thirst by the cable news networks for content, that you could get the media to run with almost anything.
Clinton is in a much stronger position in terms of discipline, money, infrastructure, and the breadth of her coalition. Yet Trump remains in striking distance.
So can Trump still win? Yes. We can look to countless examples of conventional wisdom being upended whether it was Justin Trudeau’s shocking majority government win only 60 days after he was in third place, the Brexit results, or the rise of Trump himself. He still has strong support among white voters and men. The Democrats cannot afford to take their foot off the Trump campaign’s throat until it’s over. Polls schmolls – you never know until the votes are cast.