Tag Archives: 2020

Four More Years?

I recently kicked-off my absurdly early coverage of the 2020 Democratic primary, necessitated by the absurdly large field. (It reached 22 candidates as of yesterday!) Since today is officially 18 months until 11/3/20, it seemed absurdly early/fair to give the other side its share. Don’t worry, this will be quick!

What I primarily want to touch base on is the perception/paralyzing fear that Trump will be reelected. I hear this among Left/Progressive friends even from people I consider to be very politically savvy. This puzzles me. Because, while we definitely shouldn’t lull ourselves into a false sense that beating him will be easy, or a sure thing, the alternate idea that he’s an inevitable victor is BAL-DER-DASH!!!!!!

Exhibit one, Trump’s approval rating compared to other recent Presidents at the same point in their first term (courtesy of 538):

pop

He’s below Obama and Clinton, who were popularly thought to be in potential trouble at this point. He’s much more like Carter and Ford, who were in fact going on to lose. He’s the ONLY President in 70 years who’s NEVER been above 50% approval. About his only glimmer of hope above is Reagan, but Reagan was mired in a recession at the time, and rebounded sharply when the economy improved. Trump has these numbers in a (however shallowly spread the gains are) expansion.

Somewhere right now someone is starting in with the “Oh yeah, the polls were so accurate in 2016, weren’t they?” Stop. Because they actually were, as much as one could expect them to be. RCP’s final average was Clinton +3, actual was Clinton +2:

polls2016

They polls, en-mass were nowhere near off enough to make one think that two years-plus of multiple polling firms consistently showing Trump having the worst approval ratings of any postwar President is wrong. It isn’t. He does.

Also consider that the real problem in 2016 was not that polls everywhere were off. It was polls in the Midwest being off. And even there, we see this:

difference

The entire difference was 77,744 votes in three states. Put another way, if 38,873 voters out of 13.9 million total in those states (also know as 0.56%) had changed their minds, it would have gone differently. Now consider. Everything was this close with:

  • A massive, and largely unknown, counterintelligence operation by a hostile foreign power.
  • A Democratic candidate who had historically unprecedented net unfavorability numbers. Yes, largely as a result of decades of bullshit targeting by the Right, but still.
  • A massive news story 11 days before the election that reactivated all the worst narratives/concerns about the Democratic candidate. (That James Comey. What a rascal!)

It’s not too hard to imagine that, being on the lookout for the election interference this time, and if the Democratic nominee is someone who hasn’t had literal decades of Right Wing negative messaging directed against them, and isn’t in the midst of a current FBI investigation, Trump’s extremely narrow 2016 margin is in trouble. Especially considering his approval has never been above 43%, 3% lower than the 46% he “won” 2016 with.

If you assume just a 1.5% difference in 2020 through whatever combination of means (a few more disgruntled Republicans sit it out, a few more energized Democrats show up, a few more now thoroughly disgusted Independents break the other way) the map looks like this:

map2020

So, for those who imagine an easy victory for Democrats in 2020, I scream, “No! Did you learn nothing from last time? Start organizing now! Organize like your lives are on the line!” But to those who are convinced we’re doomed before we start, I again say:

BALDERDASH!

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There can be only one…

candidatessss.PNG

I hadn’t expected to begin my regular coverage of the 2020 Presidential campaign so early, but I better get started sooner rather than later because, as you may have heard, there are currently 19 candidates for the Democratic nomination. Or 20 if you believe that Mike Gravel is actually running, and not being held captive in a basement by a bunch of 4Chan teenagers who are impersonating him on social media. And with the inevitable Biden still pending, it will soon be 21.

How on Earth can anyone keep track of 21 candidates? Well the good news that I’m here to deliver is that you don’t have to because, in reality, there aren’t 21 candidates. There are really only eight candidates. I’ll explain in a moment.

First, let’s address the issue of analyst bias. Specifically, mine. Like anyone, I have some candidates I like more than others. In the interests of full disclosure: In the 2016 primary I supported Sanders, and made contributions to his campaign through the final primary. So far this year, I have made at least one contribution (sometimes more) to Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Wayne Messam, Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, William Weld, and Marianne Williamson.

In fact, I have a color-coded classification of my preference for all the declared candidates. If you correctly decipher the coding, you’ll know exactly what I think:

color code

So, I have opinions, leanings, etc. Those are entirely irrelevant to this exercise though, because what I’m actually going to look at is three measures that have a high degree of correlation to who the eventual nominee will be. It’s a little early for all of them yet, but by the eve of Iowa, they’ll give a pretty solid indication of which way the nomination will go. Already, certain patterns can be seen.

First up, rather straightforwardly, is polling. It seems a little silly on the face of it to look at national polling for what is in fact 50-something individual caucuses and primaries, but it turns out that, by the time you get to Iowa, who’s leading in national polls has about a 60% correlation with who will win the nomination.

If you look at current rankings (courtesy of Real Clear Politics), you can easily spot a top tier of two front-runners, a second tier, and then a third tier I might name “well, at least he’s not dead in the water”. All told, seven candidates who appear to be contenders:

polls

Another leading indicator is fundraising. The early fundraiser leader ends up being the nominee 62% of the time. We have a ways to go before this measure becomes predictive at that level, but already based on the Q1 fundraising numbers, we can spot a similar three-tier structure. There’s a clear front-runner, a strong second tier, and a third-tier who are around $5 million:

fundssss

Finally, there’s a theory in political science circles known as “The Party Decides”. The basic idea is that institutional support from party elites is the key indicator of who the nominee will be. Once you reach the eve of Iowa, this measure does in fact call the winner 63% of the time.

Most potential endorsers are staying on the sidelines until things develop further, but with the party leaders who have committed so far, you’ll see a familiar three-tier structure. Two front-runners on top, a strong second tier placer, and then a third tier clustered within 10 points or so of each other:

endorsements

You would naturally suspect these three measures have a lot of correlation with each other, and aren’t really totally independent variables. Like, of course, somebody doing well in the polls is probably also doing well in fundraising, and is thus attracting potential endorsements. But they probably also aren’t perfectly correlated. So, if they’re 60% accurate individually, collectively they might be 2/3? 75%? accurate.

Keeping that in mind, looking at the three measures together, each is calling out pretty much the same set of people, albeit in different order. Put together, the candidates who seem to have any shot at all are:

Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Sanders, Warren

That’s it. You may dispense with the other thirteen!

The necessary caveat at this point is that it’s still very early. To give two examples, Bernie Sanders at this point in ’16 was polling around 4%, and Rudy Giuliani at this point in ’08 was the clear Republican front-runner. That being said, I was pretty generous with my tiers, and while somebody on the lower end now might well be in the upper tier by the end of the year, I’d be pretty surprised if the eventual nominee isn’t in this group at all.

But, hey, if I’m wrong, you’ll see! Tune in again in mid-July for further refinement following the first debates and Q2 fundraising numbers!