I don’t have a good track record predicting elections in recent times, but some elections are not difficult to predict, and this is one of them. Don’t just take my word for it, Paddy Power have already paid out over $1 million on bets placed on Hillary Clinton before Tuesday 18th October.
In order to win Hillary Clinton needs 270 electoral college votes, which is possible even is Trump wins all of the states that pollsters currently regard as being ‘toss up’ states. In other words – even in the worst case scenario for Clinton – she will win the election by two electoral college votes. This is why Nate Silver currently gives Clinton a 87.2% chance of winning, the New York Times gives Clinton a 92% chance, and Princeton University now thinks she has a 98.7% chance. This means that even the most confident prediction only gives Trump a 12.7% chance of winning. For the poker players amongst you, this is slightly better odds than winning an ‘all in’ bet when you hold the worst poker hand (72 off-suit) and it is up against the best poker hand (pocket Aces).
Strictly speaking, this doesn’t mean that a Trump victory is impossible, but a Trump victory is now a huge statistical outlier in the more pessimistic models, and highly unlikely in the optimistic models.
Many will point out that the experts got it wrong in the British General Election in 2015 and in the EU Referendum in 2016. They would be right to point this out, but they should also remember just how close the polling was in both of these cases. In the General Election, for example, the polling suggested a dead heat between Labour and The Conservatives and the actual result was a 6.6% lead for David Cameron’s Conservative Party, giving him a slender majority in Parliament of just 16. This was one of the worst results for the polling industry since John Major clung onto power in the 1992 election, but even so, an unpublished Survation poll conducted on June 6th (the day before the election) predicted the result to within one percentage point. In the case of the EU Referendum the polling was even closer, with the average poll result showing the race to be too close to call, with the result ending up as a slender victory for ‘Leave’.
It was always going to be difficult for Trump to win, as his strategy is based upon galvanising support from disenfranchised white blue-collar workers, whilst retaining the support of the traditional Republican base. The big problem with this strategy is that demographics of America have radically changed since the 1980s. In the 80s, Reagan won the white vote by a margin of 56% to 36% and he won the presidency. In 2008, Mitt Romney won the white vote by a margin of 59% to 39% and he lost. The difference is that when Reagan was winning elections the white population was 88% of the electorate, whereas now the white, non-hispanic population is just 62.1% of the population, and falling.
As it stands, Trump isn’t even succeeding on his own terms. He will win the votes of white voters without a college degree by a wide margin, but at the cost of alienating white college-educated Americans, a demographic that hasn’t failed to back a Republican nominee for the last 60 years. For example, in a recent poll, 62% of white voters without a college education said they would support Trump, compared with 39% of white college graduates.
The good news for most of us is that (unless the polling is horribly wrong) Trump is not going to win. The bad news is that this election has revealed an America that is bitterly divided. As Adam Curtis argues in his recent documentary, we now live in an age where we engage with politics in a ‘echo chamber’ where our views our constantly reinforced by a social media stream which reflects and reinforces what we believed already. Clinton will therefore start her presidency with a significant proportion of electorate believing her to be the apotheosis of everything that is wrong with America. Healing this schism and uniting America around a shared set of values is not a task that Clinton can complete, but the challenge of her presidency will be to lay the groundwork for a future where America can unite again around a shared set of values.