There’s a 97% chance Trump is our next president

Seriously, that’s the outcome of an election prediction model from Helmut Norpoth.  Norpoth is no johnny-come-lately looking to get some press, he’s a serious political scientist who has been working on these models for decades.  I remember reading his stuff in grad school 20 years ago.  That said, I think he’s wrong.  Here’s the story:

A professor of political science at Stony Brook University has forecasted that Donald Trump has a minimum 97 percent chance of winning the general election as the Republican nominee.

Professor Helmut Norpoth’s forecast presentation took place Monday evening in the SUNY Global Center in Manhattan, which was organized by the Stony Brook Alumni Association.

Norpoth created a statistical model of presidential elections that uses a candidate’s performance in their party’s primary and patterns in the electoral cycle as predictors of the presidential vote in the general election.

Donald Trump has a 97 percent chance of defeating Hillary Clinton and a 99 percent chance of defeating Bernie Sanders in the general election, according to Norpoth’s formula.

“The bottom line is that the primary model, using also the cyclical movement, makes it almost certain that Donald Trump will be the next president,” Norpoth said, “if he’s a nominee of the [Republican] party.”

Norpoth’s primary model works for every presidential election since 1912, with the notable exception of the 1960 election. These results give the model an accuracy of 96.1 percent.

Norpoth began the presentation with an introduction of the potential matchups in the general election, including a hypothetical Sanders vs. Trump general election.

“When I started out with this kind of display a few months ago, I thought it was sort of a joke.” Norpoth said referring to Trump and Sanders, as many alumni in the audience laughed. “Well, I’ll tell you right now, it ain’t a joke anymore.”

As the presentation continued, laughter turned to silence as Norpoth forecasted a 61 percent chance of a Republican win in the general election.

This forecast was made using the electoral cycle model, which studies a pattern of voting in the presidential election that makes it less likely for an incumbent party to hold the presidency after two terms in office. The model does not assume who would be the party nominees or the conditions of the country at the time.

“You think ‘This is crazy. How can anything come up with something like that?’ ” Norpoth said “But that’s exactly the kind of equation I used to predict Bill Clinton winning in ‘96, that I used to predict that George Bush would win in 2004, and, as you remember four years ago, that Obama would win in 2012.” [emphases mine]

Sorry, Helmut, it’s crazy.  “This time is different” is typically a horrible argument.  But, safe to say, with Donald Trump, this time is different.  Here’s more:

“Trump beats Hillary 54.7 percent to 45.3 percent [of the popular vote]. This is almost too much to believe.” Norpoth said, with a few members of the audience laughing nervously. “The probability of that [outcome] is almost complete certainty, 97 percent. It’s almost ‘Take it to the bank.’ ” …

In contrast, Norpoth forecasted that a hypothetical presidential race with Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio on the Republican ticket would be a much closer race. The results showed Clinton with a 55 percent chance of winning the race against Cruz or Rubio with a 0.3 percent lead in the popular vote.

A model which has Trump beating any Democrat with near certainty, but has Hillary the likely winner over Rubio is just not a model that accurately reflects contemporary American politics.  Among other things, I strongly doubt that it properly accounts for our highly polarized age, where swing-voters hardly exist and the overwhelming majority of partisans can be counted on to support their party in the general (even if showing some dissatisfaction with the primary).

I’m anxiously awaiting some of the other election prediction experts to weigh in.  Until then, Jamelle Bouie lays out the simple journalistic, common-sense case (the one I’m going with over the political science model):

Or, as my colleague Josh Voorhees writes in a piece on Trump’s chances, “Trump has been proving politicos, pundits, and political journalists wrong for the better part of a year now. I’m not willing to count him out come fall.”

For all the above reasons, I wouldn’t count him out either. But epistemological caution shouldn’t blind us to the facts on the ground. For as much as he could win, the safe bet is that Trump would probably lose the general election, and then some…

Right now, Trump is driving up turnout in nominating contests without prompting a counter-reaction within the Republican Party. As BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer argued, this has a lot to do with the GOP’s electorate. Put simply, the vast majority of Republican primary voters are white, and many of them hold views that aren’t far from Trump’s, even if they don’t like him. Revulsion aside, he’s not activating a real oppositon among GOP backers.

But he is activating opposition among voters writ large. Hispanic voters are fiercely anti-Trump (he has a negative 64 percent favorability rating among that group, according to a recent Univision poll), and Trump’s presence may drive millions more Latino voters to the polls to cast a ballot for the Democratic nominee. Indeed, national polling on the question is sparse, but state polling suggests massive unpopularity for Trump among Democratic constituencies…

If these issues are borne out in a general election, then Trump will have an even larger problem than negative attacks. He’ll have a negative electoral map. With abysmal ratings among blacks and Latinos, Trump is uniquely unsuited to this year’s demographics, which—all things equal—has a modest tilt toward Democrats. With Marco Rubio or John Kasich, Republicans might have a chance with minority voters. With Trump, that’s gone. To win, he would need to bring a massive influx of new white voters and create a further swing towards Republicans among existing white voters, all without alienating moderate whites or sparking counter-mobilization from nonwhites… [emphasis mine]

Yes, anything is possible. Trump could ride a reactionary wave to the White House. But not everything is probable, and the obstacles to a Trump victory are yuge. Trump worsens the GOP’s problem with minorities and single women, with no guarantee of a larger electorate to compensate for the loss. And Trump is so alien to parts of the Republican establishment that there’s a chance he could drive down GOP turnout among its most reliable voters.

We shouldn’t underrate Donald Trump, but we shouldn’t overrate him either. All things considered, he’s a loser.

Yep.  I’ve been humbled enough to not say Trump has no chance in November.  Any Republican nominee has a chance– though I’d say Trump’s is pretty much easily the worst.  But the fact is, regardless of his performance in the primaries, Trump has the makings of a historically weak general election candidate.  But, we’ll see come November.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

5 Responses to There’s a 975 chance Trump is our next president

  1. ohwilleke says:

    I agree that there is no way that any outcome in November is that clear. At best, it is a toss up plus or minus a little. Trump’s odds of capturing the nomination keep rising, and an endorsement from Chris Christie and from one House Republican seem to show that the Republican establishment is starting to come to terms with the inevitable there. But, while head to head polling may not be a perfect indicator at this stage, the fact that Trump is polling worse against Democratic contenders than either Cruz or Rubio, despite the fact that almost everybody knows who Trump is, suggests that a general election win for him is anything but a sure thing.

    Judging the margin of error of your own predictions based upon the number of errors in the same data set that you used to build your model is also methodologically unsound.

  2. Jon K says:

    My question is given the diminished influence of party bosses and insiders how exactly would a brokered convention work? Who would be leading the negotiations in the smoke-filled rooms? I couldn’t see Reince Prebius doing it…

  3. Another university had a different outcome for their mock election, which they have been running since 1975:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: