Tag Archives: 2016 presidential campaign

Why Clinton Supporters Shouldn’t Panic

First the bad news for Clinton supporters.  The national polls have indisputably tightened since Clinton’s peak post-convention bounce in early August.  On August 8, the HuffPost aggregate polling had her up by 8.4%, 48.3%-39.9% over Trump, consistent with pundits’ predictions that this would be a blowout election.  As of today, however, her aggregate lead is down to 5.4%, a loss of about 3% in the aggregate polls during the last month.  Picture1

The RealClearPolitics poll of polls shows a similar trend, with Clinton’s lead dropping from 7.2% to 3.9% in the same time period.

Now for the good news.  This race was always going to tighten, as I have been telling audiences for my election talks for the past month.  Those who point to 1964 or 1972 as electoral precedents in which an ideologically extreme candidate got crushed are misreading history.  As Andrew Gelman points out, the results in those two elections were likely driven more by the economic fundamentals than they were by Goldwater or McGovern’s ideological extremism.  Gelman’s point is consistent with recent research that suggests ideological extremism in candidates contributes only marginally at best to presidential election outcomes. To this I would add two points.  First, it’s not clear to me that voters consider Trump an ideologically “extreme” candidate. For what it is worth, I’ve been surveying Republican delegates who attended the national convention, and they routinely place Trump to the ideological left of where they place the average Republican voter – that is, closer to the center of the ideological spectrum. Granted, their views are likely colored by their own more conservative attitudes, but nonetheless this is not consistent with the argument that Trump is an ideological extremist.  The second point is that in both 1964 and 1972, the race included an incumbent seeking a second term in office during a time of relative economic prosperity, which likely worked in the incumbents’ electoral favor.  Obviously, no incumbent is on the presidential ballot in the 2016 race.

Consistent with this argument, the political science forecast models that are just coming out almost uniformly indicate that this will be a close popular vote, with most forecasting a final two-party popular vote margin of 4% or less. A plurality of the models that I have seen give Clinton a slight edge in the popular vote, but some of those with excellent track records, such as Alan Abramowitz’ Time For a Change model, are forecasting a Trump victory.

Wait, you ask: why is a forecast that this will be a tight race good news for Clinton?  To begin, as I noted in my last post, Trump is – so far – still slightly underperforming the models.  Yes, he’s closed the gap – but not yet to where the forecast models suggest the generic Republican candidate should be. Consider as well that Clinton has largely ceded media coverage to Trump for the last few weeks as she has focused on raising cash through at a series of big-ticket fundraising extravaganzas and, evidently, spending time preparing for the debates as well.  Moreover, her absence has coincided with a flurry of bad media coverage driven by the release of the FBI interview notes regarding her emails, as well as allegations that she was engaged in a pay-to-play contribution scheme involving donors to the Clinton Foundation.  Although her surrogates have been out on her behalf trying to beat down these stories, they haven’t gotten nearly the coverage that Trump has attracted – coverage that he has utilized to highlight Clinton’s email and Foundation stories.  As a result, her favorable/unfavorable gap – already in negative territory – has grown by about 5% since early August, and is now only about 5% better than Trump’s.

Moreover, polling remains volatile; we’ve seen the polling gap close in similar fashion at least twice before since both nominees clinched.  Since May, Trump has closed to within 4% of Clinton on at least two occasions in the HuffPost aggregate polls, only to see her subsequently widen the gap again.  And this latest polling flurry hasn’t boosted Trump above his post-nomination clinching high-water mark of about 42% support.  So there’s not a lot of evidence that Trump is expanding his coalition these last few months.  Instead, what the recent spate of negative media seems to have done is make some who recently might have been predisposed to vote for Hillary to reconsider their support for her, but there’s not much evidence they are moving over to back Trump.

It is true that, as Drew Linzer documents, between those who remain undecided or express support for a third party candidate, such as Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein, we are seeing a historically high number of potential voters who aren’t committing to either major party candidate at this point.

And there’s some evidence that this group contains slightly more potential Trump voters (although as I noted in my last post other survey evidence suggests Clinton may have a slight advantage among undecideds).

But in the aggregate, the difference in the number of undecideds leaning Republican versus those leaning Democratic isn’t going to be enough to put Trump over the top – he has  win a substantial number of the “pure” independents as well.

So where does that leave us? If I were a Clinton supporter, I would be more worried if Trump’s gains in the polls were occurring while Clinton was in full-blown campaign mode, out making her case to the voters.  Right now that’s not the case.  However, let’s see where things stand in mid-September – which is historically about two weeks after the final convention has ended.  If Trump has closed to, say, 2%, then Clinton supporters can panic. As of today, however, they should ignore the polls and instead head to nearest swimming hole to enjoy this gorgeous summer weather.  That’s where I’m going.



Cue Kevin Bacon! National Polls Show General Election Dead Heat!

Cue the panic! Two new national polls are out,  and and they show Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in a near tie in a hypothetical general election matchup. That represents a considerable tightening of the survey results from a month ago, when Clinton held double digit leads over Trump in most national polls, as this Huffington Post polling average shows.


Naturally, these latest results provided irresistible fodder for the talking heads on the Sunday talk shows this morning, and they dove into the topic with gusto. The general consensus seemed to be that these latest polls show how vulnerable Clinton is, why Trump has underappreciated strengths, and why Democrats should be ready to panic. You should, of course, ignore most of this chatter – now that the nominating races are essentially over, the chattering class has to talk about something else, and head-to-head polls are a readily available topic, particularly if they help feed the horse-race narrative that drives these shows’ ratings.

The fact is that we should not be surprised the polls have tightened in this way. With the Republican race all but over, Trump is consolidating his support among likely Republican voters, while a significant chunk of Sanders’ voters are refusing to concede the Democratic race to Clinton. That resistance is fueled by results, like this one from the NBC/Wall St. poll, that suggest Sanders will run stronger against Trump than will Clinton.

Sanders and his surrogates are seizing on these results to argue that the Democratic super delegates who initially expressed support for Clinton should reconsider that decision. As I noted in my recent post at U.S. News, I don’t expect Sanderistas to consolidate as quickly behind Clinton as Clinton supporters did for Obama in 2008. Unlike Clinton and Obama in 2008, Sanders represents a more distinct ideological choice from Clinton, as reflected in their different coalitions of support during the current election cycle. Exit polls indicate she’s beating him consistently among self-proclaimed Democrats, while he wins among independents. There’s also a huge generational gap, with younger voters strongly supporting Sanders while the over-45 crowd generally supports her.

The bottom line is that Sanders’ supporters aren’t ready as yet to fall into line behind Clinton despite the fact that she is almost certainly going to be the Democratic nominee. In the NBC poll, only 66% of Sanders supporters say they will back Clinton in a head-to-head matchup against Trump. The ABC poll has a similar result, with 70% of Sanders’ Democratic nomination supporters saying they will back Clinton over Trump. That’s down from 77% in ABC’s March poll, indicating she’s losing support among Sanders’ voters as she gets closer to clinching the nomination. In that same period Trump has gained 10% among Sanders backers. Not surprisingly, the 18-29 year-olds comprise a good chunk of those who are reluctant to vote for Clinton. Back in March, Clinton was winning this age group over Trump by 19% in the ABC poll – that margin is now down to 3%.

Clearly, then, Sanders’ supporters as yet show little inclination to switch over to Clinton. But why should they? Sanders has made it clear he’s in the race to the end of the primary process – and perhaps even beyond, into the convention. He’s laid out a clear, if improbable, strategy for how he could still claim the Democratic nomination. And his backers are unusually idealistic and passionate in their support, and less committed to the Democratic Party than are Hillary’s supporters. So we shouldn’t be surprised by polls that show the general election contest between Trump and Clinton is tightening. One side is consolidating behind their nominee, while the other remains divided. Remember, exit polls in some states at this time in 2008, when the Democratic race also remained contested, indicated that 45-50% of Clinton supporters were telling pollsters they wouldn’t back Obama in the general election race against McCain. Eventually, however, most of them backed their party’s nominee. Sanders’ supporters may be slower to come around this election cycle, for the reasons I’ve suggested above, but it’s too early to take these recent survey results as their final word. Head-to-head polling does not really begin to become a reliable predictor of the general election results until after the nominating conventions are over. This year the Democrats hold theirs in late July – more than two months away. Before we begin explaining why Sanders voters will never back Clinton, let’s revisit the polling results after she’s officially nominated and has begun the process of consolidating her support, as Trump is doing now. My guess is that the great bulk of Sanders’ voters will choose her over Trump.

(Addendum 2:05 P.M.:  RealClearPolitics, which uses a slightly different algorithm for averaging polls, now shows Trump ahead of Clinton in the polling average by .2 – 43.4%-43.2. That should induce additional panic!)

In the meantime, however, I expect two more months of this from the pundits.

Why Trump’s Vice Presidential Choice Is Worth More Than Warm Spit

It is easy to mock, as much of social media did, Ted Cruz’s decision last week to announce that Carly Fiorina will be his vice presidential running mate. For critics (myself included), it appeared to be nothing more than a last-moment Hail Mary pass designed to blunt Donald Trump’s momentum coming out of The Donald’s impressive victories during the “Acela” primaries. But despite the whiff of desperation associated with the announcement, there is also an underlying logic at work in Cruz’ decision, at least in theory. For starters, he captured the news cycle for a good 72 hours, helping steal some of the media coverage from The Donald’s post-primaries foreign policy speech. It also might boost Cruz’ standing among some core groups, including social conservatives and women, in the crucial state of Indiana which holds its primary next Tuesday. Cruz is probably hoping that Fiorina’s selection, in the aftermath of Trump’s inflammatory suggestion that Hillary Clinton owes much of her support to her gender, may galvanize enough women to come out for him to take the state.  Indiana probably represents’ Cruz last, best hope of blocking Trump’s road to the nomination. If you will recall from the debates, Fiorina was an early critic of Trump’s, one who seemed unfazed by his attacks. And, looking ahead to the California primary, one might argue that Fiorina helps Cruz in a state that she calls her home, although frankly she’s never showed that she has much support there.

Of course, it is also possible that Fiorina will boost Cruz’ general election chances, in the unlikely event that he wins the Republican nomination. Indeed, one of Fiorina’s standard talking points in her stump speech was that, as a woman, she was ideally suited to take on Clinton.  But do vice presidential selections really matter in the general election?  Conventional wisdom says they do.   As political scientist Carl Tubessing noted back in the 1970’s, vice presidential selections are historically understood as serving some combination of the following purposes: ideological balancing, regional balancing, healing the wounds of a bitter nomination fight or as a means of securing delegates to secure the nomination at the convention. Testing these intuitions, however, has proved rather difficult for political scientists. At the risk of overgeneralizing, most political science research of which I am aware suggests that when controlling for the usual factors that influence the general election vote, the choice of a vice presidential candidate seems not to matter very much.

But perhaps this is asking too much for a vice presidential choice? It may be that even if the pick doesn’t influence the overall popular vote, the vice presidential pick can help the president win the vice president’s home state. That was the logic, presumably, that drove John Kennedy to pick Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson as his running mate in 1960, and which has prompted current observers to argue that Ohio Governor John Kasich might be Trump’s ideal candidate. Here, however, the research is more mixed.  Devine and Kopko suggest the choice has an electoral impact “only … when s/he comes from a relatively less-populous state and has served that state for many years as an elected official. Think Joe Biden.” Of course, smaller states will have less of an impact on the Electoral College. Using slightly different methodology, however, Heersink and Peterson look at presidential elections in the period 1884-2012 and find that the vice presidential choice boosts the presidential ticket, on average, by 2.7% in the vice president’s home state, and by 2.2% in crucial swing states. While not a huge effect, it is large enough, they argue, to justify choosing a vice presidential candidate from an important and preferably large swing state.

In my view, however, the vice presidential pick ought not to be judged solely or even primarily in terms of its electoral impact. Instead, its importance lies in how well it helps presidents govern. No less an expert than Donald Trump understands this. When asked by the New York Times if he was bothered by the seeming reluctance of noteworthy Republicans to run as his vice president, Trump replied: “I don’t care. Whether people support or endorse me or not, it makes zero influence on the voters. Historically, people don’t vote based on who is vice president. I want someone who can help me govern.”

Trump’s approach is, in my view, exactly right. The evidence suggests George W. Bush didn’t select Richard Cheney because Cheney would bring Wyoming into the fold – he did so because he needed Cheney’s defense and foreign policy expertise. As Robert Draper recounts in his insightful book Dead Certain , Bush told Cheney, who was leading Bush’s V.P search, that “I don’t know what’s going to come onto my desk, but I’m going to need someone who’s seen things before, who can give me advice to make good decisions.” (Bush also liked that Cheney did not have ambitions to run for higher office.) While I disagree with my colleagues who suggest Cheney served as Bush’s “co-president”, by all accounts he was one of Bush’s most influential advisers, particularly early in Bush’s presidency. Similarly, President Obama selected Joe Biden as his running mate not to win over Delaware, but to provide advice and influence in Congress, particularly the Senate, where Biden had served several terms. Indeed, at least since Jimmy Carter moved Walter Mondale into the West Wing and scheduled regular weekly meetings with him,  vice presidents have played increasingly important advisory roles. It’s hard to argue that the vice presidency today is, as John Nance Garner allegedly once proclaimed, “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Trump clearly understands why the vice presidential choice today is worth considerably more, and it has less to do with electoral considerations than it does with helping him govern. Of course, the ideal choice would provide Trump both electoral benefits, presumably by boosting Trump’s chances in a large, swing state, and would also provide him with governing expertise, most importantly in working with Congress. At first glance Kasich seems to fit both criteria, but he has been out of Congress for a number of years. Former House Speaker John Boehner knows the current House as well as anyone, but he left office with dismal approval ratings even in his home state of Ohio, although this may reflect voters’ attitudes toward Congress more generally. Florida Governor Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio potentially attract voters in that crucial swing state, but Scott lacks Washington experience and it’s hard to see “Little” Marco signing up on Trump’s team.

Of course, there’s a risk for Trump in choosing an establishment candidate as vice president, given his desire to portray himself as an outsider. In interviews, however, he has suggested that he would lean toward choosing someone with political experience. Given his recent comments regarding Clinton and gender, however, he might be tempted to choose a woman, such as New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte. But this risks losing a Republican Senate seat.  Iowa Senator Joni Ernst also comes to mind but she has similar liabilities.

Speculating about what Trump will do in any endeavor is always a risky business. But it appears that in looking for someone who can help him govern, Trump has the right criteria in mind when deciding who to choose as his running mate. In the end, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump throws conventional wisdom out the window, and decides instead to go with a winner. And who wins more than this guy?  Come on, Donald – Let’s really make American great again!

The State of the Race: Trump the Wonk, Carly’s Scrutiny, Biden’s Pledge and Lameducks and Nude Beaches

There are a variety of different political stories that caught my eye these last few days. Since I can’t tackle them all in the depth they deserve – at least not in a timely fashion – I thought I’d briefly comment on some of the most important. Here, in no particular order, are my thoughts about:

The Donald’s Debate Performance: In the media’s focus on reporting how Trump’s polling support is holding steady in the aftermath of the Fox-hosted political debate, perhaps the most important take-away from that event has been underplayed. Since the debate Trump has been making the media rounds, using a series of one-on-one interviews and policy pronouncements to showcase his policy credentials. Yes, his policies still contain their share of bombast and pleasing sound bites, but they are also more fleshed out than Trump’s previous pronouncements, which were typically all sizzle and no steak. Trump’s effort to fill in some of the details of his policy views, I suspect, is prompted by his realization that when standing on the debate stage next to his Republican competitors, the sound-bite pronouncements that work so well in staged settings orchestrated by his campaign to attract media coverage – “I will build a yuuuge wall, paid for by Mexico!” –  are much less effective in debates when compared to the more detailed policy pronouncements put forth by his rivals. Contrary to the media stereotype, Trump is a smart man (albeit one prone to bluster). He surely realizes that at this point his polling, with about a quarter of likely Republican voters supporting him nationally, is at best in Howard Dean territory, and that as the Republican field begins to get pared down it is quite possible Republican support will coalesce around one of his rivals, such as Bush or Rubio. In short, the Donald is making a concerted effort to step up his game. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next debate.

The Biden One-term Pledge. Reportedly Vice President Joe Biden will pledge, if he decides to run for president in 2016, that if elected he will only serve one term as president. He’s not alone. Lawrence Lessig, who is running a quixotic campaign for the Democratic nomination, has promised to do Biden one better – he will resign the presidency if he gets his policy initiative dealing with campaign finance reform passed.  In an earlier post I discussed the pros and cons of term limits and why I think limiting presidents to one term (formally or informally) is a very bad idea (although I don’t oppose term limits after two terms, at least not in principle), but candidates continue to trot this idea out, presumably because it gives them an aura of being above politics; they are concerned only with the public interest, and not with doing what will insure their reelection. It’s worth remembering that the Framers spent considerable time debating this idea, part of a larger debate on how to choose the president, only to reject it in favor of unlimited terms. That choice, of course, has since been superseded by the 22nd amendment. I happen to think there’s some virtue in making presidents remain sensitive to the political implications of their decisions, which is what occurs when presidents are free to seek a second term in office. In my view, it helps prevents the type of fiascos that I discuss in my previous post that have regularly afflicted recent presidents’ second terms.  In short, it is probably a helpful check on presidential actions to make them consider how the public might react to what they are proposing to do.

Carly Fiorina Has Been Discovered – and Now She Undergoes Scrutiny. I’ve referenced the Sides/Vavreck argument, coming out of their wonderful study of the 2012 presidential campaign, that relatively unknown presidential candidates who burst onto the scene often undergo a process of “discovery, scrutiny and decline”. This pattern accurately describes the candidacies of Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and even Newt Gingrich (twice!) in 2012. So far, however, The Donald seems to be avoiding this pattern – his polling support has survived the extended scrutiny for a longer period than did any of the quartet from 2012. Now it’s Carly Fiorina’s turn. In light of her widely-praised performance in the “happy hour” version of the Fox debate, she instantly became the darling of the pundits. But with that favorable coverage she has also begun to receive more scrutiny, particularly of her tumultuous tenure as CEO at Hewlett Packard.  Of course, this scrutiny doesn’t come only from the media – rivals are only too happy to chime in.  In this vein, The Donald recently said this about Fiorina in an interview: “She’s a very nice woman, she got fired, she did a terrible job at Hewlett-Packard, she lost in a landslide — other than that, she’s a very nice woman.”

Did You Know the Obamas Are On Vacation? If one needs any more proof that Obama is a lame-duck president, it is this: almost no one is criticizing his vacation plans. The most critical media coverage I’ve heard centers on his choice of reading material while spending some down time at Martha’s Vineyard. Several years back I wrote this post analyzing why presidents continue to take vacations, and why they are constantly belittled for doing so. I noted that the President’s political opponents typically treat a vacationing president, no matter which party he represents, as the modern equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. For example, in a not atypical review, one critic wrote this about the Obama’s 2011 vacation on the Island: “Which begs the question – why did the president go ahead with his vacation despite the worst approval ratings of his presidency, plunging stock markets, falling consumer confidence, and overwhelming public disillusion with his handling of the economy? I think the answer lies in Obama’s professorial-style arrogance, and a condescending approach towards ordinary Americans.”  Yikes! Pardon me for wanting to soak up some rays!  I concluded my post by advising the President to get some rest and relaxation, but to avoid the nude beaches. (Denizens of Martha’s Vineyard will confirm that some of the best beaches there are clothing optional.) This time around, however, and in contrast to previous years, criticism of the president’s vacation plans seems largely muted which I can only believe reflects a more general sense that his presidency is nearing its end. For what it’s worth, I think it’s nice that the President and his family can finally enjoy a relaxing (the term is relative, of course, for a sitting president) two weeks in a picturesque island setting.

Nonetheless, I’d still be cautious about the whole nude beach thing… .

Keeping Up With The Real Jindals of Louisiana!

Apropos my piece yesterday at U.S. News exploring why so many Republicans are running for president,  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has announced that he too is seeking the Republican nomination for the presidency. That makes a baker’s dozen Republican candidates so far, with Scott Walker likely to formally join in the next few days as well. Jindal’s announcement, while not unexpected, was at least somewhat original – he released this video showing him revealing the news to his three kids (hat tip to Middlebury grad Charlie Kunze for alerting me to this). Here’s Jindal’s family coming-out event:

As you can see, the three kids seem completely unsurprised by their parents’ announcement. The only question one of them asks is when the decision will be made public. Their even-keeled reaction reminded me of how the Kardashian kids must have responded when Bruce finally said he was really a “she”. Really, how much surprise was left after you found out he loved wearing Spanx? Similarly, the Jindal kids seem so unfazed by their father’s career move that he is forced to try to elicit some reaction by asking them if they are excited to go to Iowa, site of the first-in-the-nation caucus. Not surprisingly, the question fell a bit short of eliciting a collective “Let’s Go Hawkeyes!” I mean, this is Iowa – not Disneyworld. What did he expect them to say? “I can’t wait to see some cornfields, Dad!”

Jindal’s effort to drum up some publicity via this unorthodox announcement demonstrates both the attraction and the difficulty of campaigning in the era of reality television and social media-driven political coverage. The video was an attempt to portray the Jindals at home, interacting spontaneously in an intimate setting, just like a “normal” family. Why, they could have been any American family, with loving parents discussing with the kids whether Dad should pursue a new job.   Except what normal family places a camera above the family table and sends the resulting video out to a national audience? It was hard not to view the kids as props in still another made-for-reality-television event. But if Jindal really wanted to make this work, he needed to steal a page from those other reality shows by going all in to make this a truly memorable event.  Had I staged the event, I would have had the kids react to Jindal’s announcement by running from the room screaming, “You’ve ruined our lives – I hate you Dad!” Then Ms. Jindal would tell Bobby she had fallen in love with the pool boy and was seeking a divorce.  Now that would be a video destined to go viral!

This is not the first time Jindal has potentially botched a first impression with a national audience. In February 2009, in recognition that he was a rising Republican star, Jindal was tapped to deliver the official Republican response to President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress. Alas, Jindal’s speech received less than stellar reviews in comparison to the President’s. As I noted in my blog post at the time, Jindal’s speech suffered from a poorly-chosen location: “Now compare the backdrop to a State of the Union (or equivalent) address to where poor Bobby Jindal gave his speech. He looked like he was standing in the hallway of his house. I fully expected Ms. Jindal to call him to take out the trash midway through the talk.”  I also noted, however, that Jindal’s widely-panned speech was unlikely to have much impact on his political career. And, in fact, he was easily reelected to a second term as Louisiana governor. Similarly, I doubt yesterday’s rollout, no matter what you think of it, is going to influence Jindal’s presidential electoral fortunes very much. As it is, as more than one media pundit pointed out, he faces an uphill climb in an already crowded Republican field. Pollster.com’s weighted average of polls currently places Jindal 15th among 16 Republicans, with only former New York Governor George Pataki polling less than Jindal’s .7%.

But no matter. Hope springs eternal. Jindal has made a career of bucking expectations. In addition to his low-tax, small government credentials, he has staked out conservative positions on a number of social issues by, for example, opposing gay marriage – positions that should play well with a segment of the Republican base. And, as the only sitting Governor in the race he is likely to try to capitalize by contrasting his own record of accomplishments in Louisiana against the legislative gridlock and partisan bickering that characterizes Washington, DC politics. He is also likely going to use his roots as the Louisiana-born son of Indian immigrants to bolster his case that immigrants should be encouraged to adopt American political ideals – another position that plays well with Republicans.   Finally, I expect him to take a very hawkish line on foreign policy. It remains to be seen, of course, whether he can recapture the magic that made him a rising star among Republicans, one noted for his policy wonkishness, several years back. For what it is worth, most of the media coverage surrounding his announcement noted his low poll standings and described his candidacy as an uphill, long shot effort to break through.  As I’ve noted many times before, when the media pegs you as a second-tier candidate, it becomes very difficult to climb your way to first-tier status.

But for now, the Jindals are off to Iowa! I envision the car ride going something like this:

The Jindals’ run for the Presidency: It’s not a vacation.  It’s a quest.