Statistics is a messy sport, full of assumptions, countless miscalculations, and ultimately more than a little guesswork, however, it is rarely completely wrong. In aggregate, when all of the little errors are averaged out into a nice big mean, the strengths of one series of polls will overcome the weaknesses of other polling, and what we end up with is generally a serviceable cause and effect relationship between what polls were saying and what will come to pass.
As of today (June 21, 2016), Real Clear Politics has Donald Trump, at 39.2% support, trailing Hillary Clinton, at 45% support, by 5.8 points. While his die-hard supporters want to brush off Trump’s weak numbers because of the amount of calendar between now and November, this isn’t really that time sensitive. No matter how much Trump’s supporters may want it to, time does not cure lack of popular support.
What does this mean? The short version is that America is heading for round 2 of McCain and Obama (2008), and the result won’t be any different. The long version requires delving briefly into the last three presidential races.
In 2004, after winning a contentious election in 2000, George W. Bush was up for reelection, and the Democrat front runner and presumptive nominee was Senator John F. Kerry. In June 2004, Bush held 44.61% of the vote, which amounted at the time to a narrow lead of 0.94 points. While about 11.72% of those polled didn’t have a particular preference for either candidate, when November rolled around, Bush won the popular vote with 50.7% of the popular vote and a 2.4 point advantage over Kerry.
In 2008, after a disastrous final year of the Bush presidency, John McCain found himself running against Barrack Obama. McCain was floundering at 41.45% popular support in polls and remained at a -5.9 point disadvantage to Obama. At the time, 11.2% of voters remained uncommitted to either candidate. In November, McCain lost with only 45.6% of the popular vote, at a -7.3 point disadvantage to Obama.
In 2012, after a dismal first term with no signs of economic recovery, Mitt Romney was nominated to run against a politically vulnerable Barrack Obama. While Romney enjoyed a level of support similar to George W. Bush had eight years earlier, at 44.36% of voters, he still lagged -2.5 points behind Obama. Relatively fewer voters were sitting on the sidelines this time, with only 8.79% of voters stating no preferences between Romney and Obama. In November, Romney lost, managing only 47.2% of the popular vote and a -3.9 point disadvantage to Obama.
Keeping these three elections in mind, we can come to three conclusions. First, the statistical principle that a mean is true across samples of a population bears out, especially among “undecided” voters. So when we consider the 11% of presently undecided voters (between Hillary and Trump) according to the most recent CNN poll, most of these voters will end up favoring Hillary over Trump come election time, even though “neither” will likely get quite a few votes this year.
Second, while the gap of uncommitted voters is difficult to account for, nothing replaces having sheer numbers of people solidly in a politician’s camp. The larger a politician’s base of voters is, the more people they have in public pushing their positives and countering their negatives. It helps, also, if the politician’s support base isn’t obnoxious, rude, and even unhinged. Ultimately, having the larger and most positive base wins, every time.
Third, the old saw of “first impressions are the most lasting” is as true about politicians as anyone else, perhaps more so. Without the ability to develop a personal relationship with a candidate, the voter’s initial impression is typically the one that lasts, especially if that impression is confirmed by future exposure to the candidate directly or through their supporters. It is this first impression that makes uncommitted voters more or less likely to get on board with a candidate.
Who do most voters think of when they see the words “rude” or “obnoxious“? What about “liar” or “untrustworthy“? If voters accept lying and untrustworthiness as just being part of the political game but can’t see themselves putting up with four years of a rude and obnoxious loudmouth, then Hillary Clinton has already won, and we don’t even need to go through the fiasco of an election.
So when we compare each of the three reference points, between George W. Bush’s successful reelection bid, John McCain’s ill fated campaign, and Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful run, Donald J. Trump has less popular support than John McCain and is practically as far behind Hillary as McCain was in 2008. While the Democratic Party is as fractured as the Republican Party, the actual differences between Hillary and Bernie are much narrower than those between Donald and the rest of the Republican field.
Where Donald Trump polled between 40% and 45% of support within the Republican Party, Hillary has consistently enjoyed support above 50%. Hillary remains weakened because of the political fight between her and Bernie Sanders that threatens to continue right into the Democratic convention, which makes Trump’s trailing her that much more troubling. While Trump had the majority of two months to shore up his support, Hillary is only two or three weeks out from the last of the Democratic Primaries.
If Trump is trailing a weakened Hillary, how does he stand against a fully unified Hillary? He doesn’t. As the rest of June’s poll numbers continue to show him treading water around 40% base support, the only question will be how badly will Hillary crush Donald in November. It’s past time to pull the plug on Donald’s carnival barker freak show of a candidacy and either find another candidate the party can support or simply just lay down and die gracefully.
There are plenty of options to Trump, some are less polarizing than others. At this point, however, just like the Whig and Free Soil parties before it, the Republican Party, for all intents and purposes, is finished as a political party. Unfortunately, more than just the Republican legacy is at stake this election. The future of America hinges on who Republican delegates choose as the nominee, even if he or she doesn’t or can’t ultimately win.
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Nice post with lots of reasoning and stats. I think the points made and the previous elections should be kept in mind. Perhaps you have encountered the studies that suggest polling becomes more predictive after the conventions, as more previously disengaged voters tune in, so the numbers become more representative. It is possible, of course, a party could crack, or more likely adopt and evolve into something new, if these stresses are placed upon it. Yet, the GOP will likely be okay, in one form or another, if weathering other pot holes like Watergate is predictive. But we do indeed need at least two viable parties, and hopefully many more, to act as ballast. Keep up the data-driven, thoughtful posts.
Will do. Thanks.