Thursday, 28 April 2016

US Election 2016 - End of the Line

US Election 2016

End of the Line

As the US presidential primaries roll to their close, we've now reached a point where we can come to some relatively final conclusions about both the Democratic and Republican campaigns.

I'll elaborate on these conclusions shortly, but here they are for now:

It's the end of the line for Sanders' campaign. Senator Sanders' campaign to get on the Democratic Presidential ticket was an extraordinary triumph: that a candidate with little to no nation-wide organisation, relatively little funding, and little to no national visibility has managed to do as well against a candidate with a fully fleshed-out organisation, piles of money, and a national profile stretching back decades is nothing short of astonishing. In the end, though, it wasn't enough. Unless Sanders' campaign does amazingly well in the remaining part of the primary, Clinton will win.

Trump (aka Yuuuge Lying Demagogue) might just clinch the nomination. With massively decisive results this month, he's just 284 delegates back from having enough of them to avoid a contested Republican convention in the summer. With the potential for big gains in the remaining winner-take-most and winner-take-all states, and the likelihood of capturing at least some of the remaining states, such a victory now appears entirely achievable. In short, it might be the end of the line for the Cruz and Kasich campaigns. The question is, what does this mean for the Republican Party and the country?

I'll make extensive use of the New York Times' primary calendar for information.

The Democratic Party

How Bad is it for Sanders?
As of this writing, there are 1,206 pledged delegates remaining in the Democratic party primary contest. Senator Clinton has secured 1,650 pledged delegates thus far; Senator Sanders, 1,348.

Sanders had been chipping away at Clinton's lead over late March and early April, and had he maintained that momentum through to the present he might have been in a position to nab the nomination with big wins in the final months (making California's primary vote relevant). Clinton, however, not only had a big win in New York (the state she represents in the Senate), but also in most of the northeastern states that were up for grabs earlier just yesterday. She now sits with a comfortable margin of 302 delegates.

This appears to be the death knell for Sanders' campaign, for two reasons:

First, he can't win enough pledged delegates. In order to catch up Clinton in pledged delegates, Sanders has to win at least 754, or 63%, of the remaining 1,206 delegates available. That is, he has to be able to win that share of delegates across the board, or be able to win an even bigger share in some states if he falls short in others.

As of this writing, polling (as per Wikipedia) in some of the states with bigger delegate counts is as follows:
California (546 delegates) - Clinton leading with 46-52% of the vote
Indiana (92 delegates) - Clinton leading with ~48% of the vote
Kentucky (61 delegates) - Clinton leading with 43% of the vote (with an admittedly large undecided proportion)
New Jersey (142 delegates) - Clinton leading with at least 50% of the vote
Oregon (74 delegates) - a near tie in the latest polling

(Given it had 67 delegates, I might have included Puerto Rico, but I didn't find much in the way of polling.)

In other words, not only does Sanders not have enough support in these states to win two-thirds (or more!) of their delegates, Clinton is winning in most of the critical ones, even if it's not by large margins.

Second, he doesn't have enough Democratic Party support to win over superdelegates. Unlike pledged delegates, who are assigned based on the results of the state and territory contests, the superdelegates can support whomever they want. Clinton has been a central figure in the Democratic Party since being First Lady in the 1990s. While Sanders caucuses with the Democratic Party in Congress, he is ostensibly an Independent, and is therefore a party outsider, meaning he is inherently less likely to garner support from superdelegates.

Further, while Clinton appears to be working with the Democratic Party's national organisation and various state organisations, to make sure Democrats meet with success down-ticket as well, it's not clear that the Sanders campaign has done the same, at least at the same scale. Again, party superdelegates are far more likely to support someone who is committed to helping the party as a whole do well in the general election than someone who isn't.

What should the Sanders campaign do about this?
Because of the inability to secure either sufficient pledged delegates or superdelegates, Sanders' campaign is basically guaranteed to lose at this point. The question is, what should it do?

The two alternatives appear to be to either concede defeat, or to continue to campaign, knowing that victory is more or less out of the cards. Unless the contest gets particularly vicious over the next two months in such a way as to harm the Democrats' chances in November, my opinion would be that they stay the course.

For starters, while an upset is effectively impossible, if it were to happen, there's no way it could if Sanders concedes. Staying in the race leaves open the possibility of a lottery-win scenario, as unlikely as it is.

Second, Sanders' success (relative to his starting point of near-complete obscurity) speaks to the growth of progressively-minded demographics in the United States, which bodes well for future contests. (Key to success for progressives in future contests, of course, will be making the effort to fight and win at small and mid-scale races - school boards, municipalities, other elected regulatory bodies, all the way up to state governments, the way the far right has managed to do over the last few decades.) Keeping up the contest to the end and maintaining a decent showing will be key to keeping the visibility of this demographic high, and, possibly, keeping it motivated to stay involved in politics.

Third, the Sanders campaign has to mend fences once this is all over. The Democratic Party might be in a comfortable position for the Presidential race (unless Kasich wins the Republican primary), but the easiest way to ruin that is to have a major internal rift that leaves disenchanted supporters of Sanders either not voting, or voting for someone else. Considering the vacancy at the Supreme Court, and the difference between Clinton and any of the Republican candidates on climate change, it's simply too important that the Democratic Party wins the White House - and makes serious gains in Congress - in November.

The Republican Party

How Good is it for Trump?
As of this writing, there are 502 remaining pledged delegates to be allocated in the Republican primary contest. Of the Republican contenders, the Yuuuge Lying Demagogue has secured 954 delegates (both pledged and unpledged), Cruz has 562, Rubio (who is no longer campaigning) has 171, and Kasich has 153.

Although the other candidates have won states here and there, none of them have been able to match Trump's momentum, momentum which propelled him to victory in New York and the Eastern Seaboard states which voted in late April. This last round of victories has put him in the position where he could conceivably clinch the nomination. It's not an easy task, but it's feasible. To win the nomination outright based on pledged delegates (barring any moves by the party at the convention to stop him), he needs 283 more delegates, or about 56% of the remaining delegates.

Is this feasible? Let's examine where things stand.

National polling heavily favours the Yuuuge Lying Demagogue. Recent national-level polls have shown that he has a significant lead over any of his rivals, with anywhere from a 6 to 12 point advantage. Even if he's polling at less than 50%, if he can maintain that sort of lead he'll have massive advantages in key states. Most significant are the states with winner-take-all and winner-take-most delegate allotment. If Trump wins those, the delegates don't get split proportionally.

What of the winner-take-all-states? The remaining winner-take-all states are Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, and South Dakota. While polling data in most of these is scarce, in New Jersey, Trump currently has the support of the majority of expected voters. If he can maintain support in other states consistent with his national support, he will win them and therefore all their delegates. All in all, the winner-take-all states are worth 143 delegates, or just over half the delegates YLD needs to win. It wouldn't surprise me if they're priority targets of his campaign.

What of the winner-take-most states? The remaining winner-take-most states are California and Indiana.

California awards 13 delegates to the overall state winner, and 3 delegates per district to the winner of each of its 53 districts. Being a larger, wealthier, and more important state, it's had a plethora of polling, and as things stand, Trump is a clear winner, with the most recent statewide polling showing him just shy of being 20 points up from the competition. Without a per-district breakout, let's assume he'll win the statewide delegates and a number of districts equal to his share of the statewide vote (or 44% based on the polling average as of this writing). In other words, he's on pace to win 82 of California's 172 delegates.

As for Indiana, it awards 30 delegates to the statewide winner, and 3 delegates to the winner of each of its 9 districts. Here again, while polling doesn't hand Trump a majority, he has a commanding lead. With a forecast just shy of 40% of the vote, he can probably expect to win the statewide delegates and about four districts, for a total of 42 of the state's delegates.

In short, with the winner-take-all and winner-take-most states, if the Yuuuge Lying Demagogue wins in these states, he nets 267 delegates, leaving him plenty of room to pick up 16 delegates from among the other states' pot of 130 delegates. More likely, in the event he loses in a few winner-take-all states, he'll do well enough in the rest of the pack to pick up the slack. In short, he's got a pretty good shot at having enough delegates to clinch the nomination come the convention, barring some sort of shenanigans by the Republican Party establishment to shut him out.

Implications for Cruz and Kasich
The Yuuuge Lying Demagogue's remaining rivals are Cruz and Kasich, and things look pretty bad for them. Cruz is over 400 delegates behind Trump, and polling over 10 points behind him on average. For Kasich, the situation is even worse: he's just over 400 delegates behind Cruz, and down 9 points in polling. Despite their recent pact, they're so far behind Trump that they can no longer expect to benefit from consolidating their votes, the way a consolidated anti-Trump vote might have made a difference before Super Tuesday. What's more, each can't count on the other's voters supporting the pact: as The Atlantic notes, either Trump is their second choice if their first choice isn't available, or they just don't like the alternatives enough to vote at all.

Here, then, Cruz and Kasich have found themselves in as bad or worse position as Sanders. (Worse because of the implications for the Republican party as a whole in November, to which we shall now turn.)

How bad is this for the Republican Party?
It's pretty bad. Although a very recent poll showed a thin margin of victory for Clinton versus Trump, most polls conducted in April have shown her possessing commanding leads, in some cases in excess of 10 points.

While it's certainly in early stages, it might be worth comparing some previous late April or early May polls in the lead-up to Presidential elections, when both parties had contested primaries. In recent years, that's 2008 and 2000.

2008 polling. The polling in 2008 was far tighter than it is this year: the eventual Democratic primary (and general election) winner, then-Senator Obama, had slender leads at best, often only 1 to 2 points up from his Republican counterpart, Senator McCain.

2000 polling. The Internet was not as fully developed in 2000 as it was even just eight years later, so it's harder to find an easy chart showing overall results. Wikipedia shows Bush with a substantial lead over Gore in April and June, with no indication given for May. A mid-year Gallup report also mostly shows Bush in the lead (although it had narrowed since the previous year). Bush was also doing much better compared to Gore among independent voters than the Yuuuge Lying Demagogue is compared to Clinton.

Although not as directly comparable, we can look at the elections with incumbent candidates. In 2004, Bush was leading Kerry in late April and early May, and would go on to win. In 2012, Obama was generally leading Romney in polling over the same period (although Romney briefly matched Obama). In short, at least in the 21st century, the polling leader in springtime is likely to go on to win in November.

This is particularly concerning because with an establishment candidate, the Republicans could cash in on Clinton's low approval ratings (and indeed, Kasich has polled better than Clinton in polls asking about their match-up recently). The problem is that Trump has even worse approval ratings. Compounded with the Republican Party's aggregate approval rating of 28% (disastrously low even when stacked against the Democrats' own tepid 46%), a Trump nomination currently appears to not only be costing the Republican Party a shot at the White House, but also threatens it down-ticket.

What can the Republicans do?
Hope and pray that, against all odds, Trump can't win enough delegates to clinch the nomination before the convention. A contested convention could smooth the path to any action the party takes to put the nomination in the hands of someone - anyone - else.

Of course, that course of action could lead to just as serious problems, should Trump decide to make a third-party bid in the event he's snubbed by the Republicans. The questions the Republican Party faces are these: if party machinations deny Trump the nomination, how much of his voting coalition would split off from voting Republican if he runs on a third-party ticket, and how much of it would stay home if he doesn't?

The Final Word

With the Yuuuge Lying Demagogue on the verge of outright victory, the Republican Party is on the horns of a dilemma: barring some extraordinary circumstances, it currently seems likely that letting him have the nomination will ruin the party's electoral fortunes, on account of nominating just about the only political figure solid majorities of Americans dislike or distrust even more than they dislike or distrust Clinton. On the flip side, shenanigans during the convention to deny him the nomination could backfire spectacularly, with the same net result.

By contrast, the Democratic Party has the knowledge that both Clinton and Sanders poll favourably against Trump. It has its reasons to favour Clinton, as I have only barely outlined above, of course, but if bizarre things happen and Sanders ends up winning against Clinton, at least he's likely to win against "The Donald". By no means can the Democrats rest on their laurels - if there was one way for them to lose, it would be via complacency.

Let's see what happens next.

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