Anyway you look at it, Trump is a bad (not just unusual) general election candidate

I love the way this Vox article about Trump, election models and the state of the race characterizes Trump’s under-performance (relative to what we should expect from a generic Republican) as a “Trump Tax.”

The 2016 presidential election was supposed to be close — but Republicans should have had the edge.

An election forecast built by Vox and a team of political scientists projects that a generic Republican should win 50.9 percent of the two-party vote in 2016. But Donald Trump isn’t a generic Republican — and he is polling at45.1 percent of the two-party vote, according to the Huffington Post Pollster. The difference between those numbers — 5.8 points, as of today — is what we’re calling the Trump Tax: the electoral penalty Republicans appear to be paying for nominating Trump… [emphases mine]

Vox’s model projects the campaign’s outcome based on the most historically accurate political science models incorporating “fundamentals” like the state of the economy, the president’s popularity, and so forth. There’s a margin of error, naturally, with estimates for the Democratic vote share ranging from 43.61 percent to 53.44 percent, but the point estimate was a narrow GOP victory — 50.9 percent of two-party vote, to be precise…

What we appear to be seeing is a remarkable example of a major political party blowing a totally winnable national election.

There is uncertainty here, of course. Elections are complex things, and we can’t rerun this race in laboratory conditions. It is possible the difference between the GOP’s expected performance and Trump’s performance reflects an economy stronger than the GDP data indicates, or that Clinton is a far more effective campaigner than conventional wisdom (or her poll numbers) suggests. But given the difference between where Trump is polling and where more mainstream Republicans were polling, we believe the likeliest explanation is that this is the cost Republicans are paying for nominating a very unusual candidate who is running a very unusual campaign.

“Unusual.”  You keep using that word.  I don’t think it means what you think it means.  More appropriate might be “historically bad.”  Among other things, I’m looking forward to using this race in my lectures on campaigns for many years to come.  I always talk about how, typically, both campaigns run close-enough-to-optimal strategies that they essentially cancel each other out and elections can be quite-well predicted by presidential approval, state of the economy, etc.  And then I discuss how a candidate would have to do really stupid stuff to change this dynamic and I always come up with hypothetical examples.  In the future, I’ll be able to rely upon real-world examples from 2016.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Anyway you look at it, Trump is a bad (not just unusual) general election candidate

  1. itchy says:

    “And then I discuss how a candidate would have to do really stupid stuff to change this dynamic and I always come up with hypothetical examples. In the future, I’ll be able to rely upon real-world examples from 2016.”

    Love this!

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