The following maps and accompanying commentary summarize my thinking about Election 2016. This entry is less objective than my usual entries but it has not escaped my attention that this election season has not been one characterized by tolerance and objectivity.
Map 1 shows the states which putatively are already decided and states that are purported to be in play. States ‘in play’, according to the generic ‘consensus’ are tan. Trump states are Red, Clinton states are Blue.
Map 2 is my prediction for the ‘worst-case scenario’- I do not believe Trump will win and this is what a map of a good day for him on Tuesday would look like. I have a deep-seated and, hopefully, irrational fear that somehow I am under-estimating the role vitriol, class and racial hostility, basic human stupidity, and cupidity play in elections and that this map might be not generous enough to the forces of darkness, but I am sticking to my guns and to what the demographic data says to me. This is my thinking on a ‘bad’ day. Some days I even throw New Hampshire in to the red mix, especially if I have just visited the state. The ‘Nightmare Scenario’ is that somehow a state like Wisconsin or Michigan somehow switches, in which case Trump could win, a scenario being pushed by some, but one I find unlikely. There are a number of other ‘bad’ scenarios involving the Maine 2nd district vote and Nevada and/or New Hampshire, but I do not believe they are likely either.
Map 3 is my prediction for the ‘best-case scenario’- If everything breaks right, the polls are under-counting minority participation and exaggerating the Hidden Trump Voter Effect. When I am feeling giddy and see that my long-predicted ‘Hispanic vote surge’ has finally arrived, I throw Arizona into the picture as a blue state.
Map 4 is how I think the election will ACTUALLY turn out based not upon polling, but on demography and past history. This is the map I should have posted on the day after election day in 2012 as my prediction for 2016. I actually did write these predictions all down in late 2012 but did not have a forum to post them. So, this is what I thought then and this is what I think now. I am not sure what it says about my faith in humanity that I feel able to predict the results of an election four years ahead of time…but that is a topic for another day.
Notice that Map 3 and Map 4 are identical. The main questions for me are Ohio, Iowa, Florida, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. Each has the potential for surprise: Iowa and New Hampshire are small states and small states are theoretically more volatile; and these two states always slightly surprise me that they vote for the Democratic candidate, but they have been pretty consistently trending blue at presidential elections. Ohio has 3 large voting counties Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Franklin (Columbus), and Hamilton (Cincinnati): The Democratic vote increased from 2004-2012 in these three counties by 60,000 votes while the Republican vote decreased by 90,000 votes. Kerry lost Ohio by 119,000 votes in 2004 but Obama won by 262,000 votes in 2008 and by 167,000 votes in 2012. It would require a large change in the voting pattern of the rest of the state to overcome what promises to be an even larger gap in the 3 county vote than the 400,000 vote democratic margin of 2012. Possible but unlikely. Florida I think will remain blue as the Hispanic vote takes a bigger share of the electorate and Trump has managed to alienate them. Finally, North Carolina is the one I keep looking at and thinking ‘this is the next Virginia or Colorado’, about to flip from pink/purple to light blue/purple. Obama won in 2008, lost in 2012 and a strong play is being made for it in 2016. I think Clinton will win North Carolina despite strong efforts by Republicans to suppress voter turnout. In summary, despite the polling that shows these states to be trending Republican, I am predicting all 5 will be Clinton victories.
Map 5 is a map of how the election of 2020 will look. As I just said I should have put one out in 2012, so I am getting a head start this time. Check back in 4 years time. Notice Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio.
Finally, Map 6 is an outrageous ‘just for kicks’ prediction of the 2024 race, without accounting for world events or for transformations of party rhetoric. Perhaps by then the Republicans will have figured out that many black voters as well as other ‘minority voting blocs’, such as Hispanics, Muslims, Asians etc. are, amazingly, just like white people,
in that some are more religious, some are big fans of guns, some want lower taxes and smaller government, some are greedy and selfish (sorry-gratuitous commentary, but I did say I was being less neutral), but don’t like being looked down upon because of their origins or skin color. It strikes me that the day we are no longer talking about voting blocs by skin color, religious beliefs or lack thereof (atheists: the most closeted political group in America), sexual orientation, or ethnicity and just about whether they want to pay taxes for schools or not, we shall have made a political quantum leap. Dr. King said it so much better
than I have; certainly much less cynically. It would be fantastic if predicting election results could not be done by knowing whether the voter is white or black, has a college degree or not, drives a Prius or a Ford F-150, and so on.
This map is a speculative prediction of what will happen if nothing changes in the current political dynamic but the electorate changes as it is likely to in the next eight years. One caveat: the Electoral College math will be different as Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and one or two other states pick up electoral votes at the expense of states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. So the math will be slightly off but not by much as I see ALL the larger, more urban states trending Democratic if the current party dynamic holds. Tennessee, Missouri, and Indiana are all in the queue to be blue as well should the Republican Party maintain the status quo.
I like to think the failure of the demagogue route will be the wake-up call the Republican Party needs to transform itself into a modern party which lives in a twenty-first century reality-based world rather than a nostalgic, nasty, small-minded retrograde party reliant upon negative stereotypes and nationalistic victimization rhetoric. We already have that: Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, Modi, Zuma, and any number of leaders of smaller nations like Poland, Hungary, Venezuela, etc. How’s that working out?
The purpose of these maps is not at all to be a pundit or prognosticator. Rather, I want to get away from the ‘horse race’ mentality of media coverage. I wish the media would start by identifying the dynamic of the electorate of each state and proceed from there to a discussion of the actual political positions of the candidates and how and why one might expect the various voters in each individual bloc of electoral votes (i.e. individual states) to respond to the appeal of each politician’s positions, rather than spend the entire election discussing personality and the winner of each news cycle. For example, when was the last time other nations in the world, such as Libya, Iraq, China, or Mexico, got a mention on Fox News or MSNBC and were not being used as a cudgel to beat an opponent down? Did you know that there are other countries in the world and that these ‘countries’ have their own people with their own lives and their own concerns? You certainly will not learn that by watching the supposed ‘news’ channels. Benghazi, I believe from what Fox news says, is not a geographical location, but rather a synonym for email, or maybe it means duplicitous, I forget.
What do we know about each candidate’s plans to deal with climate change, for example? Nothing from the media about that, but lots about synonyms for manhandling cats, amazing revelations that politicians are calculating, and absurd stories about a potential uprising of white Trump fans, who will stop watching the football game and rise from their couches if He Alone does not win, despite their not having bothered to vote in the first place! All this plus breathless reporting of polls that are wildly divergent because that is what polls are like, or feverish analysis of the results on websites like fivethirtyeight
, which has graphs resembling an EKG, I assume their idea of a metaphorical joke about the state of the election.
Speaking of fivethirtyeight, seriously, are we really expected to believe that the electorate is so volatile that one week Clinton is favored by 7:1 odds and not two weeks later the odds are 2:1 and dropping? Or that one day Trump is winning and two weeks later Clinton has an almost 9:1 chance of victory? What is going on over there that their statistical model has such massive volatility? Do they seriously believe the electorate is so fickle that a substantial number change their minds about their voter preference and tell pollsters about such changes on what seems to be a minute by minute basis? And, if not, why is Nate Silver constantly writing articles discussing how hard it is to make a prediction because this election is unlike any other election (you mean all two you have covered previously?) Take a position and stick to it and quit writing equivocating essays in order to preempt the inevitable storm of criticism that is headed your way when the election is over. Even if 538 is 100% correct in every single state I don’t believe that their model for electoral analysis is particularly useful: they are merely quantifying the volatility that is election season. Aggregating lots of vapid noise does not make the vapid noise go away. I get the point that quantifying all the various and confusing data that is thrown around is useful for clarifying whether some data is just fantasy political spin and some is a serious effort to look for useful data, but all of it in the end is merely an analysis of a potential slice of a potential electorate and how that slice will potentially vote at a given moment in time that is not election day, with a margin of error larger than the likely final outcome in the states in which polling is meant to matter. Why not use actual data from actual elections as a starting point and create a matrix to look at what might happen in certain situations (different turnout rates for different groups etc)? When I look at the 538 prediction graph I see the ebb and flow of the media’s efforts to make a horse race out of what has probably been a much more stable election than the media is willing to admit. Who will watch if the headline is “Clinton in lead, as she has been from the start” ?
In fact, I would love the discussion to evolve into a conversation about the elimination of the archaic and unequal electoral college entirely. Then we could have an actual fair and free election where each vote counts equally instead of the current system where massive swathes of the country have no role at all in the outcome of the election. We could stop playing the electoral college map game and candidates would have to visit places where actual voters lived in significant numbers, and not just to pick up a check. While we are at it, can we just get rid of primary season altogether and have one day where the entire country votes in a national primary, preferably in September of election year, as we do for virtually every other elected office? I am extremely tired of spending the December and January before the election worrying about what 12 people in Nowehereville, Iowa think about Mike Huckabee’s virtues versus those of Rick Santorum (insert joke here about their lack therof). I do not wish to learn anything further about the workings of the Iowa Caucus. I feel as though I am being forced to watch Aunt Ethel’s ‘Cruise to Puerto Rico’ slide show every four years.
Also, while I am thinking of it, can NPR stop going to St Charles, Missouri all the time to find out what ‘real Americans’ think, especially the ‘undecided’ ones? If there is no Electoral College, guess where reporters will be visiting to find out what voters are thinking? That’s right: Times Square, Manhattan, New York, New York ! Why? Because there are more people in a ten mile radius of Times Square than there are in a dozen states put together west of the Mississippi. For that matter, instead of looking for the ‘typical’ voter, why not find the ‘actual’ voters, people who live in places like Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts or Denton, Texas (I had to put that in!). Just because voters are more liberal in some areas and more conservative in others does not mean they should all be ignored in favor of these putative (and frankly irritating) ‘undecided’ voters. Instead, try to find out why these bastions of liberal and conservative voters are so committed to their views. What makes them think so differently from an electoral point of view? I have spent lots of time in places where I am fully aware that my political views are nowhere near the same as those of the typical voter and yet, I find myself thinking that most of the people with whom I interact are nice, friendly people, while many people with whom I agree on every political issue are jerks. So it is not just that they are all the creepy goons I see at Trump rallies on TV, or the shouting idiots I see representing Republicans on Fox or even CNN. Let’s have a conversation about what it is that makes people so perennially committed to voting for one party regardless of whether the party in question remotely upholds the values it claims to stand for. All liberal and conservative voters seem to be able to agree upon in the political arena is that undecided voters are morons.
There. I have finally released the pent up steam accumulated while following this ridiculous election season which, mercifully, is approaching its conclusion. I wish I had spent the entire year in a time warp, wandering old roads, or keeping my head down in a book about eighteenth century travel. However, I kept getting whacked over the head by the prospect of a dictator taking over America, and so I have been forced to waste precious time analyzing the voting habits of people in Western Pennsylvania who will be dead by the time Map 6 is a reality. Even a trip to India this past March was spent in a daily defense of the sanity of a majority of Americans.
I like to think I live in the ‘reality-based world’, and that looking at large piles of data can help ground my thoughts and opinions in facts, rather than fall victim to the irrational forces that threaten to flood my senses every time I pick up my phone or turn on the television. Unfortunately, I often end up in the weeds, collecting data and trying to absorb it in order to draw conclusions that often end up reflecting the opinions of those whose opinions I most respect. I suppose this process is a form of irrational behavior itself, but it makes me feel that I have some control over events if only because it is my hope that I understand them better than I did prior to diving into the aforementioned weeds. The following photos show the paper trail I have amassed in recent months, most of it solely on the state of Pennsylvania! I can’t wait to bury that file in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet and put the files on the peregrinations of Alexander Hamilton and other eighteenth century travelers back in the center of my desk. I am not a political pundit, but by God I hope I am correct on November 8; otherwise on November 9 I fear I will be looking at routes for rambling well outside of Boston.