Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Split Decision That Splits America

I know we've talked about "2016 Election As..." other presidential election years around here, 1968, 1992, 1976, 1980, 2012 and 2008, but Nate Silver is raising the less-than-zero possibility this turns into the dreaded 2000 where the Republican wins the electoral college but loses the popular vote.

We’ve written about this before, but I wanted to call your attention to it again because the possibility of an Electoral College-popular vote split keeps widening in our forecast. While there’s an outside chance that such a split could benefit Clinton if she wins the exact set of states that form her “firewall,” it’s far more likely to benefit Donald Trump, according to our forecast. Thus, as of early Monday evening, our polls-only model gave Hillary Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning the popular vote but just a 75 percent chance of winning the Electoral College. There’s roughly a 10 percent chance of Trump’s winning the White House while losing the popular vote, in other words.

As an illustration of this, we can compare Clinton’s current margins in our polls-only forecast against President Obama’s performance in 2012. Clinton — despite Trump’s recent improvement in the polls — leads by 4.7 percentage points in the national popular vote, a wider margin than Obama’s 3.9-point victory over Mitt Romney in 2012.

But Clinton is performing worse than Obama in 10 of the 12 states that were generally considered swing states in 2012. In some cases, such as Floridaand Pennsylvania, the difference is negligible. She’s underperforming Obama substantially, however, in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Nevada and to a somewhat lesser extent in Wisconsin and Minnesota. She’s considerably outperforming Obama in Virginia and North Carolina, conversely, but that’s not enough to make up for her losses elsewhere.
So how is Clinton doing better in the popular vote overall, despite failing to match Obama’s performance in most of these swing states? A lot of it is her strong performance in red states, or at least red states where a significant number of Romney voters were whites with college degrees. Thus, Clinton is putting states such as Arizona into play and — although she’s unlikely to win them — states such as Texas, Georgia and even Utah are liable to be much closer than we’re used to. Texas, in particular, can cause a potential Electoral College-popular vote skew because of its large and growing population. If the Democrat goes from losing Texas by 15 percentage points to losing it by 5 points instead, that produces a net gain of about 0.6 or 0.7 percentage points of the popular vote — larger than the margin by which Al Gore beat George W. Bush in the popular vote in 2000 — without changing the tally in the Electoral College. 

In other words there's a chance that Clinton will do better in red states like Texas and Georgia this year than Obama did, but still lose those states, and then lose close battles in the Upper Midwest and Rust Belt, on top of losing squeakers in big swing states like NC and Arizona.

That map would basically be the "Trump narrow win" scenario where she loses NC, FL, OH, NV, IA, and CO all by very close margins, and comes tolerably close in TX, GA, MO, AZ and SC, giving Trump an electoral college win, but a popular vote loss.  It's happened at least 4 times before, including 2000. 

The issue then becomes possible automatic recounts if those states are close enough, which is basically the nightmare scenario of this election times ten.

I don't think that's going to happen.  I think Clinton has banked enough early voting lead to prevail and again, Silver's numbers show her with a stronger lead than President Obama had in 2012. I still think she'll win both Florida and North Carolina early on Tuesday night, plus Pennsylvania and Virginia, and this race will essentially be over before 10 PM, Trump will be done.  Without FL and NC, he has no path at all to 270, even if he wins every Midwest and Rocky Mountain state other than Illinois and New Mexico.

Of course I went to bed that night in November 2000 thinking Al Gore had put away the Sunshine State, too.

We'll see.

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