Would Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton? Who would win if they face each other in the general election?
Beware all “experts” who tell you something will happen. That a candidate will win and another candidate will lose. The certainty expressed in these types of statements, particularly that Trump has no chance against Hillary Clinton — are nothing more than bluster, and an arrogant attempt to dismissively declare that something is certain, and of course, as a truthsayer, it is you above all people who just knows this to be the case.
Let’s get something straight. The answer to any question like this is always “we don’t know.” When asked “can this candidate beat that candidate?” the answer is always, and I do mean always, “yes.”
Many other people here have declared that, of course, Hillary Clinton would not only beat Trump, but beat him handily. This certainty is nonsense. Can she win? Would she be a nominal favorite? Is she currently leading some important battleground states, according to the polls?
Yes to all.
But just because she can win, and just because she would be a marginal favorite, and just because she’s polling well against Trump right now, does not mean she is going to win, that it is at all certain, or that it would in any way be easy for her.
In fact, there are a number of very real scenarios that would result in Donald Trump winning the election.
Now before I go any further, I should mention — it would be foolish to allow my distaste for anyone pervert my view of the politics of this potential race.
So with that out of the way, let me show you a very realistic map of what a Donald Trump victory might look like:
You will notice that I have given Mrs. Clinton the benefit of the doubt in states like Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and New Mexico, that have an huge Hispanic population, and would (in this hypothetical example) come out for her as they did for Obama.
There are reasons to think that wouldn’t happen, and that other factors — like explosive turnout among blue collar, middle class voters — would change the calculus in those states. But, for the sake of this example, let’s just make the assumption that Trump loses those states.
I also gave Mrs. Clinton Virginia, mostly on the strength of the voters in northern Virginia, and the weight that carries statewide. Again, there is a counter-argument to make there that I think is realistic and logical, but just to demonstrate his electability, let’s give it to Clinton.
Even with all of those states going to Clinton, there is a huge problem she faces in rust belt states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, which have a tremendous number of white, blue collar, working class voters who blame free trade, and countries like China and Mexico for their job losses and economic decline.
This is also true of Maine’s 2nd District, which is only worth a single electoral vote, but can easily be won by Trump for the same reasons.
These voters — a significant number of whom are Democrats, incidentally — will not vote for Mrs. Clinton, a free trader and the wife of the man who signed NAFTA, when presented a real alternative.
Blue collar Democrats — guys who are in unions and hate free trade and blame it for the decline of manufacturing and with it, union jobs — will go for Trump.
Why? Because they have had roughly 30 years or so of having no one of either party to vote for who represents their interests. If you are a millworker from northern Maine and you lost your job to foreign competition due to globalization and free trade, neither Republicans nor Democrats have spoken to the anger within you that such a thing has sparked.
Think about it. You made good money. You provided for your family. Suddenly a bunch of low wage workers from what you consider a third world hellhole (whether that is fair or not is not the point) steal your jobs when the company you work for offshores your factory. Republicans cheer. Democrats cheer. They both love free trade. You hate it, and you blame it for your poor economic circumstance.
The number of these voters who have been depressed, ignored, dismissed, and outright ridiculed is tremendous. And there are a lot of them in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A lot.
That means that these states — particularly Pennsylvania and Michigan — which have been Republican targets for nearly thirty years to no avail, have a very real possibility of flipping.
That would represent 36 electoral votes that Clinton would lose, and Trump would gain.
The rest of the south and the Midwest would operate as a pure red phalanx. It really doesn’t matter if Trump loses some members of the Republican party down there. The conservative base, plus the reenergized blue collar voters of all parties would more than make up for any loss of the “intellectual right.”
There may be a chance for Clinton to take a place like Montana, perhaps, but that is pretty unlikely, and those three electoral votes won’t matter anyway.
All this would mean a 290 to 248 win in the electoral college for Trump.
Her only hope, if Trump were to take Pennsylvania and Michigan, would be winning Florida, which is a real possibility, given the strength of retired voters and the very diverse population. But it is still a very red state, at the end of the day, and you can’t say with any certainty what would happen.
Then again, if she wins Florida and Trump wins Virginia, Trump still wins the election. That’s how strong a position he is put in by winning some of those rust belt states that Republicans typically lose.
And that doesn’t even touch the possibility — which is real — that Trump could win a state like Wisconsin, which would lead to a 20 vote swing in his direction.
In other words, Trump’s path is actually rather unique, but real. Trump’s power with white working class voters that have felt ignored and beaten down for decades is no joke, and can not be denied, and Clinton has no antidote for it.
Now, the arguments you have heard thus far arguing for why Trump winning is not possible basically boil down to a couple arguments. The first was electoral college math, which I already addressed. Another was polling.
Let’s talk about polling.
Understand what you are talking about when you say that Trump is losing the polls in these battleground states. Understand how those polls are constructed, who they are asking, what they are asking, and whether or not the information you are getting is accurate.
Because there is a crisis in political polling. It is getting less and less accurate, and is frequently predicting the wrong outcome on a number of races across the country. Sometimes, spectacularly wrong.
Well, because for a poll to be accurate, it first must sample the correct universe of people to give a true snapshot. Pollsters build models based on assumptions — educated assumptions, but still assumptions — about who they believe will vote in the coming election.
This is even more important today than ten or twenty years ago, as response rates to polls have fallen off a cliff, leading pollsters to rely increasingly on modeling.
If they get that universe wrong, disaster ensues. For example, two weeks before the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli, McAuliffe was ahead in several polls by double digits. One poll had him up 11 points. Another had him up 15 points. Another, 17 points.
On election day, McAuliffe did win, but he only won by 2.5%.
This has been repeated in state after state, with congressional races, Senate races, gubernatorial races, and even at the presidential level.
Overseas, a spectacular, fundamental and widespread flaw in polling methodologies led to a dramatic failure to predict the UK General Election correctly, as the Conservative Party, which was widely expected to be crushed based on polling, not only won the most votes, but was able to form a majority government. A spectacular failure.
Pollsters build models based on previous election cycles, who came out to vote in what years for which candidates, and they primarily base their assumptions on those facts.
When you build in the critical problems of increased cell phone only households, entire demographics of people (often conservative) no longer answering polls, and variations of the Bradley effect, you have a very difficult time polling anything accurately these days.
This is a particularly bad problem this year. We aren’t talking about the stupidity of the “unskewed polls” that conservatives bought into in 2012, here. That was unscientific, irrational, and wishful thinking. This is something else.
The blue collar, working class voters I mentioned earlier have been actually staying home for several elections now. Models will be built this year assuming the previous few presidential elections are a real guide, and they aren’t.
Pollsters aren’t polling the right people.
Republicans abandoning Trump, working class Democrats abandoning Hillary, legions of voters who haven’t voted in a long time suddenly showing up, unpredictable turnout among minority voters (who almost certainly will not show up in the same numbers for Clinton as they did for Obama) — these things all fundamentally change the paradigm, and make polling universes virtually unusable.
And that makes all of the polls cited — whether they show Clinton up or Trump — are suspect. Note that Clinton just lost Michigan to Sanders, even though she was up by almost 20 points in many polls right before that primary. Note Trump losing states like Iowa and Maine to Cruz, despite having significant polling leads there before election day.
Polling is broken, and frankly they should no longer be trusted.
Next, let’s talk about demographics.
Hillary proponents lean on demographics for their belief that she would win. The logic goes, she will win women, she will win Latinos, she will win African-Americans, and she will ride those groups to the Oval Office.
All of those can be true, but they don’t mean she wins. In fact, if she won all of those groups by the exact same percentage that Barack Obama won in 2012, she could still lose.
If turnout among those groups is even a couple points lower than it was for President Obama, she is in a world of trouble. If turnout among white, middle class voters is significantly up at the same time, she is really in trouble.
You see, it isn’t the percentages of demographics won that matters.
Mitt Romney, for example, won more of the white vote than Ronald Reagan did. It just didn’t matter, because there were fewer white people as a share of the total population in 2012 as compared to 1980 and 1984. Beyond that, the turnout numbers for white voters wasn’t where it was for Reagan.
President Obama turned out historic numbers of young people, and ethnic minorities. That can not be overstated. People who had never voted. People who had never been engaged in the process. People who felt a deep and strong connection to the candidate.
Will Hillary — a horrendously bad politician (something even her supporters admit) — be able to turn those groups out at the same level in 2016? Maybe, but the likelihood is low.
And I need to reiterate just what a threat that defecting blue collar Democrats — particularly union members in the working class — are to Hillary. You really think they are going to vote for a free trader over the guy promising to restore the power of American manufacturing by slapping tariffs on imports and protecting American industry from foreign competition?
If you think that… well, you’re wrong. That is a huge problem for Hillary, especially if Trump can demonstrate ANY ability to keep the Republicans home, and bring people together after the convention. It isn’t actually a hard thing for him to do, and if he does it, she is in a lot of trouble.
Finally, let’s talk about the unpredictable nature of politics.
You never know what will happen on a campaign. Hillary’s email problem is frequently dismissed by Democrats, but any time the FBI is offering immunity to members of your inner circle in return for evidence related to carelessness with state secrets, you have a bit of a problem.
Maybe she gets indicted. Maybe Bill has a huge sex scandal that rocks the campaign. Maybe Hillary nominates the wrong person for Vice-President and it drags down her campaign. Maybe a major recession hits in the summer and is blamed on President Obama — and by extension, all Democrats — by the public. Maybe a million things.
You just don’t know. A Congressman was once derailed by a Federal investigation that led to agents storming his office and finding $90,000 cash from a Nigerian business scam in his freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers.
Politics is weird.
If anything out of the ordinary happens, it could derail even the strongest candidate. Ed Muskie. Gary Hart. Ted Kennedy. The number of times it has happened is actually pretty stunning. Nixon basically lost an election because he sweat too much on television.
So you can never say “never” about any race.
Could Trump beat Hillary? Of course he could. Could Hillary beat Trump? Of course she could. It all depends on a variety of circumstances. But this year, above all years, the conventional wisdom, traditional polling, political prognostication… all of it, is basically useless, because this is such a different year.
Remember that, and also remember that politics is unpredictable and that anything can happen anywhere for any reason, and you’ll have better luck following campaigns.
Copyright@ — Matthew Gagnon, Louis Botes