For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you may remember that some weeks ahead of the 2012 US presidential election I called the Electoral College votes; 332 to Obama and 206 to Romney. You can read the blog post here for interest, but suffice to say it was the result of some not insignificant analysis of a large number of polls at both state and national level.
This year, 2016, we stand at the precipice of the most unpredictable election cycles in living memory, with two candidates who are the least liked in recent presidential political history going before the country in November. That said, I’m still going to try.
As Harry Enten pointed out over on FiveThirtyEight, Clinton and Trump are both more strongly disliked than any nominee at this point in the past 10 presidential cycles.
However, it is now becoming clear in the polling data that Hillary Clinton is pulling ahead of Donald Trump both nationally and in the key battleground states. Clinton has, when actually in a role, typically enjoyed relatively high approval ratings. “So I have a track record. And I’m going to remind people of that. Because it’s not just rhetoric, for me,” she said. “When I was secretary of state, I had a very high approval rating, as you can go back and check. Because I was doing a job that people could see.” Indeed, Clinton’s approval ratings hit 67 per cent in December 1998 whilst President Clinton was going through the Lewinski troubles, was 58 per cent whilst she was Senator from New York, and climbed to 69 per cent during her tenure as Secretary of State. In polls conducted in 2011 and 2012, she was more popular that both President Obama and Vice President Biden.
Conversely, Trump’s ratings in the polls seem to be in terminal decline. Each new day brings a new scandal, a new controversy, or a new viewpoint that is anathema to the American Dream. Clinton’s campaign has helpfully compiled a list of 45 things – 45 true, verifiable, real life things – that Donald Trump did, said, or caused in the week ending 7th August, and it’s no surprise that he is switching off moderates left, right and centre. You know the list:
- Said that handling sexual harassment has to be “up to the individual” and said if his daughter were sexually harassed at work, he’d just tell her to quit;
- Picked a fight with a baby—literally a baby—and kicked that baby out of his campaign rally;
- Attacked the Gold Star parents of a Muslim-American soldier who was killed in combat;
- Assured George Stephanopoulos that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not invade Crimea when Putin invaded Crimea two years ago;
- Was gifted a veteran’s Purple Heart medal and said he “always wanted to get the Purple Heart” but conceded that “this was much easier”;
- Called Hillary Clinton “the devil”;
- Denied mocking a disabled reporter (spoiler alert: he definitely mocked a disabled reporter).
You can read the full list here.
With Clinton now beginning to attract considerable support from Republican officials (including former Ronald Reagan aide Doug Elmets, Representative Richard Hanna of New York, former Gubernatorial candidate and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Meg Whitman, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and others), the term “Clinton Republican” is beginning to re-enter the US lexicon, much as “Reagan Democrat” did in the 1980s.
What’s more interesting is the list of Republicans who, whilst not necessarily endorsing Clinton, have said that they simply cannot vote for Trump – including three 2016 US presidential candidates as well as the 2012 Republican nominee:
- Barbara Bush, former First Lady;
- Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor, 2016 presidential candidate;
- William Cohen, former Secretary of Defence;
- Jeff Flake, Arizona Senator;
- Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Senator, 2016 presidential candidate;
- Larry Hogan, Maryland Governor;
- John Kasich, Ohio Governor, 2016 presidential candidate;
- Mark Kirk, Illinois Senator;
- Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts Governor, 2012 Republican presidential nominee;
- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Congresswoman;
- Ben Sasse, Nebraska Senator;
Put simply, this is not a typical election cycle and Donald Trump is certainly not a typical party nominee for the presidency.
So where do both candidates stand in the national polls at this point in time?
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Sunday, Clinton has widened her national lead over Trump to 8 points. In a two-horse race, the poll give Clinton exactly half of the vote with Trump taking 42 per cent. Interestingly, the 8 point lead remains even when you factor in Johnson and Stein to make it a four-horse race: Clinton 45, Trump 37, Johnson 8 and Stein 4.
This continues a trend in recent days of Clinton getting some out-of-the-ballpark numbers over Trump:
- Polling by NBC News/Wall St. Journal released Thursday 4th gives Clinton a 9 point lead over Trump (Clinton 47, Trump 38);
- McClatchy/Marist, on the same day, puts Clinton a whopping 15 points clear of Trump (Clinton 48, Trump 33);
- Again, Clinton’s lead in both of these polls remains the same even when Johnson and Stein are brought into the race (albeit dropping 1 point to a 14 point lead in the Marist poll).
Fascinatingly, given their usual bias toward and in favour of Republicans, even FOX News put Clinton 10 points clear of Trump on Wednesday 3rd, following polling by NBC News/SM earlier in the week that gave Clinton an 8 point lead with 50 per cent of the vote. In every reputable poll you look at (yes, there are outliers from other polling companies – the same companies I discounted back in 2012 for having weak methodologies), Clinton is storming ahead. CBS News, CNN/ORC and PPP (D) have all also given Clinton strong leads in recent days.
Some might dismiss this as the “post-convention bounce” factor, but I think it is substantially more significant than that for two main reasons. First, Trump had his own “mini-bounce” after the Republicans met in Cleveland from 18th-21st July but this quickly dissipated in the wake of more incredible comments from Trump and his campaign, and when voters began to learn that his GOP convention was akin to the foretelling of the Apocalypse with no positive vision for the country. Second, as Gabriel Debenedetti of Politico pointed out a couple of days ago, Clinton has the highest approval rating over a Republican presidential candidate since at least 2004 – beating Obama at this stage in both 2008 and 2012.
(It should be pointed out that in the two days since Gabriel posted this, Clinton’s lead over Trump has increased further to a clear 7 points nationally.) Looking at the graph above, you can see that Clinton has held substantial leads over Trump long periods, and her numbers seem to be climbing back to the heady heights of 23rd March with an 11.4 point lead. Whether the lead returns to its maximum, back in July 2015, where she commanded 20 points clear of her Republican rival remains to be seen, but if Clinton can work back into the low double-digits she will be poised to carry a number of states that haven’t voted Democrat in a long time.
So what about those states, and what about a prediction for the 2016 Electoral College results? I’m quietly convinced that Clinton is going to win this by a landslide, and that Independents and moderate Republicans are going to vote for her once they get into the privacy of the voting booth on Election Day. The more that people see of Donald Trump, and the more that they realise that – despite what Gary Johnson and Jill Stein say – this is an election between two candidates, they will go with the “least worst option”, whatever their views of Clinton. Stephen Colbert excellently demonstrated this point on his show a week or so ago with a segment entitled “The Lesser of Two Evils” – definitely worth a watch.
It seems that this message has been taken to heart by voters in what are traditionally Republican-leaning states. Looking at data published since the start of August, and following the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia:
Florida: Suffolk University polling puts Clinton 6 points clear over Trump, and 4 points clear when all four candidates are considered.
Georgia: Atlanta Journal-Constitution polling gives Clinton a 4 point lead over Trump in a two-horse race, and a 3 point lead in a four-horse.
Missouri: St. Louis Post-Dispatch gives Clinton a 1 point lead (I expect this to jump once Senator Claire McCaskill gets going on the campaign trail a bit more).
The other states with polling data from August are either solidly Democrat or (exceptionally!) solidly Republican, so I haven’t included these. In North Carolina Clinton is just ahead with a 0.5 per cent lead over Trump (according to the RCP aggregate). Trump’s previous lead has completely collapsed in Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon with Clinton pipping ahead by similar (or slightly larger) leads as in North Carolina. Even in states that you might expect to be firmly Republican – Kansas, Arkansas, and Mississippi – Trump’s lead in the polls is slipping.
So, what am I predicting at this stage?
Once we have another week of clear poling data at both the state and national level, I’ll recalculate across the board. I’m particularly interested in seeing some more numbers for Utah, Montana, and Texas – these are bellwether states for different strands within the Republican umbrella, and will be indicative of different trends within the party and its “coming to terms” with Trump.
What do you think of the map I’ve predicted? Do you agree in general with the direction of travel in the polls? Are there individual states you disagree with?
Do leave your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll look to answer any questions / comments in my next prediction.
I’ve put a little flutter on the above with the Bookmakers, similarly to what I did during the UK’s 2015 General Election… that turned out pretty well. Here’s my betting slip:
Until next time!