Today’s presidential map is not JFK’s

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.
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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

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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

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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)

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Real Clear Politics calculated that the average of current polling estimates (as of September 26th) has the 2016 electoral college at 272 Clinton, 266 Trump.  Rival strategists will be poring over the map to identify how they can remake it, as history shows it won’t necessarily stay the same.

 

Yes, Trump can still win

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):

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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.

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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:

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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.

 

Can Trump still win?

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.

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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).

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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%.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Trumping Clinton: 7 days of momentum

USC is running a rolling track poll where they interview 300-400 people a day (online) right through to Election Day.  This is a serious poll with serious methodology.  The numbers shown daily represent seven days of tracking. Each day, the daily results from 7 days ago drop off and the current day is added, making it a rolling track.  This smooths results and shows more of a trendline rather than sudden shifts.  So, if there is a big move, it might not become fully apparent for several days.

For the past 7 days, Donald Trump’s support has increased to, now, a 7 point lead.  This includes several days now of the Democratic National Convention.  Trump certainly had an RNC  Convention bounce but yet to see a Dem bounce.

Chart 1: Election forecast (n=2150)

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Some Democratic pundits have cautioned against “bedwetting”.  Yes, it’s July.  There’s a long way to go.

The issue the Democrats have to confront, however, is that Trump can win.  There has been a lot of commentary about how it’s impossible for Trump to win because of lack of support among Hispanics, Blacks, women, etc.  However, he is crushing it with whites and males.

 

Here is a breakdown of the numbers to show how Trump is rising:

Chart 2: Predicted Winner

While Hillary Clinton is still seen as the likely winner by 49% to 45%, that gap has narrowed from 13 points to 4 points in the past 17 days.  More Americans are believing in the possibility of a Trump presidency – will that help or hurt Trump?

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Chart 3: Intention to Vote

Trump and Clinton supporters are virtually tied when it comes to whether they intend to vote.  They have leapfrogged on this.  Trump’s turnout numbers are likely helped because he has strong support among older voters; Clinton’s turnout numbers are likely helped because Trump is highly polarizing and antagonizing.

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Chart 4: Seniors 

Trump has a big lead (55% to 38%), and seniors typically vote at a higher rate.  Trump leads 18-34s too, right now.

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Chart 5: Whites

Trump leads white Americans 57% to 31%.  African-American voters are 81% to 4% for Clinton.  Hispanics, though, are reported at 50% to 37% for Clinton.  This is where one might wonder if the poll has a large enough, or representative, sample of Hispanic voters.  Or maybe that’s reality – are gender and age are ‘trumping’ race among Hispanics?

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Chart 6: Men

Trump leads Clinton by 17 points among men (53% – 36%) while Clinton has a two-point lead among women.

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What does it all mean?

Trump can win.  If you can rack up a 7 point lead, you can obviously win.  Even if this poll is inaccurate, other polls are showing Trump is leading.  Even though Hillary has a small lead in Ohio, Trump has a small lead in Florida.

The challenge for Democrats is to approach the race for what it is – a very unconventional campaign.  Trump is attracting voters who are very anti-establishment including alienated Democrats.  How many more examples do we need to see – Rob Ford, Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, and Trump himself – to understand that there is a very large constituency for those who tap into the vein of frustration, resentment, and anxiety?

This rise in Trump support may be short-term.  It may be illusory.  It may be overstated.  But it proves that Clinton is no shoo-in.   The presidential campaign has been very unkind to her personal popularity and favourables.  Bernie Sanders did a lot to soften her support and drive votes away.  She has gone from a plus 10% to minus 17% in two years.  At her peak back in 2008, she had 69% favourable rating.

Chart 7: Hillary Clinton’s favourables over past two years.

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So, the first thing Democrats have to face is that they have a problem.  Now, deal with it.  If the DNC Convention does not move the dial, then it’s time for Plan B, whatever that is.

 

US Primaries by County

Here are the Republican and Democratic results – by county- thus far, as found on Wikipedia.  The South is a huge power base of delegates for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The Democrats:

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The Republicans:

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The insurgencies of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Jeremy Corbyn

You wouldn’t necessarily think that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have much in common, let alone Donald Trump and presumptive UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Their politics are miles apart; kilometres in the case of Corbyn.  But whether it is on this side of the Atlantic or in the Olde Country, voters are going in the opposite direction of their ruling class – at least for now.

I was in the process of linking these three candidacies in what I believed was an original thought when Roger Cohen of the NY Times nailed it.  Says Cohen: “This is a season of radical discontent.  People believe the system is rigged.”  In Corbyn’s case, “He’s against everything Tony Blair stood for”.  On Sanders: “his suspicion of all things ‘feel good’ are part of his attraction”.  And “Trump’s ‘deal with it’, is the phrase du jour”.  In all cases, these three candidacies are thumbing their nose at party apparatchiks, media elites, and the winds of prevailing conventional wisdoms that flutter in the stale air until the next gust of change comes along.

Where I do disagree with Cohen is his belief that Corbyn’s leadership will be a “disaster”.  It may very well be, but just because the elites don’t like it, doesn’t mean he’s destined to fail.  Leaders have won against the grain of their caucus (Christy Clark), the party establishment (Jimmy Carter) or against a larger, like-minded rival (Preston Manning) and left their mark as they stabilized their support and moved forward.

Here’s a simple rule of arithmetic.  There are more outsiders than insiders.  There are more people who don’t feel they are part of the ‘elite’ than those who do.  When the outsiders move, they can upend the conventional wisdom.    Trump, Sanders, and Corbyn are giving voice to outsiders right now.  Everytime someone in the ‘ruling class’ decry the implications of their election, as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have done, they embolden the insurgents.  Often time, these insurgencies give way to incoherence and a lack of discipline.  But they have accomplished one thing already, they have shaken up their parties in a way that no one saw coming.