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Monday, September 12, 2016

Looking at the presidential election

When thinking about the upcoming election for President, I put the electorate into six buckets. Each bucket gets a color in my diagram:

People in the yellow bucket cannot or will not vote. The light blue and light red buckets are folks who will vote for Clinton or Trump, respectively, on the basis of party affiliation or general political stance (e.g. liberal vs. conservative) regardless of their views of the candidates personally. There are always some voters in these buckets, but in 2016 there appear to be more than ever.

At this point, no one knows how the green bucket will eventually be dispersed across the other five. No one knows how many people will step out of the yellow into a red or blue bucket — or will decide to sit on the sidelines by moving into the yellow bucket. And even if the election were tomorrow, no one can say with confidence whether Clinton or Trump would win; that is, whether the sum of the light blue and the dark blue buckets will be larger or smaller than the sum of the light red and the dark red buckets. Things to bear in mind at this point:

  • The big TV money hasn't been spent yet.
  • The election is nine weeks away, and a lot can happen in that time. For example, a candidate can make a profound misstatement or can score a knock-out punch. Small impacts can be decisive in close elections.
  • In North Carolina, last-minute changes to the voting process as a consequence of legislation and subsequent litigation make it very difficult to predict voter turnout.
The net unfavorability ratings of both Clinton and Trump also cast doubt on outcomes of down-ballot races.

Turnout is the key. Polls have become notoriously inaccurate in predicting turnout. I call it 50-50.