Jim Clark: With Clinton vs. Trump, don’t read much into early polls (opinion)
June 24, 2016
Don't get upset by presidential polling reports. Although the statistical tie between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has devolved in the latest polls to a Clinton lead (42% to Trump's 39%, and Libertarian Johnson's 8%), all these early figures do is give the media and the leading campaign's spokespersons a basis for making inaccurate predictions for the fall.
Even polls taken immediately before the election can yield wildly false results (the Gallup Poll is still smarting for its election eve 1948 prediction of Dewey over Truman).
Pundits also cite earlier races to bolster their conclusions. Many who are predicting a GOP disaster point to the 1964 Goldwater-Johnson election.
June 1964 polls showed Johnson with an overwhelming 77% to 18% lead over Goldwater. That November, Johnson crushed Goldwater 61% to 38%, a huge landslide but markedly different from the early campaign polls.
Those predicting a Trump romp point to the 1980 Carter-Reagan election. Like the 2016 campaign, 1980 included an Independent candidate, John Anderson. The June 1980 polls showed Carter leading Reagan 35% to 32%, with Anderson polling at 21%. In November 1980l Reagan won 51% of the national vote, Carter 41% and Anderson 7%.
These results tell us little about the 2016 election. Larry Sabato, head of the respected University of Virginia Center for Politics, authored a comprehensive study and analysis comparing early campaign polling with election results and concluded: "You might as well flip a coin."
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Conclusion? Don't put a lot of weight on pundits' and candidates' predictions based on early polls.
A more rational approach to election result predicting is to look at how each state shapes up because the game is played out in the Electoral College. This provides a different slant than polls because each state's electoral vote equals the number of its congressmen plus its two senators, so smaller states have slightly more electoral power per voter than large states.
A candidate who receives 270 or more electoral votes is the winner. If no candidate wins at least 270, the election is decided by the U.S. House of Representatives.
So called "blue" states have a history of supporting Democratic candidates, a well-oiled state Democratic Party and, in general, Democratic control of the state house and legislature.
"Red" states are historic GOP-voting states based on the same characteristics. In modern elections, east coast, west coast and "rust belt" states above the Mason-Dixon Line have been blue states.
Most southern, mountain and Great Plains states have been reliably Republican. "Swing" states are those whose voters have historically been less predictable and collectively are the deciding factor in presidential elections. Nevada is one of the swing states.
Here's the analysis: If you believe that Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and that Bernie Sanders supporters will for the most part vote for her, then she will win the blue states plus Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia and Florida, giving her 332 electoral votes to Trump's 206.
If you believe that Trump has a strong appeal to independents and new voters, then red states plus those swing states and New Hampshire will give Trump 337 electoral votes and Clinton 201.
If Hispanic voters come on strong for Clinton, the blue states plus the swing states and North Carolina will give her 338 electoral votes to Trump's 200.
If Trump perfects his appeal to "Reagan Democrat" voters, then the red states, swing states plus Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey and New York combine to give him 390 electoral votes to 148 for Clinton.
If Clinton persuades 2008 Obama voters to support her, the blue states plus the swing states will combine to give her 358 electoral votes to Trump's 180.
Finally, if Trump holds the red states and sells his "jobs" promise to working-class and union households, he will capture the rust belt and 287 electoral votes to Clinton's 251.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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