The State of the Race – 11/6/16

I don’t claim to be a political expert. However, given the weird environment surrounding this Presidential election cycle, not even the experts appear to have a firm enough handle on the race to be able to make confident predictions about the outcome. The best political prediction experts, such as Nate Silver, hedge their bets by not making absolute predictions; they instead provide candidates’ chances of winning. Thus when Silver gives Donald Trump a 36% chance of winning the Presidency, if Trump were to win Silver can say, “See I never told you that his chances of winning was zero”.  On the other hand I have followed this election battle about as closely as any layman could and I have noticed factors which makes me confident that Hillary Clinton will ultimately emerge as the victor.

I don’t mean to disparage Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight website’s model.  On the contrary, based on my knowledge of statistics, I believe that Silver’s complicated model is the best method of making sense of the amazing amount of poll data which is made available daily this close to the election; in the three day period ending today (Saturday, 11/5/16) the results of 331 legitimate state and national polls were reported.  I believe that no other political data analyst condenses this massive of poll data into better predictions that Nate Silver.

However, as with everything else in life the FiveThirtyEight methodology has its advantages and its disadvantages.  One of its disadvantages this close to the election is inability to pick up on what I will call micro trends, for instance the current tendency the polls over the last few days in some the battlegrounds states to mostly favor one candidate over the other.  For instance, Silver rates currently rates Florida as a virtual toss up giving Trump a slim 52.6% chance of winning the state.  However, this small Trump advantage is based on the weighted average of 90 Florida polls, including some of the very lightly rated polls which were conducted in early September.  I fail to understand how polls conducted in September, or even the many polls in the mix which conducted in early October, have any relevance to the state of the race in Florida today.

On the other hand, I have noted the 7 latest Florida polls which completed their canvassing 11/1 or later favor Hillary Clinton.  The results of those 7 Florida polls (with the most relievable polls shown first) were:  Clinton +2, Clinton +2, Clinton +1, Trump +1, Clinton +4 and two polls with ties – advantage clearly to Hillary.  The same micro trend can be seen in a second toss up state, North Carolina, where Silver give Trump a very slight edge with 51.1% chance of winning.  The 4 latest NC polls which completed their canvassing 11/1 or later had the following results:  Clinton +2, Clinton +3, Trump +5 and Clinton +3.  (Again the most reliable polls appear first.)  Again advantage Clinton.  The micro trend in the third and final tossup state, Nevada, is not as clear cut. Silver currently gives Trump a slight edge in Nevada with a 50.3% chance of winning the state.   The latest polls concluding in November show mixed results: Trump +6, Clinton +3, Clinton +7, Trump +1 and a tie.

In addition, statistical analytical methodologies are only as good the polls that they analyze.  When all or most of the polls for a state or states are not corrected by their pollsters for factors which are not obvious, the accuracy of the polls suffer as so will the accuracy the predictions of the analysts who depend on those polls

Those two such factors which the current polls are probably not fully taking into consideration are the Democrats’ superior ground game and an underestimation of the number of Hispanic voters.  The race was virtually tied between Barack Obama and John McCain during the final days before the 2012 Presidential election with President Obama holding a slight 0.7% advantage in an average of the 9 most recent nation wide polls.  However, when all of the dust settled Obama had won reelection with a 3.3% popular vote margin and 332 electoral votes.  The only explanation, Democrats were better able to get out their voters than their Republican rivals.

This time around the Trump campaign is leaving all of their get out the vote tasks to the Republican National Committee.  Meanwhile the Clinton campaign and the DNC have combined their efforts and have far more money to fund their ground game than the RNC.  The Democratic ground game by all accounts should be able to outperform its Republican counterpart in the final days of the campaign.  Conservatively that should provide Hillary 1% to 2% advantage which the polls cannot measutre.

The other factor involves the inability of pollsters to take in account the large number of votes which will come from Hispanics who are newly registered and will vote in this election for the very first time.  In real life poll samples rarely produce exact duplicates of the percentages of the various demographics in the universe of all likely voters.  For instance if a poll sample contains 40% white men and the percentage of white men voting in the election is expected to be 35%, the pollster will mathematically reduce the impact of the poll results of sample of white men by 5% when calculating the poll results.  However, when a particular demographic group like Hispanics register and vote in much larger numbers than expected, there is no way to adjust poll results to take this development into account. In several key states Hispanics are voting in much larger numbers than expected so their impact is under estimated in most polls.

Now we come to the deciding reason why I firmly believe that Hillary Clinton will live in the White House for at least the next four years.  It is the reason why Democratic candidates have recently had and will continue to have in the future the advantage Presidential elections; the Electoral College votes of solidly blue states substantially outnumber the Electoral College votes of solidly red states.  We are talking about the so called Blue wall.

Donald Trump has a populist message which is theoretically capable of breaching that wall with its appeal to the working class voters in rust belt states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.  However Trump’s misogynistic and racial rhetoric has also been responsible for the defection of college educated voters, especially college educated women, which has countered any advantage Trump might have had in those states.  Thus far the Blue Wall still stands.

In large part because the Blue Wall has held, Hillary has held on to the popular vote lead throughout the general election cycle.  As you can see from FiveThirtyEight cart below illustrating the changes over time of the two candidates’ chances of winning the election, Trump narrowed that lead substantially until his poor performance in the first debate caused voters to lose faith in him and allow Hillary to increase her lead again.

After that the race starting tightening until the Access Hollywood video of Trump admitting that he sexual assaulted women was revealed to the public.  After that Clinton widened her lead again and at one point the FiveThirtyEight site gave her 87% chance of winning the election. Many analysts suggested that this time she would maintain that lead going into the election.  And she did a maintain a sizable lead over Trump until the FBI Director sent an email to Congress which was leaked to the public saying that he might reopen Hillary’s email investigation, causing the race to start tightening again.

However, as you might be able to tell from the 538 chart below, over the last three days the polls have been leveling out and Hillary’s chances of winning have stabilized in the 64% to 65% range.

FL 9-3-16 - 1

The FiveThirtyEight current electoral map below provides the reason Hillary is currently still leading going into the election:


States where Hillary is currently ahead in the 538 weighted average of current state polls are depicted in blue and the states were Trump currently has leads are shown in red; the lighter the colors the smaller the lead.  According to this maps Clinton currently leads in states with 291 electoral votes while Trump leads in states with 246 electoral votes. So Trump not only has to hold on to his leads in states where he is currently ahead, but he also has to flip in at least enough states currently in blue to win an additional 26 electoral votes.

However, before we explore the possible paths The Donald as for winning the election, note that he is going to have a hard time holding on to all of thethe states were he is currently ahead.  Notice there are three states colored light pink – Florida (29 electoral votes), North Carolina (15 EV’s) and Nevada (6 EV’s).  Trump is just barely ahead in each of these states.  Nate Silver gives him no more than 52% chance of winning any of these states and Trump’s lead in each of these states’ weighted poll combinations is extremely slim, between 0.2% and 0.3%.  All three states are statistical tossups and if Hillary were to win any one of them Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes would be very difficult.  If she were to win Florida all experts agree Trump would surely lose the election. In addition I believe that Clinton’s superior ground game and advantage with new Hispanic voters gives her the edge she needs to win at least one and perhaps all these three states.

However, let’s assume that Trump manages to win in all of the states were he is currently leading.  He still needs to flip some combinations of the states where Hillary’s leads are the most tenuous to gain the additional 26 electoral college votes he needs to at least tie Clinton and send the election to the House of Representatives where he is guaranteed a win.  According to 538 Hillary’s most vulnerable states are:

New Jersey (6 EV’s) – lead in polls: 1.9% – her chance of winning the state: 61.2%

Colorado (9 EV’s) – lead in polls: 3.2% – her chance of winning the state: 73.1%

Pennsylvania (20 EV’s) – lead in polls: 3.4% – her chance of winning the state: 74.1%

Michigan (16 EV’s) – lead in polls: 3.8 % – her chance of winning the state: 76.1%

Maine  (2 EV’s) – lead in polls: 4.0 % – her chance of winning the state: 77.4%

Wisconsin (10 EV’s) – lead in polls: 4.3 % – her chance of winning the state: 77.6%

Hillary currently holds an 80% chance or better of wining in all of the other states where she holds a lead in the polls.  So Trumps easiest path to 269 electoral votes is through Pennsylvania.  If he can hold on to Florida, North Caroline and Nevada where he currently has very narrow leads, and he takes the Keystone state, he can win the election by adding one of the following states – New Jersey, Colorado, Michigan or Wisconsin.  However, he fails to hold on to North Carolina with its 15 electoral votes, Trump would have to win a minimum of 3 of these 6 states. If he instead loses in Florida (29 EV’s). he would have to win a minimum of 4 of Hillary’s states states.

Are Trump’s possible paths to the White House impossible, no, but they are all extremely difficult.  That’s why I strongly believe that the Democrats will be celebrating Tuesday night.

Cajun   11/6/2016

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