Sunday, November 6, 2016

Election 2016

It is the last weekend before this contentious and bizarre Presidential election season culminates with voting day on the second Tuesday in November. Most people I know have spent more time following polls, watching debates, and trying to ignore political ads over the past two years than in all previous elections combined. And most people admit to being a little tired of the rhetoric and partisan bickering.

However, it's probably incorrect to hope that November 8th will be the end of this. Those who say, "I just want this over" are in for some more disappointment. The election is very close. The popular vote on November 8th determines who the Electors vote for when the Electoral College convenes in December.

  • Should Clinton win, the allegations of corruption will follow her into office and undermine her credibility further. A fractured Republican party could actually reunite in its effort to stymie the Clinton administration while rebuilding for the 2020 election. 
  • Should Trump win, he will have the advantage of Republican-party majorities in at least the House and perhaps the Senate. However, the party is hardly unanimous in its support for their nominee. 
  • One unintended consequence of a Trump victory is the probable demise of the Republican party. I believe some moderate Republicans and all of the Not Trump Republicans will join voices with the moderate Democrats to stall Trump's agenda. Trump himself is so unpopular that some elected representatives will be compelled to break from party loyalty. The Republican party cannot withstand a split on Trump / Not Trump lines. Independents and Libertarians stand to benefit if they can find a leader more presidential than Gary Johnson, and get some support in state and federal offices in the 2018 election. 

Regardless of who wins office, this rancorous political environment will not blow over anytime soon.

Most polls predict that Clinton will win the popular vote. The Real Clear Politics average of major national polls shows a narrow Clinton victory. Only one major poll gives Trump an advantage. Notice that the largest sample with the smallest margin of error is inconclusive.



This particular race has always been a close two-way race with Trump playing the spoiler and Johnson never really breaking through. Trump is rising in the polls and has closed the gap to less than 3% as of this writing.

Bear in mind that the popular vote does not determine the winner. On the morning of November 9th, polling will most likely show a Clinton victory. However, the popular vote is conducted to choose electors in the Electoral College, and the Electoral College actually will actually determine the winner, if and only if one of the top three candidates manages to get a simple majority of the EC votes. That number is (538 / 2) + 1 = 270.



Above is a snapshot of projected EC votes based on current polls. Below is a trend of EC vote predictions over time.


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PredictWise by David Rothchild is a site that looks at polling data but also the data from predictive markets. The data from PW indicates that RCP may have a slight Republican skew, meaning that if RCP gives a small edge to Clinton, the actual advantage may be much larger.

Accessed November 5, 2016 from: http://predictwise.com/blog/2016/11/possible-polling-error/


The consensus indicates a victory for the Democrats on Tuesday. But I think that the confidence is misplaced. This race could be much closer than polls indicate. Here is how Donald J. Trump might become the 45th President of the United States. I am not going to say whether this is good or bad. I'm not going to get into the why of this outcome, but I will describe how, and a little bit of when, this will happen.

First, a disclaimer: Here on PhilosFX, I don't discuss politics, per se. Rather, I focus on decision analysis, hoping to enable informed decisions. You probably won't see me advocating for a candidate, but you may see me delving into data collection and analysis.

I am personally non-partisan and to my recollection, I have never voted a straight ticket. I'm an issues-based voter. I am such a label-avoiding pragmatist, I have not registered with any party, not even the Independent Party. I vote. I take a stand when I vote. Before I vote, I consider the issues important to me, and how I would enact policy on those issues if I were in a position to decide. Then I select the candidate that comes closest to what I would do on the slate of issues that matter most to me.

That disclaimer out of the way, I get the impression that the Electoral College will decide this election. The popular vote will likely go to Clinton, but the EC is far from a lock for the Dems. I once thought that if Johnson won just enough EC votes to prevent either Clinton or Trump from getting to 270, then Congress would decide the election. According to the Constitution, if the EC cannot determine the winner of the election, the House selects the President from the top 3 finishers, and the Senate chooses the VP from the top two finishers.

Given the Republican majority in the House, Johnson could block a Clinton victory in one of two ways: First, and most likely, the Representatives would vote along party lines and elect Trump. Second, and only if the Trump campaign experienced a serious malfunction of some kind, the Representatives could reject Trump and vote for the other non-Clinton: Johnson. But I have come to realize that it is extremely unlikely that Johnson will capture even his home state of New Mexico. Even if he finishes third, it is unlikely that he will capture enough support to give Republicans pause. For better or worse, Johnson has become a non-factor.

That leaves the race in the hands of the EC. I think the polls are disproportionately representing the urban vote. Even if Clinton does end up winning the urban vote and the minority vote, she is not doing well in the great unwashed Midwest. Polls are under representing the older white voters who don't participate in polls for the simple fact that they don't have cell phones. They live in areas that may not have decent cell coverage. But they vote. They are angry, they have either been left out of the tech boom or they have opted out of it, and they vote. And so the election will come down to whether Trump can turn the grey states in the above map red. Watch Florida (29 votes), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), Georgia (16), and North Carolina (15).

Just so we're clear: Regardless of the popular vote, if Hillary Clinton does not get 270 or more Electoral College votes, Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.