Gaming Out a Clinton/Trump Contest

We’ve reached that point in this election cycle where most pundits are assuming that the November ballot will pit Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. But since the primaries haven’t concluded yet, it is important to acknowledge that polling for the general election is not terribly predictive. All the same, folks are weighing in on how they think that contest will go down.

Kicking things off over the weekend was Dan Balz who wrote: How Trump vs Clinton Could Change the Electoral Map.

Among the 18 states that have been in Democratic hands since the 1992 election are Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Along with Ohio and Iowa, those heartland states are likely to be the most intensely contested battlegrounds in the country if a Trump-Clinton race materializes.

All those states have higher concentrations of white voters, including larger percentages of older, white working-class voters, than many of the states in faster-growing areas that Obama looked to in his two campaigns.

“If he drives big turnout increases with white voters, especially with white male voters, that has the potential to change the map,” said a veteran of Obama’s campaigns, who spoke anonymously in order to share current analysis of the fall campaign.

That is likely to be the preferred narrative of many in the media who hope to cast this as a close battle down to election day. But then, along comes Greg Sargent today with this headline: Donald Trump Will (Almost Certainly) Never Be Elected President. Here’s Why. Sargent worked with demographer Ruy Teixeira to document the following:

To succeed, this analysis finds, Trump would likely have to improve on Mitt Romney’s advantage over Barack Obama among blue collar whites by double digit margins, which is an astronomically high bar — in almost all of these states…

The rub of the matter is that Trump’s goal of winning by running up big margins among whites could be made even harder by ongoing demographic shifts that are slowly rendering even whiter Rust Belt states less white. The CAP report found that in a number of these states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — the blue collar white share of the vote is projected to decline by at least two percentage points, and the overall white share is projected to drop by around one point.

Ed Kilgore starts by tipping his hat to the analysis by Dan Balz. But then he points to the polling from Utah that Martin wrote about earlier and concludes:

But it’s clear Trump might not just change the electoral landscape but could instead move tectonic plates. And for a Republican Party reasonably optimistic about 2016 from the get-go, that’s an unsettling possibility. You can construct a scenario in which Trump wins a general election. It’s just as easy, though, to construct a scenario where he loses in a catastrophic manner of the sort partisan polarization supposedly made impossible.

Finally, Susan Page and Jenny Ung provide results from a USA Today/Rock the Vote poll of voters under 35 years of age which demonstrats that nothing will inspire the youth vote quite like having Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.

Opposition to Trump nearly unites the rising generation.

In a hypothetical Clinton v. Trump contest in November, voters under 35 would choose Clinton by a crushing 52%-19%, a preference that crosses demographic lines. Among whites, she’d be backed by nearly 2-1, 45%-26%. Among Hispanics, by more than 4-1, 61%-14%. Among Asian Americans, by 5-1, 60%-11%. Among African Americans, by 13-1, 67%-5%.

And the yawning gender gap she has against Sanders would vanish: Clinton would carry young men and women by almost identical margins of more than 2-1.

Nearly one in four Republicans would defect to the Democrats if the GOP nominated Trump against Clinton. Just 7% of Democrats would defect to the GOP.

If I were in the prediction business, I’d tend to lean towards the analysis suggesting that the election will be rather lopsided in favor of Clinton. But we still have seven months to go and a lot can change between now and then. Let the games begin…

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.