27 March 2016

Hillary Clinton's Inevitable Victory? Election Returns Say Otherwise.

Edward Luce, of the Financial Times, has declared the 2016 Presidential election over except for the shouting, and declared Hillary Clinton the winner in a blowout victory--an amazing feat, given that the actual election itself is still six months away.

Luce' argument is that Donald Trump is the odds-on favorite to be the Republican nominee, that Hillary Clinton is assured of being the Democratic nominee, and that Donald Trump cannot help but lose horribly to Hillary Clinton in the general election. 

The first leg of his thesis is admittedly fairly sound. Donald Trump leads the Republican field, and is the only candidate with a plausible chance of securing a majority of delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. 

The second leg of his thesis is slightly less certain, given that Bernie Sanders swept the 25 March primary contests in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii by huge margins (his narrowest victory was in Hawaii, where he won over 69% of the popular vote), and has now bested Hillary Clinton in the last 5 of 6 state contests. Hillary remains in the lead in both overall popular vote and in overall delegates, but in terms of the number of states each candidate has won, the race is far more balanced. Thanks to the Democratic party's large number (712) of so-called "superdelegates"--delegates not bound to any candidate but free to vote however they choose--the nomination remains within the grasp of either candidate. 

The third leg of his thesis, however, suffers from some rather significant cognitive dissonance. While innumerable polls point to a myriad of problems Donald Trump presumably will encounter with various voter demographics, all polling is at best a projection of future behavior--respondents are telling pollsters how they will vote, not how they actually have voted. Actual vote totals in the Democratic and Republican primary contests thus far paint a far different picture of how the as-yet hypothetical Clinton-Trump matchup would go.

Here are the actual numbers. These are the total votes cast in both the Democratic and Republican primaries through 25 March 2016.

  • Hillary Clinton has received 8,924,920 votes out of 15,323,340 Democratic votes cast.
  • Donald Trump has received 7,811,245 votes out of 19,783,685 Republican votes cast. (Actually, the total Republican vote is underreported as Real Clear Politics, my source for these figures, is no longer reporting vote totals for candidates who have dropped out after the primaries began: Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush).
  • Ted Cruz has received 5,732,220 Republican votes.
  • Donald Trump has received more votes than Hillary Clinton in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont.
These are raw numbers, without any filtering, editing, or normalizations applied. They do not take into account, for example, that up until the most recent primaries, Donald Trump has led the field in a four-way race while Hillary Clinton has only had to run against Bernie Sanders. There is no weighting given to the argument that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are fairly close in terms of policy proposals and ideology, and are jointly grouped by the commentariat as "insurgent" candidates. There is no prognostication of the impact of the "Bernie or Bust" movement among Democrats, asserting that if Bernie Sanders is not the nominee his supporters will not vote in November (or possibly might defect to likely GOP nominee Donald Trump).

With the primaries a little more than halfway done, Republicans have convinced over 4.4 million more voters to the polls and caucuses than the Democrats. The Republican turnout edge is equal to just under half of Hillary Clinton's vote total.

On the raw numbers alone, Donald Trump trails Hillary Clinton only by 1.1 million votes overall, although he outpolls her in twelve states.

On the raw numbers alone, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz combined outpoll Clinton in all but four states (Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Minnesota), and their combined vote total exceeds that of Hillary Clinton by in excess of 4.6 million votes--a vote margin that exceeds the Republican turnout margin. If only half of Ted Cruz voters are added to Donald Trump's total, Hillary Clinton prevails in only two more states, Louisiana and Virginia.

If one follows the commentariat model of counting Trump and Cruz as insurgent candidates, it is not unreasonable to presume that, come the general election, supporters of whomever of the two is not the nominee will support the other. Certainly the two are not far apart on such matters as immigration, healthcare reform, and confronting terrorism and radical Islamic jihad.

Regardless of what polling prognosticators predict, based solely on votes cast thus far, the most optimistic scenario for Hillary Clinton is a close race and likely a photo finish in the popular vote, with maybe a slightly larger edge in the Electoral College. But scenarios where Donald Trump wins convincingly in both the popular vote and the Electoral College are not at all unreasonable.

Hillary Clinton might win in November. So might Donald Trump. Neither candidate is assured of victory, and it is foolish of the commentariat to suggest otherwise.

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