The Senate Model

Senate16 May 25thAs the primary season wraps up, we are beginning to get our first look at the 2016 Senate races. It may be hard to remember, but most of these seats last came up for election during the Republican / Tea Party wave of 2010. Back when Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck had dueling National Mall rallies to support and oppose sanity. Both Stewart and Beck are off the air, but many of the Senators elected that year are still stalking the hallways of the Capitol. Because so many Republicans won in 2010, the GOP has to defend an impressive 24 seats to 10 seats for the Democrats. To make it worse, many of these races are in typically Democratic states during general election years, such as Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. It is likely that the Democrats will gain seats in the Senate, but it is not clear how many they’ll be able to peal back into the blue column or whether Donald Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket will start a Democratic wave election down ballot.

Currently, there are 46 Democratic Senators. Given the state of the Presidential contest, it looks like Democratic Senate candidates will be competitive in 6 GOP held seats (WI, PA, NH, OH, FL, and IL). Ohio is the biggest stretch for the Democrats, where the incumbent Rob Portman appears to be in a tough reelection fight. It’s not entirely clear whether being picked to be Trump’s VP would help or hurt Portman in Ohio, but I guarantee that he’s been contacted by Trump and is getting a lot of unsolicited and contradictory advice on the matter. Potentially, if the Trump candidacy collapses under the weight of its own hairspray and gold spray-painted facade, McCain in Arizona, Burr in North Carolina, and even Chuck Grassley of Iowa might be vulnerable. However, we’re not in a position to say that yet.

We’ll be updating the Senate Model as polling trickles in over the early summer. The model is a combination of Senate polling and party performance in the Presidential Election Model. Typically, we would put favorable weight on incumbency, since incumbents historically perform well in reelection campaigns, but this year’s turbulent and anti-establishment environment has dissuaded us from putting our thumbs on the scale in that way.

Are the Clintons Skirting the Constitution?

This week Hillary Clinton announced that if elected she would put Bill in charge of the economy. It’s probably not the smartest thing to pass the buck on what is likely the central issue of the election, but what’s more problematic is that such a powerful position will be given to a former president who is term-limited. I immediately thought of Governor Lurleen Wallace of Alabama, wife of the then term-limited Governor George Wallace (who eventually just changed the law so he could be Governor again).

I don’t believe that Hillary would be a puppet president for Bill, but running the economy is a little different than growing carrots in the White House garden and promoting exercise. If Hillary becomes president, Republicans will look for any reason to impeach her, since they already believe she is “crooked.” Perhaps then, the Clintons should not be so casual with someone barred from the presidency picking up the reins of power so conspicuously.

What are Bernie Supporters Doing?

A common belief being aired by Bernie’s most vocal followers is that people who vote for Clinton are either corrupted or ignorant, which is about as self-righteous and condescending as you can get. Even if you ignore the potential racial undertones of that argument, given the makeup of the Clinton electorate, it is still a profoundly smug thing to believe.

Sanders cannot win because a major of Democratic voters chose someone else. Clinton benefitted from the system, yes, because it is a system of democratic elections that she won a majority of. Sanders is now asking for Democratic powerbrokers to disobey the people and give the nomination to him, anyway. Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and state fair winning horse teamster, said in an interview on NPR that he’s known Bernie for 40 years and it’s hard for him to lose an election gracefully. It shows.

The idea that since Bernie does better than Clinton in polls against Trump, and therefore super delegates should disregard the primary results, is obviously a bankrupt argument:

First, the premise is probably wrong. Clinton has not hit Bernie particularly hard, and Republican Super PACs have run pro-Bernie advertising. Do you honestly think Republicans would try and help nominate a stronger Democratic candidate? If he was nominated, he would be defined quickly and negatively by the Right in a way that the Clinton brand is inoculated from. It’s easy to forget that many conservative Republicans claimed they would support Obama over McCain during the primary season until Obama was defined as liberal. In West Virginia, a majority of Bernie Sanders voters wanted the next President to be less liberal than Obama, which was not the case for Clinton voters. In a General Election, Sanders would be defined by his socialism, and not have the crossover appeal his supporters assume, especially against another populist.

Second, the “Bernie or Bust” argument is the same narcissism his supporters hate about Hillary. Sanders should stay in the race, take his message to the convention, and seek real changes to the platform; he’s earned that. But he also needs to start a conversation with his supporters about binding up the wounds of the party. It’s difficult to lose so narrowly, especially in a primary contest when the voters are people that generally agree with you. Perhaps the reason Clinton has been so gentle with Bernie is because she understands the pain of being so close to the nomination, and probably the Presidency, and falling just short. Hillary actually received more votes than Obama in 2008, and still stepped aside, because she understood the rules, played by them, and lost. This is not about one man or one woman, but the country, and “bust” is Donald J. Trump.

Senator Sanders needs to admit that he wasn’t robbed, as he knows he wasn’t. He’s losing the popular vote (56% to 43%), number of contests won (27 to 22), and the number of pledged delegates (1771 to 1499). I’m sorry, that is not within robbing distance. Berners may very well #BernTheConvention or bolt the party, but they would do so not as the fleeced majority, but the petulant minority. In a revolution, when you don’t get what you want peacefully, you turn to violence. That’s been the problem with Bernie’s rhetoric from the beginning. Revolutions must be forcible takeovers. They need not be democratic.

The Campaign is on the Move

Desperately in need of a win, rank and file Republicans are quickly falling in line behind Mr. Trump. The campaign also failed to pause for the usually calm period between the end of the primaries and the Olympics. Trump and Clinton are already unleashing schoolyard nicknames and brutal attack ads, respectively. The reason? Both parties moved their nominating conventions from August to July in a loosely veiled attempt to ruin our summer early this year.

Trump consolidates his right flank in recent polls:

Polls May 17th

Updated Election Model.

You’re the Top

by Tony Hoagland

Of all the people that I’ve ever known
I think my grandmother Bernice
would be best qualified to be beside me now

driving north of Boston in a rented car
while Cole Porter warbles on the radio;
Only she would be trivial and un-

politically correct enough to totally enjoy
the rhyming of Mahatma Ghandi
with Napoleon brandy;

and she would understand, from 1948,
the miracle that once was cellophane,
which Porter rhymes with night in Spain.

She loved that image of the high gay life
where people dressed by servants
turned every night into the Ritz:

dancing through a shower of just
uncorked champagne
into the shelter of a dry martini.

When she was 70 and I was young
I hated how a life of privilege
had kept her ignorance intact

about the world beneath her pretty feet,
how she believed that people with good manners
naturally had yachts, knew how to waltz

and dribbled French into their sentences
like salad dressing. My liberal adolescent rage
was like a righteous fist back then

that wouldn’t let me rest,
but I’ve come far enough from who I was
to see her as she saw herself:

a tipsy debutante in 1938,
kicking off a party with her shoes;
launching the lipstick-red high heel
.        from her elegant big toe

into the orbit of a chandelier
suspended in a lyric by Cole Porter,
bright and beautiful and useless.

“You’re the Top” by Tony Hoagland, from Sweet Ruin. Copyright © 1992 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of The University of Wisconsin Press.

The 2016 Election Model

Model16 May 14th

The Model

The model is a combination of individual statewide polling averages and a demographic model based on historical voting patterns adjusted to current nationwide polling. Uncertainty is assumed to double when projecting every eight weeks into the future, and the model currently assumes the probability of a major third party candidacy is zero. Individual state probabilities (including congressional districts for NE and ME) are then included in a stochastic model (N = 10,000) for the Electoral College.

The model will be updated once a week, because that’s about as quickly as the country can register any event, and a further subdivision would better represent fluctuations in polling more than a measurable shift in the thinking of the electorate.

Discussion

If the election were held tomorrow, Hillary Clinton would have a 99.2% probably of winning, and would likely crush Donald Trump in the Electoral College. Of course the election is not tomorrow, yet the model still projects Clinton to have a 93% chance of winning a majority of Electoral Votes this November. As discussed earlier, Trump performs strongly in the Rust Belt and Midwest, but is considerably behind Romney’s level of support in the Deep South and western states. Far behind in the once reliably Republican Virginia.

This likely overstates Clinton’s lead. Republicans are still getting used to the bitter taste of Trump, and while some may never, most will eventually come around to voting for the Donald. As they do, the race will predictably tighten. Even late in the race it is likely that Trump will overperform expectations during the debates, since the expectation is that he’ll brag about his penis again. He won’t. He’ll demonstrate a below average understanding of the issues, and this will earn him considerable praise.

So here we are, mid-May with a long summer and brutal fall ahead. All I can say is that we’ll be there with you.

The Seneca Cup

Seneca RegionsEvery presidential election the Mugwumps submit their individual predictions for the electoral map a year before the election takes place. Whoever is closer to the actual outcome wins the Seneca Cup. Each Electoral Vote predicted correctly earns an Electoral Point (double points for third party candidates). Additionally, correctly predicting entire geographical regions earns bonus points equivalent to the number of states that comprise the region.

Here are current standings based on the outcome predicted at present by the election model:

Seneca16 May 14th

Trump may shred the Obama map

In case you haven’t felt it, the political axis that defines the two-party American system lurched with the likely nomination of Donald Trump. There has been considerable discussion about why those who have closely watched American politics for years were blind-sided by Trump’s primary election successes. The short answer is, the polls did not match historical trends or the recent political alignment, specifically of the Reagan-era conservative coalition. We ignored the polls showing a wave for Trump for the same reasons we ignored them for Herman Cain, and we failed to believe what a plurality of Republican voters were saying, both in surveys and in primary voting booths.

When both parties are stable, with nearly identical platforms as the cycle before, the election results are extremely predicable. Mitt Romney was trying to retain the 60 million McCain voters and steal a mere 4 or 5 million voters from Obama. He didn’t, and so he’s not our president. Trump, alternatively, is reshuffling the entire political deck by rejecting several central tenets of the Romney campaign, conservative foundations like free trade, interventionist foreign policy, and flatter taxes. Trump and Clinton are in the unusual position of defining not just their candidacies, but also the very identity of their parties.

Lets face it, a shake up has been needed for awhile. Union members in the Rust Belt have never been the natural allies of environmentalists, and the white south was only going to let Wall Street control the GOP for so long. However, Trump’s candidacy has divided his own house, and while Trump’s familiarity with Republican history or the Bible is questionable, most of us know what happens to a house divided. So, how does Trump plan to compete in the fall election when there are so many life-long Republicans staunchly against him? In short, he has to break Democratic Party, as well.

Trump’s electoral strategy is simple. Why do white voters without college degrees only vote 66% Republican? And why do they have such low turnout (55%)? Why don’t they turnout at 67% (equivalent to black voter turnout) and vote 75% Republican? If they did, Trump would win in a blowout. More importantly, it would turn the electoral map from one that favors Democrats to one that favors Trump.

Even if Clinton split the white college vote, which typically favors Republicans, maintained black voter turnout and support at Obama levels, and boosted the Hispanic vote from 71% to 85% Democratic, Trump still wins the election. And he does it in a very strange way, by winning Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and even flipping Minnesota and Oregon. That’s right, Trump might be competitive in Oregon under this northern strategy that forfeits Virginia, Florida, New Mexico, and even endangers Texas. Yeah, Trump’s messing with Texas. All of this without winning more votes than Hillary Clinton, and while losing millions of college educated Romney voters.

May 2016

Of course, Trump’s gambit comes with major issues. What if the entirety of rural Pennsylvania overdoes on fentanyl before the election? Or more likely, what if his central assumption is wrong? What if there isn’t much elasticity in the non-college white vote and Trump only marginally increases their Republican support, but manages to drive away the college vote in droves and rally Hispanic voters against him in record numbers? Clinton immediately becomes competitive across the Deep South, through Texas, and all the way to Utah, where Mitt Romney will all but beg his fellow Mormons to vote against Trump. In essence, if Trump’s northern strategy fails, his southern underbelly is totally exposed.

In both scenarios the total number of contested electoral votes is about half of the Electoral College, meaning a Clinton versus Trump election has the potential of expanding the map from the 11 battleground states in 2012 to twice that number. This puts Clinton in an awkward position. Anyone who has seen college debates will be familiar with the practice of spreading, or firing so many arguments in succession that it’s difficult to even understand your opponent, let alone respond to them. Trump spreads on policy issues, and when you hit him on one topic he accuses you of ignoring his real argument, which he, in that very moment, decided was the thing you didn’t mention. All while picking on you like a schoolyard bully. (As an aside, Trump dominates the schoolyard bully demographic. 100% of the vote.) The only non-moving target is Trump himself and his businesses. The whole campaign is going to be a personally offensive policy-free infomercial against democracy.

This is what we know: Trump will have to retain his positions of deporting millions of Hispanics, banning Muslims until “we figure out what the hell is going on,” and undoing America’s free trade agreements. He will add to that the very un-Republican perception of taxing the wealthy to balance the budget and a promise to increase the minimum wage. His gut will be xenophobic and nationalist (Tea Party), his words will be pro-labor (almost Sanders-like), and his persona will be a Viagra commercial on a TV station that only broadcasts golf tournaments and NASCAR races. Really, Trump’s gambit has a sublime majesty to its simplicity, in a Catilinarian kind of way.

If the election were held today, Clinton would probably win convincingly. National polls suggest the former Secretary holds a 6 percent lead, with some old and new battleground states on the map. Virginia might be the strangest state (excuse me, commonwealth) over the past 20 years. Steadily transitioning from reliably Republican to a swing state. Going back to the days of TJ and Madison, Virginia politics has been known for its polite idealists, and the Virginia gentry probably can’t stomach the Donald and will be correspondingly blue. Nevada and New Mexico with their large Hispanic populations may also be out of reach for Trump to even be competitive. But familiar battlegrounds from the Obama years like Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, and North Carolina will likely still be in play. Joining them might be some new faces, such as Texas, Pennsylvania, Maine, Arizona, Wisconsin (for real this time), and Georgia. The first thing you may notice is that Trump will need to expand his map, and it will be interesting to see if he looks toward the familiar Florida or less conventional paths like Michigan and Minnesota. As some Republicans fall in line after the convention, Trump may start to consolidate traditionally Republican states. Doubtless, it will be a fascinating election.

May 12th

Political realignments are turbulent affairs (just cycle through the electoral maps between 1960 and 1980), and they tend to yield broad but short-lived landslides. The Democratic platform is almost out of gas and the GOP is committing malpractice as an opposition party. No matter who wins in 2016 or by how much, one gets the feeling that the next president will fail legislatively in such a toxic era, be met with resounding disapproval, and have a hard time holding his or her coalition together for even a few months, let alone reelection.