State of the Race

This is the current Electoral College map from Electoral-Vote.com. Hillary Clinton currently leads in states worth 294 Electoral Votes (EVs), while Donald Trump leads in states worth 244 EVs. Since last week, Florida has flipped from a narrow Clinton lead to a narrow Trump lead, and Ohio has gone from a tie to a narrow Trump lead.

US Electoral College Map as of 12-9-2016

There are currently quite a few close states, with 163 EVs in states where the polling margin is less than five points (states with light blue or light red border). Clinton is leading by five-points or more (light blue and dark blue states) in states totalling 220 EVs, while Trump has leads of five-points or more in states totalling 155 EVs. Polls that have New Jersey (located east of Pennsylvania) close are automated robopolls, which have tended to skew towards Trump, so it is probably not as close as these polls indicate.

Although the electoral college winner is determined by the popular vote in each state, we should still consider national polls. National polls are published frequently, while state polls tend to lag. That means if one candidate has a trend towards them in the national polls, it will almost certainly be reflected later in state polls.

The Huffington Post Pollster’s current national poll aggregate gives Clinton a 42.3% to 37.5% lead over Trump, with 9.1% for Libertarian Gary Johnson, 7.3% undecided, and 3.8% for other candidates. In early August, Clinton led Trump by 7 points, and her slight decline has been followed by a decline in her state polls.

None of the current polls reflect the impact, if any, of Clinton describing half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables” on Friday night nor today's revelation that Clinton has pneumonia.

How Trump and Clinton won their parties’ nominations

In this section, I will attempt to explain how Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton won their parties’ respective nominations.

Trump Nomination

Donald Trump had never held any political office before announcing that he was running for President in June 2015; he was famous as a reality TV host and real estate mogul. So how did he become the Republican nominee?

In the months leading up to the first primary contest, the Iowa caucus on 1 February 2016, Trump dominated the media’s attention by making many controversial comments on various subjects, including immigration, the economy, terrorism, Islam, various media personalities and his primary opponents. This starved his opponents of free media coverage.

Trump’s hard-line position on immigration earned him support from 30-35% of the Republican primary electorate. In a field that started with 17 candidates, this vote share was enough to give him big leads over his nearest challengers.

Trump’s balloon seemed to burst in Iowa, where he finished second behind Texas Senator Ted Cruz and only just ahead of Florida Senator Marco Rubio. However, he had a big victory in New Hampshire the following week, and won South Carolina and Nevada in late February.

On 1 March, Trump won 7 of the 11 Super Tuesday states. By this time, only four candidates were left: Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Even though Trump was winning, he did not win a vote majority in a state until late April. Up until 15 March, Republican delegate allocation rules were largely proportional and Trump’s share of overall delegates awarded remained below 50%.

On 15 March, Trump crushed Rubio 46% to 27% in Rubio’s home state of Florida, taking all 99 delegates in the first winner-takes-all contest, and knocking Rubio out of the contest. Kasich won his home state of Ohio on the same day, but this was the only state he would win.

At this stage, Trump was very likely to win more delegates than any other candidate. The very conservative Ted Cruz could only hope to win by holding Trump below a 1,237 majority of delegates, and then winning a contested convention. Cruz had some successes from late March to late April, winning virtually all available delegates in Colorado, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Utah.

This period of Cruz dominance came to a crashing halt on 19 April, when Trump won 60% of the vote in his home state of New York, and 89 of 95 delegates. On 26 April, Trump won at least 50% of the vote in each of five north-eastern states, and virtually all delegates. On 3 May, Trump won Indiana with 53%, to 37% for Cruz, and won all 57 of Indiana’s delegates. Cruz and Kasich were both forced out, and Trump easily won the nomination. Trump’s crushing wins over these two weeks can be attributed to people, who did not initially back him, voting for him to avoid a contested convention.

Trump’s shock nomination happened for three key reasons. First, 30-35% of the Republican primary electorate wanted a candidate who was anti-establishment, anti-immigrant and not politically correct. Second, Trump’s primary opponents never consolidated, so the not-Trump vote was always split between at least two candidates. Third, the Republican delegate allocation rules greatly advantaged the popular vote winner, even if that winner was short of a majority.

Clinton Nomination

In contrast to Trump, Hillary Clinton is a very well known politician. She was the First Lady during Bill Clinton’s 1993-2000 Presidency. In 2000, she became one of New York’s two Federal Senators, and was re-elected in 2006. In 2008, Clinton narrowly lost the Democratic Presidential nomination to Barack Obama, and she became Obama’s Secretary of State following his election, serving throughout his first term until February 2013.

Clinton’s name recognition intimidated other prospective candidates for the Democratic nomination. By late 2015, it was clear that Clinton’s only real opponent would be Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist. Even though he was 74, Sanders’ left wing positions had far more appeal to young people than Clinton.

During the Democratic primaries, Sanders’ core supporters were young people and Independents who voted in the Democratic primaries. Clinton’s supporters were black and Hispanic voters, and self-identified Democrats. Sanders took an early delegate lead with a large win in New Hampshire, but Clinton crushed him in South Carolina and in the Super Tuesday states, where minority voters made up a large share of the Democratic primary electorate.

Although Sanders fought back with huge wins in low-turnout caucus states, Clinton’s big delegate lead following Super Tuesday was never threatened, and she easily won the large, diverse states that had lots of delegates on offer. Sanders fought until the last contests in June, but Clinton won the overall popular vote across the US by 55% to 43%, and won 359 more pledged delegates than Sanders.

The Democrats use proportional representation to allocate their pledged delegates, and this delayed Clinton’s victory. If Democrats had used the winner-take-all or winner-take-most allocation rules that Republicans began to use after 15 March, Clinton would have won the nomination far earlier.

Some Sanders supporters have claimed that the nomination was somehow stolen from Sanders. The fact is that Clinton is the nominee because she won more votes and pledged delegates than Sanders.

Author

Dr Adrian Beaumont

Election Watch polls analyst

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    politics Politics democrat; republican Democrat; Republican