You don’t think I’m really going to step all the way out on that limb.
I am, however, going to do some educated speculating, based on my background in history and political science, and on the observations of a number of non-partisan pundits who often get these things right, or at least are in the ballpark when it comes to accuracy of their predictions. And it’s not too early to at least put forth some odds when it comes to some of the candidates, based on all of the analytical tools that are used in accurately pinpointing what the results of an election might be.
Such an analysis does not necessarily reflect my own political perspective, nor how I will be casting my ballot. I’m only pointing to the odds, with the data that is available to do so. Obviously, I’m not Nate Silber of the New York Times, or even Quinnipiac or Pew Survey. But all that data is available, so I can at least have some fun with it, and see where it goes. It’s still a crowded field, and it is early in the season, but there is some data that places likely odds on certain candidates when it comes to their taking the oath of office in January of 2017. I will repeat that this has nothing to do with my preferences, it is simply taking a look at the numbers, everything that is available, past trends, and expert analysis across the spectrum, and making an educated guess with supporting evidence. I used to be somewhat amused at the amazement shown by my former social studies students over my accuracy in predicting election outcomes. It’s a matter of observing, knowing what the pundits use to make their guess, and using several sources.
Predicting that someone might win is not the same as unqualified support for that candidate. You know, it’s kind of annoying when the fans of a particular football team are asked who is going to win tonight’s game, in spite of glaring evidence to the contrary, “our team is!” If you’re looking for that kind of cheerleading, you probably need to stop reading now.
Based on data, including 2012 exit polling and analysis, current polls and trends, and the information from several of the more reliable pundits, my guess for the best odds of winning the White House in 2016 is Hillary Clinton. Here’s why.
Benghazi is Over
It would probably have been expedient to wait on making a prediction such as this after the hearings were over, though all indications, including the six or seven prior investigations, pointed to this issue amounting to either nothing, or to nothing that would actually harm Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. The problems and issues that came from previous investigations should have been a clue that this one would also prove to be little more than political grandstanding. I’m not sure that our Congress is capable, in today’s political climate, of conducting a genuine investigation into a matter that has impact for one side or the other in a politically charged atmosphere, which is a symptom of what is gravely wrong with the partisan, “winner take all,” no compromise politics that are status quo these days. When the Speaker of the House decided to resign under pressure from a far right caucus in his party, I figured this would turn in Hillary’s direction. Then when a former committee member confessed to the political objective of the Republicans on the committee, and its GOP chairman, Trey Gowdy (R-SC) broke ranks and essentially confessed and repented on Face the Nation the weekend before the hearings, I figured it was over.
Americans were already divided pretty much along political lines over Mrs. Clinton’s culpability and involvement in the Benghazi situation anyway. She’s picked up support among independents in the wake of the committee’s toned-down and soft conducting of the hearing. A majority of American voters now believe that the committee was politically motivated, and that there’s really nothing to investigate when it comes to her email server or the incident in Benghazi. And that’s huge, when coupled with the other developments related to this election.
Minority voting will be a major factor in the 2016 election. More Americans of Hispanic and African American heritage will cast ballots than ever before. And if current trends hold out, as most polls seem to indicate they will, the GOP candidate will have to pull down more than 65% of the white vote to win. Romney, by contrast, got 59% of the white vote, as high a percentage as any recent Republican except George H.W. Bush, who got 59% of the white vote in his 1988 win. The white vote is predicted to drop by about 4% between 2012 and 2016, while the minority vote, boosted by major increases in Hispanic voter registration, will increase by about 5%. Mrs. Clinton polls favorably among 93% of African Americans, 88% of Hispanics, and 76% of Asian-Americans, and 42% of white voters. If that holds, 58% of the white vote will not be enough for the Republican to win, whoever it happens to be.
Mrs. Clinton also has substantial polling numbers among voters under 35, which has been a key constituency for Democrats in Presidential election years, though they don’t materialize as well during mid-term elections. Her polling numbers among this constituency are about the same as President Obama’s were at this time in the last cycle, though the population of this group is larger than it was then.
The Blue Wall
We love to look at the national, head to head polls, but keep in mind, the Presidential election is based on electoral votes, not the popular vote. Both parties have build geographical strongholds across the map. The difference between the one the Democrats have built, and the one the Republicans have built is population, and by translation, electoral votes.
From the Potomac River north, east of the Ohio, the Democrats have built a supportive constituency that provides double digit percentage differences in the votes between their candidates and those of the other party. The upper Midwest adds states to that “blue wall” like Michigan and Illinois, which are part of the ten most populous in the country, and rich with electoral votes. The wall is anchored by the West Coast, including California with its mother lode of electoral votes.
If you look at the core states in the blue wall, those that Democrats have won by 10+ percentage points in each of the last six election cycles, the electoral votes add up to 240. That means that from the remaining swing states, or states that tend to lean Democratic, the candidates need only 30 more votes to nail down the election. Add Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado, which have been reliably Democratic, and you have more than enough. Democratic majorities have also developed in Ohio, resulting from the boom in the auto industry, and Virginia, where growth in the number of voters in the counties adjacent to Washington, DC have switched the state to blue.
Mrs. Clinton’s poll preferences in virtually all of the blue wall are substantial, indicating that she will likely do as well here, or better, than her predecessor.
Incidentally, Mrs. Clinton also has higher polling numbers than the GOP candidates do in red states like Arkansas, where she was once first lady, and in Arizona, which her husband was the first Democrat to carry since Truman.
Winning on the Issues
By an almost two to one margin, Mrs. Clinton has gained support on the issues that the American people want their candidates to address over her Republican rivals. I’m not sure whether it’s the nature of the Republican debates and the sniping that has created this bump, or whether she just sits where most Americans think she can do some good. A majority of Americans are with her on health care, education, on most jobs and economy issues, and on foreign policy. That may change as some of the lesser known, non-politician Republicans like Ben Carson get more recognition and face time, but right now, she can truthfully say that most Americans are in agreement with her position on these issues.
The Trump Campaign theme of “make America great again” seems to have a lot of attention, but only from a fractional percentage of Republicans who support him. The media hasn’t really pointed it out, but even a majority of Republicans don’t think America has fallen from greatness.
The Realities of the Campaign
Citizens United has gone a long way toward changing the structure of political campaigns, particularly on the federal level. And it will most definitely have an impact on the 2016 campaign, though perhaps not in as predictable a way as was once thought.
Realistically, Mrs. Clinton isn’t going to have to spend much money winning the Democratic nomination. Once the candidates are out of the gate, and past the initial primaries, particularly New Hampshire, Vermont is the only other state that Bernie Sanders has any realistic hope of winning. Estimates are that Hillary will raise at least $1 billion to spend on the head to head race against the GOP nominee. Several major Republican contributors have already tossed in the towel, as far as what they are planning to give, and it’s gone to candidates who aren’t even going to win the nomination, like Jeb Bush. Even Donald Trump, who up until now had spent his own money, is hitting the fundraising trail.
It’s not just the fundraising, though. Mrs. Clinton is laying the groundwork for a campaign on the offensive, and I would guess that she will take full advantage of the snipes and swipes that Republicans are beating each other up with now. Polling data from the 2012 election, which underscored some solid reasons why President Obama, in spite of an incomplete economic recovery, and continued problems in the Middle East, was able to craft a message that resonated with the voters, and won a fairly convincing re-election under difficult circumstances.
Mrs. Clinton’s core support is in the same ball park that President Obama operated from in 2012. While Bernie Sanders may make a strong showing, and capture the support of the left wing of the party, his voters will step into the Clinton column if he doesn’t win the nomination, and she’ll get his support. That may not be the scenario that develops on the other side, where some conservatives have publicly declared that if it takes letting the other side win to send a message to their moderate core, they’re willing to do so in 2016.
So, later on I’ll discuss the odds of who I think is the most likely potential GOP nominee.