2016 Math

At Bloomberg Politics today, Ken Goldstein goes through a well-informed analysis of the 2016 political demographics assuming various categories of voters behave in roughly similar ways. As pretty much everyone now assumes, the big question is whether the Democratic candidate–who will not be an African-American–can hang onto the Obama Coalition, with the slight but significant cushion supplied by demographic changes since 2012. Goldstein cites three interesting scenarios from Patrick Oakford of CAP:

Putting a variety of factors together, Patrick Oakford of the liberal Center for American Progress ran three Electoral College simulations combining statewide projections of eligible voters in 2016 with various assumptions about vote choice or performance. In each, Oakford assumed that racial and ethnic turnout rates in 2016 would be identical to 2012.

In his first 2016 simulation, he assumed that each group divided their votes (according to state-level exit polls) identically as they did in 2012. Not surprisingly, (since they won comfortably in the Electoral College in 2012), Democrats would also take the presidency in 2016 under this scenario, adding North Carolina to the states Obama won in 2012.

In the second simulation, Oakford assumed 2004 performance levels by both parties (giving the 2016 Republican nominee the benefit of George W. Bush’s relatively strong performance with Hispanics). The race gets closer, but the Democrats win.

In the final simulation, Oakford gave Republicans the benefit of their high vote share among whites in 2012 and their relatively high vote share among Hispanics in 2004. Even with these favorable assumptions, the Democrats still get over 270.

But then Goldstein offers this objection:

Some of the turnout increases among blacks in 2008 and 2012 may have been due to the Democrats’ technical mobilizing wizardry. But it seems reasonable to assume that most of it was due to the fact that Obama was on the top of the ticket.

There’s some evidence supporting that. We know what black turnout was in 2010 and 2014, when Democrats spent just as much time, effort, and money as in the presidential contests, but Obama was not on the ticket.

It’s possible black turnout was lower than it might have been in 2010 and 2014 because Obama was not on the ballot. But turnout among all voters is lower in midterms, and turnout among minority voters (especially Hispanics and Asians, and in most elections African-Americans) is especially lower, so Obama being off the ticket is not necessarily the causal factor.

But Goldstein’s piece is a good contribution to a fact-based conversation we need to have.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.