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Friday, September 09, 2016

Battleground states don't matter

Trump visited the Cleveland market for the second time this week, and Hillary too shall blanket the state. Presidential candidates every four years become like a swarm of those mites we call Canadian soldiers blanketing Cuyahoga County. Washington wisdom holds that Ohio is a battleground state.

It isn't. There is no such thing as a battleground state.

Let me explain. There are close states, but really, the best advice is to win the popular vote by one-point or more.

Consider the political map of the states as a topographical map. The valleys are Republican. West Virginia may be the Mountain State, but it is the Valley of the Jolly Republicans now. Romney took all 55 counties last time, after McCain took 53 in 2008.

The higher the elevation, the more Democratic the jurisdiction is. Washington, DC, is the Death Spiral of Republican presidential politics.

To take a state, Trump must flood it with voters. A rising tide covers more states.

Here is how that works. In 2008, Ohio was supposed to be a battleground state. Obama won nationally by 7.2 points, and carried Ohio by 4.6 points, a difference of 2.6.

In 2012, Obama won nationally by 3.9 and carried Ohio by 3.

I maintain that had Obama tied Romney nationally, he would have Ohio, as well as Florida, which he won by less than a point) and maybe Virginia, which he won by 3.87 points.

That's 60 Electoral College votes, and that would have meant a 272-266 win for Obama, almost as narrow as Bush 43's win in 2000.

Now visiting Ohio, Florida, and Virginia are nice. They are a short flight to Trump's New York headquarters, and reporters covering him have easy access to the amenities needed to file their reports.

But a national campaign would be just as effective.

In head-to-head polls, Real Clear Politics Poll Average had Clinton ahead by 2.8 nationally.

In state poll averages, she is ahead 0.3 in Florida, 1.0 in Ohio, and 5.0 in Virginia.

And in other states Obama carried, Trump is up 1.0 in Iowa, while Clinton is up 2.3 in Nevada.

If tied nationally, he would take Florida, Ohio, Iowa, and Nevada, for a 273-265 win for Clinton.

A lead by 1 point would be enough for an Electoral College win. Only four times in the previous 56 elections has the popular vote failed in the Electoral College, and there were mitigating circumstances. Andrew Jackson had only 41 percent of the vote in the 1824 race, which was thrown to the House after Jackson failed to win a majority in the Electoral College. The House elected John Quincy Adams.

The 1876 election was marred by the Ku Klux Klan keeping black Republican voters from the polls. A commission gave the election to Rutherford B. Hayes.

The 1888 election was a 48.6 percent-47.8 percent win for Grover Cleveland, but lopsided wins for Cleveland in the South meant Benjamin Harrison won in the Electoral College.

And then there was the 2000 race. Gore's edge was only 0.5%.

But in every other two-candidate race where there is no significant third party, win by one-point or more and you are in.

A tie is too close to call. Trump -- and Clinton -- need a win of one-point or more. For example, with a 2.8-point lead, RCP has Clinton wining 340-198. Sounds right.

Now one caveat, Mister Emptor. Nate Silver agrees, writing about Clinton's shrinking lead:
My position is that a decline in Clinton’s national polls necessarily means that she’s declined in the states. There’s just no way around this; as we learned on Schoolhouse Rock, the United States is composed of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Perhaps it’s possible Clinton’s declined more in noncompetitive states than competitive ones — for instance, if Trump’s gains have mostly come from Republicans, widening his margins in red states but less in purple states. But that sort of conclusion is usually wishful thinking.
I think he is right this time because he is looking at the numbers instead of engaging in wishful thinking, unlike last year when he got Trump wrong.

The best way for Trump to win is not state-by-state but nationally. A 2.8-point win would be indisputable.


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  1. There's no way to account for people who don't make a habit of voting. This election is going to be determined by them.

  2. Hope you're right, Don. National popularity matters a whole lot, but turnout does as well. Trump has bigger rallies, yes. But Hillary's got 11 campaign offices in FL to the Donald's 1. It's not impossible to think that they'll get enough drive-by Democrats to shift the tide.

  3. And he has to win outside the margin of error or Dimocrats will find enough votes in recounts to defeat him.

  4. "The higher the elevation, the more Democratic the jurisdiction is. Washington, DC, is the Death Spiral of Republican presidential politics."

    I think that you mean the LOWER the elevation, the more Democratic-ish.

  5. "The higher the elevation, the more Democratic the jurisdiction is."

    Some sort of lack of oxygen? A low barometric pressure thing?

    Reminds me of those alternative cooking instructions you'd see for areas above 3500 feet, and the supposed consequences of using the wrong recipe method. Had an uncle who used to tell us young whippersnappers about how his hound had stolen a cake cooked just below the 3500 feet mark, and then run up the mountain.

    "Poor critter done exploded", he'd finish.

  6. Certainly, a standing better than the MOE probably translates into a national win.

    We don't see many, but this year may change things.

  7. A skilled fortune-teller predicts what the customer wants to hear, not what's actually going to happen in the customer's future.

    It's much the same with politicians.

    What will decide this election is just what it is the majority of those who vote want to hear.

    That's what a skilled pollster would concentrate on determining.

  8. You know as well as I, Don, that in your old hometown, and in Summit, Lucas, and Hamilton counties, it won't be close, and the if it were, the Democrats would steal enough votes to win.

  9. There's the rub - George Soros' Secretary of State Project placed a lot of Democrat party foxes in charge of the vote-counting henhouses. - Elric