2016 US Election Update
An update on the 2016 Election, sourced from the Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce (APCAC’s) Washington DC-based lobbyists at BGR.
A. Primary Recap and General Election Matchup
After long primary campaigns, the matchup for the White House is in place: Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton. With Trump effectively clinching the GOP nomination in May following the departure of Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich from the race, Clinton’s ascendency as her party’s nominee was longer in the making with her chief rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, staying in the race. While Sanders stated late in the campaign his intention to do “whatever it takes” to defeat Donald Trump, he only formally endorsed Clinton on July 12th, despite prominent members of the Democratic Party, including President Obama and Vice President Biden, doing so after Clinton amassed enough delegates to clinch the nomination in June. The delay was a calculated move to influence the Democratic Party’s Policy Platform and to gain a prime time speaking slot at the Democratic Convention, both of which he accomplished. Overall, Trump garnered 13.3 million of 28.5 million total votes cast across some 17 candidates in the Republican primaries. Comparatively, Clinton received 15.7 million of nearly 27 million total votes cast in the Democratic primaries. Bernie Sanders captured 12 million total votes.
With Trump and Clinton now the presumptive nominees, the contours of the general election are now set. Both candidates have negative ratings higher than any previous nominee from their respective parties, and both have serious issues (real or perceived) they must overcome moving into Election Day. For Trump, he will have to adjust to running a general election campaign that will have to garner somewhere around 60 million of an estimated 130 million total votes cast to win the White House. Aside from the relative dearth of substantive policy positions, his rhetoric on the campaign stump continues to alienate key subgroups of general election voters, most notably females and minorities. Recent polling shows Trump losing by double digit margins to Clinton among female voters, including white women, a group that has gone for the GOP in every election since 1972 outside of two cycles. For Clinton, she continues to struggle to expand her base to men, voters ages 18 to 44, and college-educated voters, a fact highlighted by her inability to push Sanders out of the race. Clinton also faces an uphill climb in bridging the divide between self-described liberals, who largely backed Sanders in the primary, on one end of the spectrum and moderates and independents on the other. However, recent moves by her campaign, including rolling out a college affordability plan and another that increases funding for primary care services at community health centers, both of which draw heavily from Sanders-backed proposals, are steps in that direction (see Clinton College Plan Takes Notes from Sanders Proposal).
Clinton and Trump Have Terrible Approval Ratings. Does It Matter?
Though Clinton continues to lead Trump in most national polling, there are many reasons to suggest that 2016 will be a much closer race, particularly compared to 2008 and 2012. First off, though Clinton at the top of the Democratic ticket is a watershed moment in American politics in that it will be the first time a female is the nominee from a major party, she is trying to pull off the historically tough assignment of winning a third consecutive White House term for her party. Historically speaking, Democrats have failed in four of their last five attempts to win three consecutive terms in office after taking two elections with the same candidate (or his legal successor), with just President Roosevelt winning in 1940 under very unusual circumstances. The more immediate trend is that in seven of the last nine elections, voters have decided to switch the party controlling the White House when a candidate (or his successor) had won two prior elections. Second, the 2016 election cycle has proven to be anything but conventional. With Clinton struggling to reassemble the coalition of minority, young and educated white voters that backed Obama in 2008 and 2012, Trump has moved to bypass similar coalition building issues within his own party by opting to expand his base via disrupting the “red/blue” divide. Nowhere is this more evident than in a Rasmussen poll that shows Trump doing twice as well among Democrats as Clinton does among Republicans in a matchup between the two candidates. This is of course not to say that this strategy will work but rather illustrates the Trump campaign’s unorthodox approach in an unconventional election. Finally, one cannot discount the anti-establishment, pro-outsider sentiment permeating the electorate, or the world for that matter, as evidenced by the BREXIT vote, nor ongoing controversies surrounding the Clinton campaign, the most prominent being the ongoing email saga. Though the FBI Director James Comey declined to recommend any charges against Clinton for use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State, polling finds the majority of Americans believe the conduct was improper, if not illegal, which underlies a continued perception of untrustworthiness surrounding the former Secretary of State (see Can Trump Exploit FBI Rebuke of Clinton’s Private Emails?).
Still, significant hurdles remain for Trump and the GOP starting with pure electoral math and voter demographics. First, Trump continues to face significant pushback from many in his own party with figures ranging from 2012 nominee Mitt Romney to Jeb Bush to members of Congress, like Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse and Susan Collins of Maine, to a cadre of conservative talk and radio personalities, like Hugh Hewitt and National Review editor George Will, refusing to endorse or back the nominee altogether (see Where Republicans Stand on Donald Trump). While Clinton will have to worry about bringing Bernie Sanders and his 12 million primary supporters into the fold, most of the Democratic Party has coalesced behind her candidacy with many high profile figures, including President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, hitting the campaign trail (see Clinton Unleashes Democratic Dream Team). Second, as a reflection of his unorthodox campaigning style that carried him through the Republican primaries, Trump’s campaign appears to be woefully underprepared, understaffed, and underfinanced, though the campaign appears to be slowly turning the corner by beefing up fundraising operations and hiring key staff at the national level and across the battleground states. However, the Trump campaign is likely to rely more heavily on the RNC and its ground and fundraising operations more than previous nominees (see Trump Doesn’t Have a National Campaign so the GOP is Trying to Run One for Him). This all compares to the Clinton campaign, which has major ground operations in virtually every swing state in addition to a robust fundraising operation (see Trump Lags Far Behind Clinton in Staffing, Ad Buys). Third, a host of third party candidates, most notably Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, could siphon off much needed votes from Trump in key battleground states. Interestingly, however, current polling shows third party candidates having no significant impact on the race in terms of the overall margin (see CNN Poll of Polls). However, at the end of the day, their support reflects votes that could go to either Trump or Clinton.
Finally, and perhaps the biggest obstacle for the GOP, the electoral math is daunting for Republicans even without Trump on the ticket. All signs point to the election filtering down to some ten or eleven battleground/swing states, of which President Obama carried all 11 in 2008 and 10 of 11 in 2012. This cycle could be even more daunting for Republicans to reverse this course with changing voter demographics both nationally and across these states. While data consistently shows Trump outperforming Clinton among white voters, those without a college degree in particular, whites have been declining as a share of the electorate over 3 the past few decades. Mitt Romney won about 59 percent of the white vote over Obama in 2012. That essentially mirrored George H.W. Bush’s 60-40 advantage among whites over Michael Dukakis in 1988. In Bush’s victory, however, whites cast 85 percent of presidential ballots, helping the 41st president carry 41 states and run up 426 electoral votes. In 2012, whites accounted for just 72 percent of presidential votes, yielding just 24 states and 206 electoral votes for Romney, who won just 27 percent of the Latino vote and 6 percent of African-Americans. For 2016, it is estimated that the white share of the electorate will dip to 70 percent with 3 in 10 voters nationally being non-white. If this is the case, it would leave Trump having to carry about two out of three white voters nationally to tip the scales in enough battleground states, a feat no national candidate has reached since Reagan in 1984 (see GOP Angst about Trump Shows Concern over Changing Electorate). It is certainly not implausible though, particularly given the Trump campaign’s apparent “all in” strategy targeting white voters on both sides of the political spectrum.
Demographics and the Election: Declining White Vote
B. The Path Forward: The Battleground States
The idea behind a so called “swing state” and/or “battleground state” is that both major parties have near proportional support from voters in a particular state. Therefore, a swing state is very dependent on who shows up to vote. There is general agreement that at least seven states, worth a collective 85 electoral votes, start off as tossups for the general election: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia. However, the unfolding general election campaign between Clinton and Trump could shift the country’s political landscape, and with it conventional wisdom, when it comes to battleground states. For example, Trump’s poor standing among key groups of voters, most notably Hispanics, could turn traditionally solid Republican states with emerging minority populations into competitive terrain. These states, including Georgia and Arizona, are spread primarily throughout the Sun Belt. On the other hand, Trump’s unorthodox views on a host of economic issues, most notably free trade, combined with Clinton’s continued unpopularity among white, blue-collar voters in the Northeast and Midwest (i.e. the Rust Belt), could turn states traditionally voting for Democrats in presidential elections, like Michigan and Wisconsin, into battlegrounds (see Trump-Clinton Battle Could Upend Electoral Map). Note that in many Democratic and/or battleground states, the electorate is overwhelmingly white. These states include Iowa (93 percent of 2012 voters there in 2012 were white, according to exit polls), New Hampshire (93 percent), Ohio (79 percent), Pennsylvania (78 percent) and Wisconsin (86 percent).
As for the individual campaigns’ respective battleground state strategies, the Trump campaign plans to target and build out operations in at least 17 states, a number that represents about a half dozen more than targeted by Romney’s campaign in 2012 (see Donald Trump Campaign to Target 17 States in November Election). The 4 states include Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Four of the states — Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Missouri — traditionally lean Republican, but Trump will look to shore up his numbers there. Most of the others are more traditional battlegrounds. However, Minnesota has not voted for a GOP presidential nominee since 1972, while Republicans have not carried Maine since 1988. Even in Michigan, the GOP has not carried the state in a presidential election since 1992. For Clinton, she has announced that her campaign would pursue a “50-state strategy” along with the Democratic National Committee though in reality the central focus will be on the handful of traditional swing states that have come to dominate recent elections (see Clinton Moves Forward with a ’50-state strategy’).
Campaign strategies aside, the most common view for 2016 has Democrats starting with a base of 242 electoral votes from 18 states that have voted consistently for the party’s nominee since 1992. Therefore, Clinton will only need 23 of the estimated 85 swing-state votes to win the presidency. If Clinton replicates the success of President Obama, who carried every swing state except North Carolina in 2012, she will become president with 332 electoral votes. At this point in the election, this scenario is a possibility with polls showing Clinton leading or within the margin of error in all of the 2012 battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and Florida. Even if Clinton loses Ohio and Florida but manages to carry all of the other 2012 battleground states, she would win the election with 285 electoral votes. Throw in another loss in Virginia, and Clinton squeaks out a narrow victory with 272 electoral votes. By contrast, the conventional wisdom has Republicans starting with 206 electoral votes. This assumes that Trump carries every state won by Romney in 2012, including North Carolina, which has voted Republican in five of the last six elections. With 206 electoral votes, Trump will have to win 64 of the estimated 85 swing-state votes to secure the White House. This includes picking up both Ohio and Florida and their combined 47 electoral votes. Without both Ohio and Florida, his campaign has no clear path to victory, barring a complete reshuffling of the electoral map. Trump’s most likely path flows through the so-called Rust Belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and of course Ohio. To win these key battleground states, Trump would have to do substantially better among working class whites than Romney did, that is assuming general turnout patterns hold consistent. He would have to do even better still among them if he underperforms Romney among Latino, women, and college educated whites, which he currently is according to polling.
Also worth considering is the impact the presidential race will have on down ballot races in the House and Senate. Many of the most contested Senate and House races are in the battleground/swing states that will ultimately decide which party controls the White House after November. In the Senate, Republicans hold an 8 seat advantage (54 to 46) over Democrats. However, the political map in 2016 favors Democrats with Republicans defending 24 of the 34 seats up for election. Democrats need to net four seats to win control of the Senate if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency and five seats if Donald Trump wins. Many of the most vulnerable 5 seats for Republicans are in states carried by Obama in 2012 but coincidentally being targeted by the Trump campaign this cycle. They include Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Other tight races are in Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado and Florida. Indiana is a recent addition to this list with former governor and U.S. Senator Evan Bayh stepping into the race to challenge Republican nominee Todd Young in replacing outgoing Senator Dan Coats. The outcome of these races and ultimate control of the Senate will likely hinge on which candidate, Trump or Clinton, carries the state, even though many incumbent Republicans, like Rob Portman (R-OH), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) continue and try to distance themselves from the Republican presidential nominee. In fact, about 80% of states with Senate elections have backed the same party for the presidency and the Senate in recent presidential election cycles. Note, however, current polling suggests this year could buck that trend with many incumbent Republican Senators in battleground/swing states not only outperforming Trump, on average, by 12 points but also leading their Democratic opponents (Incumbent Senate Republicans Build Leads Amid ‘Substantial’ Ticket-Splitting).
2016 Senate and House Races: Battleground States in Focus
In the House, Republicans have a 59 seat advantage (247 to 188), their largest majority since 1928. Democrats would have to net 30 seats to flip control of the chamber. Though a significant number, it is not an impossibility given the current election environment and the potential for a political wave. Further, House results oftentimes reflect outcomes of presidential contests, with the party winning the White House adding House seats in 11 of the past 15 presidential cycles. When also considering that ticket-splitting between presidential and House candidates reached a 92 year low of 5.7 percent in 2012 (see Brookings’ Vital Statistics on Congress), a blowout by Hillary Clinton, which would require improving on Obama’s two-party vote margins nationally and across congressional districts, could very well hand control of the House back to Democrats (see House 2016: How a Democratic Wave Could Happen). The road to taking control of the House by Democrats will start in the 26 districts won by President Obama in 2012 but currently represented by a Republican (i.e. Rod Blum in Iowa 1, John Katko in New York 24 and Cresent Hardy in Nevada 4). This compares to only five Democrats holding seats in districts carried by Romney. Still, Democrats have a tough task ahead of them that requires winning nearly every competitive district and picking up a few surprises, of which there are always several, along the way. Most pundits believe Republicans will lose seats but maintain 6 their overall majority (see House 2016: The Balancing Act and The 5 House Seats that Could Signal a Democratic Majority in 2016).
C. The Battleground States: A Closer Look
Colorado (9 electoral votes): Obama won in Colorado in both 2012 — with 51.5% of the vote to Romney’s 46.1% — and in 2008. However, in 2004, the state went for the GOP and George W. Bush. Colorado’s population is 21% Hispanic, the seventh largest Hispanic statewide population share nationally. Overall, one in eight eligible voters (555,000) is Hispanic. Trump’s controversial comments on immigration and more recent controversies could prove problematic among this group of voters, who gave 75 percent of their vote to Obama in 2008. Also problematic for Trump, Colorado has a high share of active female voters, the majority of which have a negative view of the GOP nominee, per recent polling. The other notable race to watch is that between incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and GOP challenger Darryl Glenn. Glenn, the Tea Party-backed candidate who was supported by the Senate Conservatives Fund and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, emerged from a crowded primary field in what many pundits are calling an “upset” victory over more establishment-minded Republicans like Jon Keyser. Though Bennet’s approval numbers seemingly indicate an opening for the GOP (37 percent approval rating among Colorado voters per a 2015 Quinnipiac Poll), he will start the race with a significant cash advantage due in part to not having to run in a competitive primary. Just recently, his campaign announced that it raised $2.7 million in the second quarter, bringing total cash-on-hand to $6.1 million. This compares to the Glenn campaign that reported in June only having raised $106,510 with just $50,198 cash-onhand, and that was before the conclusion of the GOP primary. Still, as evidenced by the race for the White House, anything is possible this election cycle, and Glenn could very well ride Trump’s “outsider” coattails to victory come November. One cannot look past Cory Gardner’s surprise victory over Mark Udall in 2014; however, the contours of this race promise to be much different this time around (see With Glenn’s Win, It’s Time to Retire to Cory Gardner Playbook).
Florida (29 electoral votes): The Sunshine State has been and continues to prove to be an important bellwether state in presidential elections due in large part to its large and diverse population. Like Colorado, the state went for the GOP in 2004 but shifted to Democrats under Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, albeit by narrow margins (2 and 1 percent respectively). Also like Colorado, Hispanics make up a sizable portion of the population (24 percent) with some 2.6 million eligible to vote. Overall, almost four in ten residents are either African American or Hispanic. Obama won among Hispanics 60-39 percent in 2012 and 57-42 percent in 2008. Although Trump easily dominated the Florida Republican primary and defeated the state’s junior U.S. Senator, Marco Rubio, the general election will present a greater challenge, with polls showing Trump and Clinton in a dead heat. Which direction the state goes will ultimately depend on turnout along the I-4 corridor, which runs from Tampa to Orlando and is home to the most registered voters in the state, as well as in the Panhandle (more conservative) and South Florida (more Democratic/moderate). The other notable race to watch is that for the U.S. Senate, where incumbent Marco Rubio will look to defend his seat from Rep. Patrick Murphy, the likely Democratic challenger. Though Rubio initially declined to seek reelection choosing instead to run for president, he was ultimately persuaded by friends and party insiders to defend his seat given the challenging Senate election map for the GOP and the lack of a consensus replacement candidate (note that while all of the other Republicans have since dropped their bids for the seat, real estate developer Carlos Beruff remains in the race). While the presidential contest will play a significant role in determining whether the seat changes hands, Rubio undoubtedly improves the GOP’s chances in the Sunshine State if for no other reason than he is an incumbent with a statewide operation and high name id. Further, his campaign recently announced that it brought in over $2 million dollars in the nine days after the reelection announcement, which compares to the $2.4 million Murphy’s campaign raised over the course of the entire quarter. The RealClearPolitics weighted average of polls currently has Rubio up 4.4 points over Murphy.
Iowa (6 electoral votes): Though Obama carried Iowa in 2012 and 2008, the Hawkeye State has conservative tendencies. The state currently has a Republican governor and legislature and both U.S. Senators are Republican 7 in addition to three (of four) U.S. Congressmen. This year, Trump could benefit from the state’s homogeneous demographics – 93 percent of 2012 voters were white, according to exit polls. The other race to watch is that between six-term incumbent Republican Chuck Grassley and former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge. Though Grassley is expected to win another term, he has not had to face anyone who previously held a statewide office. Grassley’s opposition to approving President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, does not appear to be impacting his standing among Iowa voters despite continued attempts by Democrats to do so. A March Des Moines Register poll found Grassley’s approval rating holding steady at 57 percent with just 28 percent of those surveyed voicing disapproval. A more recent Judicial Crisis Network poll found that only five percent of Iowans put the nomination controversy in their top three issues. The RealClearPolitics weighted average of polls currently has Grassley leading Judge by seven points.
Michigan (16 electoral votes): Michigan largely falls into the Democratic column, having gone that way in every presidential election since 1992. While the latest polling data still shows Hillary Clinton with a double-digit lead against Trump in the state, many pundits are acknowledging that Michigan should not necessarily be taken for granted as the general election approaches. Clinton’s loss to Bernie Sanders in the state’s Democratic primary was one of the big surprises of the spring and demonstrated potential weaknesses for her there. Further, Trump’s position opposition to NAFTA and the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement will likely resonate with the state’s heavily unionized electorate. In total, there are over four million union members in the state representing 15.2 percent of the overall workforce. Michigan also has a particularly large share of white voters as a percentage of its electorate, which should also benefit Trump.
Nevada (6 electoral votes): A solid swing state, Nevada has long been a political bellwether in the general election, voting for the winning presidential candidate in 31 out of 38 elections, including every election since 1912 but one (1976). Like Colorado and Florida in recent presidential elections, Nevada went with Barack Obama in both 2012 and 2008, while voting for George W. Bush in 2004. Also like Colorado and Florida, the state’s demographics could be a challenge for Trump, particularly in regards to the state’s growing Hispanic population and electorate. According to the National Journal, statistical models predict the state will experience a 7 point decline in the percentage of eligible voters who are white from 2008 to 2016. Ultimately, Clinton will rely on high turnout in Las Vegas and the surrounding region to offset the Democratic Party’s weaknesses in the more rural and/or suburban areas of the state. One issue here though is that turnout in greater Las Vegas plummeted to less than 42 percent of registered voters in 2014, from 81 percent in 2012. This led to the GOP gaining unified control of state government for the first time since 1929. The other notable race to watch in the state is that to replace longtime Democratic Senator Harry Reid. The seat is widely considered to be the only pick-up opportunity for Republicans in the Senate in 2016. Joe Heck, a brigadier general and doctor who has won reelection to Congress in a swing district outside of Las Vegas three times, will face Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, who would be the first Latina elected to the Senate should she win. Key to the race, like that for the presidency, will be turnout among Hispanic voters, who are expected to back Clinton and Cortez by wide margins. The RealClearPolitics weighted average of polls currently has Heck leading Cortez Masto by 0.3 points.
New Hampshire (4 electoral votes): The Granite State has gone for the Democratic nominee in each of the past three presidential election cycles. However, this year, polling shows Clinton, who was trounced by rival Bernie Sanders in the state’s Democratic primary, and Trump deadlocked with a stunning two-thirds of likely voters saying that they disapprove of both candidates. The Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald poll found that just 35 percent of likely New Hampshire voters view Clinton favorably with similar numbers (34 percent) for Trump. Independent voters, who make up a disproportionately large share of the voting population and who drove Trump and Sanders to their respective primary victories, will be the ultimate arbiters come November. The other notable race to consider is that between incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte, the state’s highest-ranking elected Republican since 2010, and former Democratic governor Maggie Hassan. Perhaps the most competitive Senate race of the 2016 cycle, polling shows a tight race. However, Ayotte has steadily been losing ground since the beginning of the year and has fallen behind Hassan in some recent polls. This can be attributed, in part, to the presence of a third party candidate, Aaron Day, who is running as a conservative 8 independent. Day’s candidacy could ultimately be the decisive factor in the election in siphoning enough votes from Ayotte to hand Hassan the victory. On the fundraising front, Ayotte has the cash-on-hand advantage with $7 million compared to $4.2 million for Hassan. Outside groups, like the NRSC and DSCC, are also expected to devote considerable resources to the race that could very well determine whether the GOP retains its majority in the U.S. Senate. The RealClearPolitics weighted average of polls currently has Hassan leading Ayotte by one point.
North Carolina (15 electoral votes): In a sign of shifting demographics turning traditional GOP states purple, Barrack Obama carried the state in 2008, albeit by the slimmest of margins. Mitt Romney managed to bring the state back into the GOP fold in 2012, the only swing state to do so. The state is expected to once again be competitive amid a backlash against the Republican-controlled legislature and a continued blending of the population highlighted by a long-term influx of college-educated white voters moving to the state and continuing to trend Democrat. Further, African-Americans, a core Democratic constituency, make up at least 1 in 5 voters and are expected to turn out in high numbers come November for Trump. White voters, who made up 70 percent of the state’s electorate in the 2012 elections, will be the key. Obama carried just 31 percent of North Carolina’s white voters in 2012, four points fewer than when he won the state during his first campaign. Democrats will need to improve on this margin, while also holding together the coalition of young people and minorities that gave the state to Obama in 2008. The other race to watch is that between incumbent U.S. Senator Richard Burr and Democratic challenger Deborah Ross. The ongoing transgender bathroom controversy could prove to be a wildcard in the race, particularly when coupled with the more general voter pushback against the GOP dominated legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory. In another troubling sign for Burr, he was outraised by Ross in Q1 2016. However, Burr still holds a major financial advantage with over $5 million cash-on-hand, and he has led in every poll against Ross, whose only path to victory is likely behind Clinton. The RealClearPolitics weighted average of polls currently has Burr leading Ross by 3.6 points.
Ohio (18 electoral votes): Like Colorado and Florida, Ohio, which has voted for the winner of the White House every year since 1960, went for Obama in both 2012 and 2008 but voted for Bush in 2004. Recent polls have produced mixed results in Ohio, with a Quinnipiac poll from early May putting Trump ahead by 4 and a CBS/YouGov survey later in the month showing Clinton up by 5. The CBS poll also found that 36 percent of respondents believed things are going so badly in the country that they can “take a chance” on the next president, while 38 percent said the country cannot afford to take a chance. As with other Rust Belt states, Trump’s anti-trade message should play well in the Buckeye State. There are over 600,000 union members representing 12.3 percent of the overall workforce in Ohio. In union households in 2012, President Obama beat Mitt Romney 54 percent to 44 percent among white voters without college degrees. In non-union households, he lost 39 percent to 59 percent among the same voters. Trump is likely to improve on these margins given the differences between his and Mitt Romney’s economic platforms. One issue for Trump, the state’s popular incumbent Governor and former GOP presidential contender, John Kasich, has yet to endorse the GOP nominee and likely will not as evidenced by his absence from the Republican Convention in Cleveland. The other race to watch is that between incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman and Democrat Ted Strickland, who lost reelection as governor to John Kasich in 2010. This race could be one of the few that defies the odds and results in a split ticket. Current polling shows Clinton outpacing Trump in the state, while Portman holds a slim lead over Strickland. For his part, Portman has been careful to distance himself from Trump. However, he has been echoing many of Trump’s comments on the economy and trade despite the fact that he is a former U.S. trade ambassador and having voted for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) designed to fast track the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Portman’s positions on these issues helps explain, in part, his endorsement by the Ohio Teamsters. One factor that could also play a significant role in the race is Portman’s large fundraising lead over Strickland. Portman’s campaign recently announced that it had more than $13 million in cash-on-hand after raising $2.9 million for the second quarter of 2016. This compares to the Strickland campaign that reported having only $2.6 million cash-on-hand. The RealClearPolitics weighted average of polls currently has Portman leading Strickland by four points. 9
Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes): Pennsylvania has gone Democratic in each of the last three presidential elections. However, polling shows Clinton and Trump in a statistical tie. Problematic for Clinton, 15 percent of Democrats in the state do not plan on voting for her in November compared to just 8 percent among Republicans who indicated that they will not support Trump. As with other Rust Belt states, the question for Trump will be whether he can win over predominately white, middle class voters who have been left behind by the economic recovery. Pennsylvania has the sixth oldest population in the country and 83 percent non-Hispanic white voters. If the Republican primary is any indication, he is well on the path to doing so, having won the state’s primary by a 35 point landslide. For Clinton, her support will come from large urban areas like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that have voted between 60 and 65 percent Democrat in each presidential election since 1992. Conversely, Republicans will rely on more rural areas, particularly in Western Pennsylvania, where union Democrats in steel towns have increasingly given way to those uplifted by the state’s natural gas boom. This region has steadily moved into the Republican column since 1992. The other race to watch is that between incumbent Republican Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Democrat Katie McGinty. While Toomey, like Burr in North Carolina, led his opponent in every poll, his lead has narrowed considerably in recent weeks. Some polls even show Toomey trailing McGinty outright, though within the margin of error. The shift is likely a reflection of presidential election year politics, where the state’s electorate skews more liberal than conservative. In fact, Pennsylvanians have not voted for a Republican for president since 1988. Ultimately, McGinty will need a strong performance by Clinton to defeat Toomey, who has a sizeable cash-on-hand advantage ($8 million) and who had a +15 percentage point net approval rating in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll. The RealClearPolitics weighted average of polls currently has McGinty leading Toomey by 0.3 points.
Wisconsin (10 electoral votes): Democrats have won six straight presidential elections in the Badger State. In Wisconsin, the voting pattern in the last few years has not been moderate so much as polarized. In recent presidential elections, Wisconsin voters have backed President Obama and sent liberal Democrat Tammy Baldwin to the Senate. In lower-turnout, off-year elections, the state has elected conservative Republicans like Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. For 2016, Clinton has led Trump by double digits in nearly every poll since last August. However, like other states in the region, Wisconsin’s manufacturing base has been hit hard by the economy. Combined with the fact that the state has one of the largest percentages of white voters of all the potential swing states, Wisconsin could prove to be fertile ground for the Trump campaign. The other race to watch is that between incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Russ Feingold, whom Johnson defeated in 2010. Most pundits have Johnson losing this race, particularly when considering that Feingold has led in every poll mostly by double digits. The fact that it is a presidential year also hurts Johnson in the state. Wisconsin has not voted for a Republican president since 1984. One bonus for Johnson, defeating the person who defeated you six years earlier has not happened in Senate politics since 1934. The RealClearPolitics weighted average of polls currently has Feingold leading Johnson by 9.3 points.
Virginia (13 electoral votes): A pattern among swing states, Virginia went for Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008, the first Democrat to do so since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but for Bush in 2004. The shift left is a result of spillover from Washington, D.C., into northern Virginia and increases in African American and college educated white voters. Though Trump carried the state in the Republican primary, he did so by a small margin due in large part to losing handedly in the vote-rich counties and districts of northern Virginia. This will be the roadmap for Clinton to replicate Obama’s success in the state: that being shoring up support among minority voters and targeting more educated and affluent voters just outside of the nation’s capital. Clinton’s pick of Tim Kaine, the state’s junior U.S. Senator, will certainly help her campaign’s odds. Should the Clinton/Kaine ticket win, Gov. Terry McAuliffe would appoint a replacement for Kaine. A special election would likely follow in 2017 with the seat then on the ballot in 2018 for a full six year term.
D. Current State of Play: Convention Recap, Current Polling and Fundraising
The GOP held its convention in Cleveland, OH on July 18-21. Despite a significant amount of buzz surrounding the potential for disharmony and discord accentuated by anticipated, widespread protests, the convention 10 largely went off as planned with Donald Trump officially accepting the nomination along with Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. Trump had been considering a host of candidates including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, in addition to latecomer retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, who previously ran the Defense Intelligence Agency under the Obama administration. Pence, who now cannot run for reelection as governor per Indiana state law, previously served in the U.S. House for 12 years holding a variety of leadership positions. He is widely seen as a calculated pick to build support among the more conservative elements of the GOP and as a doubling down on the Trump campaign’s strategy targeting the Rust Belt states.
For Democrats, they held their convention in Philadelphia, PA on July 25-28. While there were considerable protests leading up to and throughout the convention, driven in large part by Bernie Sanders supporters dissatisfied with the nominating process, the polls, pundits, and ratings all agree the Democrats outpaced the GOP. While Clinton’s choice of vice-president, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), rankled some of the more liberal elements of the party who were hoping for a more progressive candidate, it has been widely accepted as a shrewd campaign maneuver to win over more moderate Democrats and independents skeptical about Clinton’s candidacy and to shore up support in the important swing state of Virginia. Clinton had also been considering Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who appeals to the Democratic Party’s populist base, and HUD Secretary Julian Castro, considered a rising star in the party capable of bridging the divide with minorities and young voters.
Turning to polling post-convention, Clinton continues to expand her lead. While the race appeared to be tightening heading into and immediately following the Republican National Convention, the most recent round of polling shows Clinton opening up a substantial lead both nationally and across the key battleground states. On July 17, the day before the Republican National Convention began, Clinton led Republican Donald Trump by about 3 points in the Real Clear Politics General Election Polling Average – 43.8% to 40.6%. As of August 9th, her lead is over seven points in the average – 47.6 to 40.1 percent. While most pundits agree that Clinton received a significant boost from a widely praised Democratic Convention, hear widening lead appears to be more a reflection of Trump’s high-profile missteps and subsequent decline than anything else. For example, while Clinton grew her edge over Trump in the latest NBC/WSJ poll to 9 from 5 points, her support only climbed one point to 47 percent from 46 percent from the convention. Meanwhile, Trump’s support fell 3 points from 41 to 38 percent. This all suggests that Clinton is at her ceiling of support, and Trump has significant room to improve in the coming weeks and months. However, presidential candidates leading after the conventions in recent cycles have all gone on to win in the general election. The one notable exception is Al Gore in 2000, who held a 4-point lead in CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted after the completion of his convention but went on to lose the election though carrying the popular vote by half a percentage point.
At the state level, the picture is somewhat similar. While pre-convention polling showed Trump narrowly trailing if not winning outright in key battleground states, like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania (see June 30 – July 11 Quinnipiac poll), current polling paints a much more dismal picture for the Republican candidate. In Florida, Clinton leads Trump by six points (48 to 42 percent), according to a poll released by Suffolk University. In Ohio, Clinton leads Trump 43 to 38 percent – a five point shift since July when the candidates were tied, according to a new NBC/WSJ poll. In Pennsylvania, a Franklin & Marshall College poll has Clinton up 11 among likely voters. In Michigan, another important state in Trump’s electoral roadmap, a Detroit News poll shows Clinton up 6 points in a head-to-head match-up. Clinton has even overtaken or drawn even with Trump in stalwart Republican states like Georgia and Arizona. In Georgia, an AJC poll found the Democrat nominee leading Trump 44 to 40 percent. In Arizona, Real Clear Politics has the candidates in a statistical tie with Trump narrowly edging Clinton 43.3 to 43 percent. For comparisons sake, in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney defeated President Obama in Arizona, 53 percent to 44 percent. Romney won by a similar margin in Georgia, 53 percent to 45 percent. Overall, Clinton’s expanding margins can be attributed to her improving favorability ratings, which are being driven, in part, by Trump’s high unfavorable ratings. Further, Republicans, both nationally and across the states, continue to remain divided over Trump’s candidacy. For example, while Clinton gets 89 11 percent of Democrats in New Hampshire and 78 percent in Pennsylvania, Trump gets two-thirds of Republicans in the Granite State and only slightly more in Pennsylvania in a head-to-head matchup (see State and National Polls Suggest Trump’s Campaign is Wobbling).
Looking at fundraising, a ready metric, in addition to polls, used to judge the strength of a particular campaign, Trump still trails Clinton though the gap has begun to narrow. According to the most recent FEC filings, Trump brought in $80 million in July, up from $52 million in June, representing his campaign’s biggest total to date. The bulk of the money came via online and direct mail solicitations. For his part, Trump personally contributed another $2 million to the campaign bringing his total personal contributions to the race to more than $56 million. Comparatively, Clinton’s campaign, which started the month with $44 million cash-on-hand, raised $90 million in July, up from $68.5 million in June. On the PAC front, Clinton-aligned Priorities USA, continues to handedly outpace similar operations on the Trump side of the aisle having raised over $100 million. Rebuilding America Now, the main super PAC backing Trump, had only raised $2.5 million through the end of May, though reports indicate fundraising is picking up.
E. Forecasting: 2008 and 2012 All Over Again or a Big Surprise?
At this point in an already unconventional race, it is hard to predict how the election will unfold. While polling would suggest that the election is a foregone conclusion, history suggests that in the short periods after the conventions, the polling average can often move away from the final result, not toward it. Take, for example, the 2012 election. President Obama seemed to receive a bump in polls from the Democratic convention and the “47 percent” video of Mitt Romney released by Mother Jones. However, polls tightened again in the month before the election, and President Obama outperformed his polling averages on Election Day by about three percentage points. In 2008, the polls went the opposite direction showing a tight race that eventually ballooned into a rout. At this point in the election, then-Senator Barack Obama had a narrow lead over Republican nominee John McCain (R-AZ) following their respective party’s convention. While the race remained relatively tight through the summer, the financial crisis, which began in September 2008, opened a large rift in the polls that McCain was never able to close. The final Real Clear Politics average had Obama at +7.6 percent on Election Day, which he narrowly achieved winning 52.9 to 45.6 percent (+7.3 percent). Taken together, the 2008 and 2012 elections illustrate how polling at this point in the election cycle is oftentimes not indicative of the final outcome, at least in the way of polling and/or margins of victory (see Why You Should Feel Free to ignore Polls for a Few Weeks).
2008 and 2012 Presidential Polling Averages
With this context in mind, it is worth looking at where Trump and Clinton stand compared to Romney and Obama at this point in 2012. Within their own parties, Clinton is off by 35 points compared to Obama in her image among Democrats, while Trump is off by 20 points in his standing among Republicans compared to Romney. Obama had a positive image, however slight, among men, women, whites, independents and older Americans at this point in the 2012 race. Clinton, for her part, has a net-negative image among all those groups. Men alone see her more negatively than positively by 29 percentage points. The picture is similar for Trump, who is underwater by 19 points among men and by a whopping 38 points among women (see Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump: A Look at the Numbers). Among minorities, Hispanics in particular, Trump has dismal poll numbers though they largely mirror those of Romney and McCain at this point in 2012 and 2008 respectively despite widely publicized claims to the contrary. Specifically, a recent Pew Research poll found Trump trailing Clinton by 42 percentage points among Hispanics in a general election matchup, which is on par with the poll’s findings for both Romney in 2012 and McCain in 2008 (see Trump’s Poll Numbers and Hispanics). Taken together, this overall picture illustrate just how divided the electorate is and how difficult it will be forecasting the race.
One potential, and very likely, path is that this election follows similar trend lines to the 2008 and 2012 elections despite all of the unique nuances this cycle. That is to say that polling, on the whole, will consistently show Clinton outpacing Trump both nationally and across the key battleground states though the margin will narrow as the race gets closer to Election Day just as it did in 2012 between Obama and Romney. Within this context, both parties will consolidate their respective base, and the race will narrow down to a handful of swing states that were also in play in 2008 and 2012. Note that since 1960, no candidate has won the presidency without winning at least two of three states between Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Then the equation comes down to voter demographics and turnout. Whereas Clinton is aiming to assemble the broad coalition of voters that put Barack Obama into the White House for two terms, Trump’s strategy is markedly different. While he will need to parry his losses among key groups of voters, like women and minorities, for no other reason than holding a state like Arizona and winning in Florida, Trump’s almost singular focus is on driving white voter turnout in battleground states throughout the Rust Belt. In these states, which include Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, white voters make up an overwhelmingly large portion of the electorate, and Trump is poised to take in a greater share of these voters than Romney in 2012 due in large part to his populist economic message combined with the overall political climate.
One important factor to consider is the role that external events, like the recent incidents in Orlando, FL and Dallas, TX, will have on the race and polling margins (see Will the Violence Across America Change the Presidential Campaign). Elections are oftentimes framed and driven by events outside of the candidates’ control, like upticks or downswings in the economy, the incumbent president’s approval rating, acts of terrorism, and/or domestic unrest, and this year will be no different, particularly when considering the unique contours of this race. The election of 1968 stands out as a prominent example where dramatic domestic disorder helped swing the presidential election to Republican Richard Nixon, who was widely perceived as the “law-and-order” candidate. Between Trump and Clinton, the key will be which candidate can direct the national discussion and better project an image of commander-in-chief, particularly as events continue to unfold. Here, the two candidates have diverged (see, for example Clinton and Trump Strike Different Tones after Dallas Shooting). For her part, Clinton continues to cast herself as the more experienced and calculated candidate, while labeling Trump “dangerous” and “temperamentally unfit” to hold office. On the other hand, Trump, like Nixon, has called himself the “law-and-order” candidate, a position exemplified by his nomination speech at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, while casting Clinton as a “liar”, in reference to the email controversy, who is unqualified to be president.
As for the leading political pundits, most are forecasting a landslide victory for Clinton akin to Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 with some even seeing shades of 1984 (Reagan vs. Mondale) and 1988 (Bush vs. Dukakis). Among the earlier forecasts, the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato sees a Clinton romp in the making. A year ago, his forecast showed Democrats with an advantage in states adding up to 247 electoral 13 votes, Republicans with an edge in states adding up to 206 and six states totaling 85 votes rated as toss-ups. Today, Sabato sees no states as toss-ups. Instead, he shows Clinton with 347 electoral votes and Trump with just 191. The Cook Political Report shows a similarly dire map for Trump: 304 electoral votes leaning or solid for Clinton, 190 leaning or solid for Trump and 44 up for grabs. The four states Cook rated as toss-ups include three carried by Obama in 2012 (Iowa, New Hampshire and Ohio) and one carried by Mitt Romney (North Carolina). The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report offers a more conservative estimate, but one no less daunting for Trump and Republicans: 263 leaning or solid for the Democrats, 206 for the Republicans and the remaining as toss-ups. The toss-ups in this analysis are Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Virginia (see The Map is Tough for Any Republican). Consider though that if the five main demographic groups (whites with college degrees, whites without college degrees, African Americans, Latinos and Asians) were to shift just 3 percentage points towards the GOP in 2016 over what Mitt Romney took in 2012, Republicans would flip nearly every battleground state, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin (see How Demographics Will Shape The 2016 Election).