Fundamentals for Clinton

One of my favorite political scientists, Alan Abramowitz, makes the case that the fundamentals still very much suggest a Clinton victory.  Yes, the polls right now scare and frustrate the hell out of me and I’ll take polls just before an election over “fundamentals,” but some good points here:

Since 2000, party loyalty and straight ticket voting have set new records. More voters than ever claim to be independents, but the majority of those independents lean toward a party and vote for the party they lean toward. In 2012, for example, 91% of independent Democrats voted for Barack Obama and 91% of independent Republicans voted for Mitt Romney. Very few voters, less than 10%, have no party preference.

So what does all of this mean for the 2016 presidential contest? Despite the fact that both Clinton and Trump have high negative ratings, overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans strongly prefer their party’s candidate to the opposing party’s candidate. Very few Republicans will vote for Hillary Clinton and very few Democrats will vote for Donald Trump.

Neither candidate’s supporters are likely to be swayed by events like the Comey letter, no matter how dramatic they appear to be. And there are probably too few undecided voters to sway the outcome of the election either. So the outcome will probably depend on whether more Democrats or Republicans actually vote.

In a strongly partisan electorate with few undecided or persuadable voters, Clinton has the advantage over Trump because there are simply more Democrats than Republicans. Democrats currently have about a six point lead over Republicans in party identification in the nation. And they have a lead in most of the swing states as well.

The fact that there are more Democrats than Republicans doesn’t guarantee that Democrats will always win. In midterm elections, Democrats are less likely to vote than Republicans. That’s why Republicans did so well in the 2010 and 2014 elections. In presidential elections, however, Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in every contest since 1992 except 2004 when there was a tie. That’s the main reason Democrats have won the popular vote in every presidential election since 1992 except 2004.

If Democratic and Republican voters turn out at rates comparable to 2012, Hillary Clinton should win the national popular vote by at least three percentage points and that should be enough to produce a decisive win in the Electoral College…

Despite the many twists and turns in the 2016 presidential campaign and the unpopularity of both major party candidates, the stability of voters’ party loyalties means that in the end the results will probably look very similar to the results of the 2012 election.

Oh, there’s a lot resting on that “probably” in the last sentence.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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