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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Good Morning President-Elect Trump

I am writing this on the morning after election day, before I've had much opportunity to digest what just happened.  All I can say is ... wow!

Unconventional Victory

Donald Trump defied expectations all along the way.  When he announced his candidacy, no one saw him as the ultimate winner.  There is even good evidence that Trump himself never expected to win even the nomination when he first announced.  He simply wanted publicity.

He defied all predictions when he won the Republican nomination over many more credible opponents who had much better traditional credentials.  He managed to defy all conventional wisdom to win the primaries, only to face the conventional wisdom that such a divisive candidate, who could not even unify his own party, could never win the election.

Trump never received the endorsements of most leading Republican politicians.  Those he did get were usually qualified and half-hearted.  All former Republican Presidents and Presidential candidates boycotted his convention, with the single exception of Robert Dole (who did not even speak a the convention).  Candidate Trump had an ongoing open feud with Republican Speaker Ryan.  Senate Leader McConnell mostly stayed quiet.  Leading Conservative Pundits supported Clinton, some (like George Will) even quit the party over Trump's nomination.

Trump never got massive contributions, raising only a little over $100 million in individual contributions.  He contributed another $50 million himself.  By comparison, Clinton raised over $350 million in individual contributions.  When you consider outside PACs, Clinton had over $200 million spend on her behalf while Trump had only around $60 billion.  Final numbers are not in yet, so these may shift somewhat.  But it is clear that Clinton outspent Trump by more than 2 to 1.  Once again this proves that money is not decisive in politics.

I must admit that I personally scoffed and the Trump campaign's inability to work with the RNC, to do professional poll tracking, or to put together any serious "get out the vote" campaign machinery.

Trump continued to remain behind in the polls on election day.  Yet as they received actual voting results, it quickly became clear that Trump was doing much better than expected.  Florida and North Carolina, which had been trending Clinton, went for Trump.  Virginia, which had been solidly Clinton in all polls, almost went for Trump.  Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which had been solidly pro-Clinton in all polls did go for Trump.  New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota are still too close to call, but it appears Trump may win at least two of those States, which polls all indicated for Clinton.  Minnesota is the only State in the Union to have voted consistently Democratic for forty years.

The question that campaign professionals and pundits will be asking for years is how did Trump do it?  How did his unconventional campaign lead to victory?

Clinton Could not Unite America

Part of the reason has to be a weak opponent.  Hillary Clinton came out of a divided primary, contested up until the Convention.  More importantly though, Clinton has been under attack by the "vast right wing conspiracy" for over thirty years.  Some will argue the attacks are justified, some not, but there is no doubt that the attacks have had their impact on her reputation.  Even many Clinton supporters see her as a deeply flawed candidate.

More than that though, Trump had the ability to motivate white working class voters in a way that no Presidential candidate has since Ronald Reagan.  I think when we look closer at the numbers, we will see that this demographic turned out in record numbers, blowing away old state by state models for victory.  Personally, I find it ironic that both Reagan and Trump won this group in part based on a message of tax cuts for the rich, meaning the working classes would pay a higher percentage of taxes overall.  That said, they seemed to connect with this group on both an emotional level as well as a policy level.  Trump's promise to bring back jobs by renegotiating trade deals and expelling immigrants seems to have resonated particularly well in the mid-west, the most important swing-region in modern elections.

October Surprises

Some will credit or blame the victory on October surprises.  This election certainly saw its share of those.  Wikileaks released information about Clinton's speeches to Wall Street, unflattering strategy emails about the campaign, and other information that further soured voters.  Probably most devastating though was the ill timed decision of FBI Directory Comey to announce he had re-opened the investigation into Clinton's private email server.  Even though he also announced that he was  closing it again a week later, days before the election, it forced the discussion of the final week to be about an issue that had been dragging down Clinton for months.

Trump, of course, overcame October surprises of his own, including the recording where he talked about molesting women, and the numerous women who came forward to confirm his activities.  That seemed to have some impact on his campaign, but clearly not a fatal one.  Once again, Americans had made clear they just don't care if their President sleeps around.

Long Term Trends

It is too early to assess exactly what factors most contributed to Trump's victory.  US voters have consistently rejected leaving either party in office too long.  Since WWII, voters have consistently changed the party in the White House every eight years except one (1980).  If you exclude Presidents who took office following the death of their predecessor, no Democrat has followed a two term Democrat since Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson way back in 1837.  Voters like change and Trump was the change candidate.

A Trump Presidency

Democrats are understandably stunned and some terrified at the notion of a Trump Presidency.  I say one has to keep these things in perspective.  Historically, much of the country thought the nation was coming to an end when Presidents Jefferson, Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Reagan were elected.  All of those presidencies worked out well for the country.  Many of those presidents did things that the opposition hated, but the nation as a whole continued to grow and thrive.  Presidents have a way of rising to the occasion, even if we did not expect it from their earlier behavior.

Sure, there will be some changes that Democrats don't like.  Obamacare will almost certainly be repealed and replaced with something (I'm not sure what will replace it, but we're told it's going to be just amazing).  There may be some crazy tax cuts for the rich.  In the end though, a powerful and stable democracy like the United States will remain much the same.  President Trump will lead one branch of government.  He still has to work with Congress.  Even though there are Republican majorities in both houses, men like Speaker Ryan will serve as a check on any of President Trump's crazier notions.  A Supreme Court will also hold back any attempted end runs around the Constitution.

I congratulate President-elect Trump on his surprise victory.  May you continue to defy the pundits and have a Presidency worth of our great country.

Monday, November 7, 2016

How to Watch Election Night

As a political junkie, I look forward to election night the way some people look forward to the World Series.  I stay up all night, watching returns, listening to the commentary and waiting to see when we can predict the final outcome.  Of course, there are lots of sub-plots involving who will win the House, Senate, or various Governors' races.   The big show every four years is the Presidency.

The interesting thing is to see what early States may show the who will win the night.  Sometimes its pretty much over by 8 PM.  Other times it goes well into the night.

Since the 2000 elections, news organizations have been reluctant to make any State predictions prior to the closing of any polls.  Otherwise, they get accused of suppressing voter turnout by declaring a winner before all the voters of a State get a chance to vote.

As a result, most of the evening is filler - commentary from all the talking heads, with all the action happening at the top of the hour when polls close in certain States.  As soon as the polls close, most news organizations will announce the predicted winner, unless it remains too close to call.

If you like to watch the returns come in live, the key is knowing when polls close and what State really matter.  Some states are not an issue.  I could tell you last month, or last year that Clinton would win New Jersey and California, and that Trump would win Texas and Kentucky.  Some States are just a given for one party or another.  Its the swing States that decide who goes over the top.

Popular vote does not matter.  Electoral votes decide the Presidency. Almost all States are "winner take all" meaning the candidate with the most votes get all the electoral votes for any given State. The only two exceptions are Nebraska and Maine, which award one electoral vote for each Congressional District won, plus the two state-wide electoral votes to the State winner overall.

With many States now too close to call, many of the most critical swing states may remain too close to call for hours after the polls close.  Here is what you should be watching though - all times are listed in eastern standard time.

7:00 PM

Polls close in Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky

South Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky should be easy wins for Trump.

Clinton once thought Georgia was winnable, but not appears strongly Trump.  If Georgia is still too close to call at 7PM, that is very bad news for Trump.

Vermont it the only easy win for Clinton at 7PM

The only interesting State is Virginia, where Clinton is favored by a good five points.  If Trump does well there, or too close to call at 7PM, that is very bad news for Clinton.

7:30 PM

North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia close at 7:30.

West Virginia is an easy Trump win.  Ohio seems to be leaning for Trump, with North Carolina also leaning but a little less so.  If Clinton wins either State, a Trump victory is probably impossible.

8:00 PM

Most east coast states close at 8:00.

Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Illinois should all be easy Clinton wins.

Tennessee, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas should all be easy Trump wins.

Michigan is a pretty Clinton-leaning State.  If Michigan is too close to call or going for Trump, Clinton is in real trouble.

New Hampshire also leans Clinton but is much closer.  New Hampshire may be too close to call.  If Clinton wins there, the math starts to get very difficult for Trump.  Clinton is still very much alive though, even if Trump wins there.  The night just becomes more of a nail biter.

Pennsylvania is a State where both candidates campaigned hard.  Clinton seems to have had an edge there for most of the campaign.  I see Pennsylvania as a must-win for Clinton.  If she loses Pennsylvania, she will need to make a great many votes in other toss up States where she is farther behind if she has any chance of winning.

Maine is an easy win for Clinton, but has one Congressional district with an electoral vote that may go for Trump.  Losing that also makes Clinton's math a little harder.

Also closing at 8:00 PM is Florida.  This is by far the biggest swing State.  It will almost certainly be too close to call.  If Clinton wins, there is probably no path for a Trump victory at all.  If Trump wins, Clinton's road to victory looks very rocky.

8:30 PM

Arkansas is the only state closing at 8:30.  Despite the fact that Clinton lived there for years as first lady, it is expected to be an easy Trump win.

9:00 PM

At 9:00 PM most of the remaining eastern and central States close their polls.

New York, home state to both candidates, should be an easy Clinton win.  New Mexico is also pretty reliably Clinton.

Louisiana, Nebraska, Arizona, Kansas South Dakota Texas, and Wyoming should all be easy Trump wins.  Clinton made a push for Arizona at one point, but seems to have given up there.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are both pretty solidly Clinton as well.  But Trump targeted some time in both states for his last few days, hoping for a flip somewhere.  If Trump can take any of these, he could very well pull off a victory.  Expect them to go to Clinton though.

The biggest question mark for the 9:00 hour is Colorado.  This has remained pretty consistently for Clinton in the polls, but never by very much.  Clinton is favored here.  If she wins Colorado, she is likely to win the whole thing.  If Trump has won most of the tossups up until then, Colorado could be Clinton's last stand.

10:00 PM

If the race is still up in the air by 10:00, there are some key States in play.

Montana is an easy win for Trump.  Iowa should be for Trump as well.  That is another must-win for Trump.

Utah is certainly not going to go for Clinton. However, Independent Candidate Evan McMullin has been polling very well there.  He could possibly deny those electoral votes to Trump, which could make it nearly impossible for Trump to reach the 270 majority.

Nevada is the biggest bell weather at 10:00.  It is leaning for Trump and is another State he really needs if he wants to remain in the fight.  Trump will likely win, but a Clinton upset there could be the final nail in Trump's coffin.

11:00 PM

Until 11:00, Trump will likely lead in all electoral vote counts.

At 11:00 he will also pick up wins in North Dakota, and Idaho.

However, Clinton's numbers will surge with what should be easy wins in Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and the giant: California.

None of these States are in serious contention.

1:00 AM

Finally, polls close in Alaska at 1:00 AM eastern time.  Trump will almost certainly win there, but by then no one will care.  The election should be over.  If Alaska's three electoral votes would make the difference, Trump will be President.

My Predictions:

In my opinion, this race has come down to four States: Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada.  These are the States that I think are most up in the air.  If Clinton wins any one of them, she should become President.  Trump must either win all four, or pull an upset somewhere like Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Colorado.  I predict Trump may win Nevada, but will lose narrowly in New Hampshire Florida and North Carolina.  As a result, we will see a comfortable electoral Clinton victory:

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Will Colorado Decide the Election?

The late announcement that the FBI has reopened the investigation into Clinton's emails has focused attention for the last week on that subject.  As a result, Clinton's seemingly insurmountable lead over Trump has dwindled.

Clinton still seems to hold an electoral advantage.  As I've pointed out in several recent posts, Trump has to win not only all of the toss up States, but also at least one decently sized State that has been leaning Clinton in order to win.

As I see it, the toss up States are, in order of size:

North Carolina

Now I know that some prediction sites have a larger "toss up" list, but at this point, I think Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado and New Hampshire are going to go Clinton.  Each of them have consistently shown Clinton leads in all polls, usually outside the margin of error. Similarly, Georgia, Arizona, and Utah are going to go for Trump (with the possible exception that Utah goes for Evan McMullan.  Clinton made a few ties in those States when riding high, but her recent fall has made them likely red States.

Assuming, therefore, that it comes down to the five States I've listed as real toss ups, Clinton wins. Clinton can lose Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada, and Ohio and still win.  That's the good news for Clinton.  The good news for Trump is that he seems to have the edge in all five of those States. He could very well take all of them.  North Carolina seems to be his most tenuous advantage at the moment, and could go for Clinton.  But for the sake of argument, let's say Trump sweeps all of them.

A Trump victory, therefore, requires that he also win all those tossups, plus at least one state that I just said was still leaning Clinton.   Pennsylvania and Virginia have throughout the campaign shown Clinton with at least a 3-5 point advantage.  Some polls have been close, but have never swung Trump's way.  I don't see either of those as a good option for him.  Similarly, Wisconsin is pretty consistently showing Clinton with a 5 point lead.  That leaves us with New Hampshire and Colorado.  New Hampshire has one poll showing a Trump one point lead, but all other polls in the last week show Clinton ahead by at least three points.

Colorado though, seems to remain just barely out of Trump's reach. Clinton maintains a pretty consistent 1-3 point advantage in most polls.  If Trump can overcome that advantage, and sweep the rest of the toss-ups, he has 275 electoral votes (270 needed to win).  Another path if he loses Colorado is to win New Hampshire and one Congressional district in Maine, getting Trump to 270. Those are really the only two scenarios for Trump to win.

By contrast, Clinton has many paths to victory simply by winning any of the five tossups I mentioned (and all really could still go either way) to have a margin for error.  But again, even if she loses all five tossups, she need only hang on where she has remained consistently, albeit slightly, in the lead.

Trump does seem to have momentum.  On the other hand, he also does not have any get out the vote campaigns set up. That can easily cost a candidate 1-2 points, possibly more where there is early voting and get out the vote people have longer to work.

It continues to look as if Clinton will win, but every day I seem to say that with a little less certainty.