The GOP’s Electoral Apocalypse: 2016 Edition

Trump v Clinton 3/16
Hypothetical Trump vs Clinton generated by Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Data collected from polls and political trends.

We’ve heard people claim Donald Trump has the potential to expand the GOP voting base for nearly nine months–particularly blue-collar workers in Midwestern states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Other people say a Trump candidacy will produce a map similar to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 catastrophe.

Of course, it’s only March. We have a little over seven months for the election to unfold and the October surprise could be anything. But political scientists are still extrapolating how November 2016 will play out. Larry Sabato, professor of Political Science at the University of Virginia and creator of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, says we’re in for a Democratic victory, but it won’t be a repeat of 1964. Emphasis is ours.

While the GOP defection rate [in Utah] would likely be higher than the usual 10% or so, it wouldn’t be as mountainous as some current surveys suggest. In Utah, the GOP candidate for the White House sometimes receives over 70% of the vote; that’s a lot of votes to be frittered away before a Democrat could win, and LBJ was the last to do so in 1964. Party identification will assert itself for millions of Republicans across the nation, and all or virtually all states with a vast GOP advantage will end up going Republican by some margin. Perhaps a different Democratic nominee would have more crossover appeal, but we have to remember how much Republicans dislike Hillary Clinton.

Needless to say, Trump will win states such as Alabama, Montana, Nebraska, and Texas. He will, however, lose nearly every swing state such as Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. The large block of electoral votes that will always go for the Democrat, also known as the “Blue Wall”, will give Hillary Clinton a better chance to win the White House right off the bat. She’ll need to take one swing state such as Florida or Ohio to win the general election. Sabato says a Trump candidacy would allow Clinton to flip likely Republican states in addition to the swing states.

Polls may be ephemeral and sometimes wildly inaccurate, yet surveys (and demographics) are the only hard data we have this far out from the election. The polling averages for a Clinton-Trump face-off show roughly a 10 percentage point lead for the Democrat. RealClearPolitics has Clinton up about 11 points and HuffPost Pollster gives Clinton a lead of about nine points. This kind of Democratic advantage, if properly distributed, would produce an Electoral College result similar to, or greater than, Barack Obama’s 2008 total of 365 electoral votes to John McCain’s 173 (Obama won the national popular vote by 7.3 points). Again, this suggests that one or more states currently rated Likely Republican (Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri) might slip into the Democratic column.

Sabato points out political parties have rough election cycles. Four years after Goldwater’s 1964 nomination, Republicans won the White House. Four years after McGovern’s 1972 disaster, Democrats claimed the White House. It’s possible to see Republicans stitch its wounds for an epic rebound in 2020. Conversely, the party of Lincoln could see itself ripped into shreds only to emerge weakened for decades.

Trump’s campaign thus far has produced many words and little action. His campaign is undoubtedly ushering in an era of political realignment unseen since the election years of McKinley, FDR, and Reagan. The political fate of Georgia and the Midwest remains a mystery–one thing is certain though: Trump’s campaign will change the map.


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