Election 2016 – Too Close for Comfort

A number of Democrats have grown complacent about the Presidential Race.  Given that Hillary Clinton has maintained a lead in all of the swing states since the Democratic convention and with Donald Trump continually undercutting his own candidacy, they are confident of victory.  I recently read that that even Clinton campaign insiders are switching their sights to a landslide instead of a mere victory.

I hope they are right, but in politics overconfidence often leads to bad results and I am seeing signs that Hillary’s big leads in pivotal states have been steadily shrinking since the Democratic Convention as has the probability that she will win the election.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not writing this to throw cold water on the Clinton crowd.  I am a big Hillary supporter, but I don’t like the way the polls are trending.

Nate Silver, probably the best election statistician in the nation. uses recent state polls which he adjusts for built in bias and timeliness, to predict the current probabilities of winning Presidency of each of the candidates on an ongoing basis. The results are posted on his FiveThirtyEight website.  Who will win the presidency?

As you can see from the two screenshots below which were taken from the Silver’s website, according his calculations the probability that Hillary Clinton will win the Presidency as dropped from its high 89.2% on August 14th (right after the convention) to 71.5%.  Donald Trump’s chances of winning have increased accordingly.  (Since I took those screen shots, but before publication of this article, Hillary’s chances of winning have dropped again, to 69.1% – that’s how quickly new polls can affect Silver’s projections.)

538 8-14-16 -1

538 9-3-16 - 1

While the current probabilities indicate that Clinton is still the prohibitive favorite, I’m not at all happy with the trend lines.  The probabilities for the two candidates can change with every new poll, especially in those of traditional swing states, so I visit the FiveThirtyEight website often, sometimes several times a day. It seems that almost every time I check, the probability of Hillary winning is lower.

Since Silver does his projections on a state by state basis, you can see how his methodology plays out by clicking on individual states on the map on the his site or clicking on the swing states that are listed on that page. For each state Silvers calculates probability of each candidate winning the state based on the latest polls.  For instance in Florida those probabilities of winning are 64.3% for Clinton and 35.6% for Trump and for Ohio they are 62.6% for Hilary and 37.3% for Trump.)

Note that on the screenshots of the Florida probabilities graph below, that state’s trends mirror those of the national probabilities graphs above.  Hillary’s probability of winning Florida also peaked on August 14th at 79.9% and since then it has been falling.  It currently stands at 62.8%.

FL 8-14-16 -1

FL 9-3-16 - 1

On Silver’s website we see almost identical graphs patterns for every traditional swing state, especially for those states where Clinton’s lead in the state polls have slipped to less than 4% – Nevada (3.6%), Ohio (1.6%), North Carolina (1.1%) and Florida (2.3%) as well as Iowa (-0.3%) where she has narrowly lost her lead.

However, since Clinton continues to lead in most of the swing states, her probability of winning the election remains high, for the time being.  Let’s look at the election from the only important perspective, that of the Electoral College.  According to Nate Silver’s website, these are the poll figures and the probabilities of winning for Hillary Clinton in the 10 swing states where the election is being most closely contested and where Hillary is currently ahead.  Also shown is the same data for the three swing states where Trump is currently ahead.

Swing State Excel 1

Notice that in the states where Hillary has fairly comfortably ahead in the polls and where Nate Silver gives her a very good chance of winning, if she goes on to win those states she will pick up 278 electoral votes.  This total surpasses, if only barely, the 270 she needs to win the White House.  If you add the states of Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina to Clinton’s winning column, the electoral vote total jumps to 341, which is nearing a landslide proportions.

However, look at the winning margins in the polls for those states – they are very small.  More concerning is the trends in those states.  August 14th Hillary’s Florida poll lead was 6.1% and it has since dropped to 2.5%.  Her probability of winning Florida on August 14th according to Silver’s calculations was 79.9%, but it has since dropped to 63.5%.

In Ohio on August 14th Hillary’s poll lead was 6.2% and it now has dropped to 1.8%.  Over the same time period her probability of winning Ohio has dropped from 79.8% to 60.6%.

In North Carolina her poll lead has dropped from 5.4% to 1.3% and her probability of winning Ohio has dropped from 76.6% to 60.6%  (Note:  Since I wrote this and before I published this article, Hillary’s North Carolina poll numbers lead decreased again to only 0.5% and her probability of winning has dropped to 52.6%. – unfortunately the trend continues.)

Nor are the states which combine to give Hillary a winning 278 Electoral College vote total safe if current trends continue.  In Nevada right after the Democratic Convention Hillary enjoyed a 7.2% lead in the combined polls.  That lead has shrunk to the 3.9%. (Before publication of this article, her lead dropped further to 3.1%.)  Her chances of winning Nevada dropped during that time period from 80.3% to 68.6%.  (Before publication her probability of winning the state dropped again, to 65.4%)

The same can be said of New Hampshire where Hillary’s lead in the polls on August 14th was 9.1%.  That lead has over time has dropped to 3.6% while her probability of winning the state has dropped from 83.1% to 65.7%.

If the current trends continue and both Nevada and New Hampshire were to become truly competitive, Hillary Electoral College vote total could drop to 268 and she would have a real fight on her hands.  Unfortunately the same trend can be seen in Pennsylvania with its large block of 20 electoral votes where Hillary’s poll lead has shrunk from 9.1% to 4.1% since the convention.

Again, many Democrats have become complacent.  With Hillary’s large national and swing state polling numbers they started talking about a landslide victory while all of the polls were tightening.  In addition they have come to believe that given the Donald Trump’s public demeanor and the unbelievable statements which continue to come out of his mouth on a regular basis, there is no way he can win the Presidency.  Well its time to wake up and face reality folks; this election is now close, it is no longer a slam dunk.

Hillary needs to reverse these poll trends and there are signs she can do that.   She has raised a lot of money to support her campaign so we will soon see plenty of media buys in all of the swing states and even some which the Trump campaign previously believed to be safe. She is starting to hit the campaign trail again for the final post Labor Day push and this time she will be joined by a full complement of A-list surrogates, from President Obama, to Michelle Obama, Joe Bidden, Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Trump can’t compete with her in that department.  Clinton’s ground game and get out the vote efforts are far superior to those of the Trump campaign, though he is making a very late effort to make up some of that ground.  Hopefully all of these factors will combine to reverse the trends and again put Hillary in far superior position by November 8th.

Cajun   9/6/2016

Acknowledgements:  I could not have written this article without the data from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website; it is treasure trove of 2016 Presidential election statistical data.  I would strongly suggest that you visit his site frequently until November 8th to understand the relative positions of the candidates as we move through the last sixty odd days between now and the election.  Whether you are just an interested observer or a poll and statistic wonk like me, you will find the site invaluable.  Link: Who will win the presidency? 

Cajun     9/2/2016

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