Could Donald Trump’s ‘rigged election’ claims suppress his share of the vote?

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In recent days, Donald Trump has elaborated further on his claims that the Presidential election is being rigged. Many high-profile Republican politicians spoke out against the claims, with both Mike Pence and Marco Rubio (among others) rejecting Trump’s claims. Although naturally the claims were supported by Trump surrogate in chief, Rudy Giuliani, who said he, “would have to be a moron,” to say that the election in cities like “Philadelphia and Chicago is going to be fair.”

Despite Trump’s claims being denounced by the vast majority of politicians, opinion polling suggests a significant minority of voters actually believe his claims. Polling from Politico and Morning Consult suggests that 41 percent of voters believe that the election could be stolen from Trump.

The danger of this is obvious. If Trump is encouraging his supporters not to accept the result of the vote, then what is going to happen when he loses? There is certainly the potential for disorder unless Trump accepts the result of the election. In addition, if so many voters believe that these elections are not democratic, then what does that mean for the future of democracy all around the world? Especially given that the United States is often held up as a prime example of a working democracy.

However, I want to focus more on what effect this rhetoric could have on Trump’s electoral chances next month.

Trump has been using his ‘rigged election’ rhetoric for some time now, most notably suggesting that Ted Cruz had fraudulently stolen victory in the Iowa Caucus. Throughout the Republican Primary Campaign he used it to his advantage, mobilising his base to turn out in huge numbers to ensure his victory.

However, when it comes to the general election, Trump’s insistence that the election is rigged could have a different effect. I think that it could actually suppress his share of the vote.

There are many factors which influence voter turnout, but chief among these is the perceived competitiveness of the election in question. In the 2012 Presidential Election, voter turnout was 54.87 percent overall. However, this varied greatly depending upon which state you looked at. The turnout ranged from 76.1 percent in Minnesota, down to just 44.5 percent in Hawaii. But what was most notable was that turnout was generally higher in the so-called swing states. Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida all had turnouts above 60 percent. Whereas many of the perceived safe states such as Texas, West Virginia, New York, Oklahoma, and Hawaii were among the states with the lowest turnout. This strongly suggests that voters turn out in much greater numbers of they believe that their vote can truly make an impact upon the final result. This suggestion is corroborated by election data from around the world. In Russia, where election aren’t close to fair, turnout is extremely low. In this year’s legislative elections, turnout was just 47 percent, with turnout in the major cities (where people are generally better educated) being just 28 percent. A lot of this is down to the perceived illegitimacy of Russian elections. The perceived competitiveness of elections also played a part during the EU Referendum, where the Remain campaign chose to release a poll just before the election which showed them with a commanding lead. This was said to have contributed to a lower turnout than expected amongst remain backers (as some felt the result was safe). In contrast, the Leave campaign were able to get out the vote in huge numbers, and defied the polls.

Trump suggesting that the election is rigged could have a similar effect. If the election is rigged, meaning that your vote is irrelevant, then why bother casting a vote at all? You may as well just stay at home rather than venturing out to the polling station. Of course, the opposite could happen. Trump’s claims of a rigged election could persuade more voters to go to the polls in order to try and prevent the election being rigged. But, history suggests that when voters believe an election is a foregone conclusion, they often choose not to vote. If Trump’s base fails to turn out to vote, then he could be on track to receive a disastrous share of the vote. Given the difficulties that Trump already faces, and given that it is already highly unlikely that he can win this election, suppressing his share of the popular vote further would be a big mistake.

If Trump wants to retain any slim chance of winning in November, he should walk back on these claims of a rigged election. But this is Donald Trump we’re talking about, so don’t expect it to happen any time soon.

The curious case of Utah.

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Independent Presidential Candidate, Evan McMullin. 

You may have seen this week’s polling in Utah which suggested that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were tied in the State, each with 26 percent support. For Clinton to be tied with Trump is what is usually considered a safely Republican state is strange in itself, but what is even stranger is that both major party candidates could muster only 26 percent support each, with third-party candidates being supported by the remaining Utahns.

Independent candidate Evan McMullin was found to have 22 percent support. Add to this that Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, is polling at around 14 percent, and Utah is perhaps becoming one of the more interesting states to watch in this Presidential election. This is odd for a state which was expected to be safely Republican. Indeed, the last time Utah didn’t vote Republican in a Presidential election was 1964.

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Recent polls have shown Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tied in Utah.

Why is Donald Trump yet to secure Utah?

There are several factors which have contributed towards Trump’s failure to secure Utah.

We can point to the recent release of more evidence of lewd behaviour by Trump, including the release last Friday of a tape of Trump’s 2005 appearance on Access Hollywood. However, the roots of Trump’s lack of support in Utah actually began much earlier than this.

Utahns never particularly warmed to Trump or Trumpism. In the Utah Republican Caucus Trump could only come third, receiving just 13.82 percent of the vote, and finishing behind Ohio Governor John Kasich and the winner, Texan Senator Ted Cruz. Generally, this has been attributed to the skepticism of Mormons (who comprise a large proportion of Utah’s population) towards Trump, with many Mormon’s being angered by Trump’s criticism of Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith whilst on the campaign trail. Nevertheless, it was still expected to be a state which the Republican nominee would be able to count on come the general election. But, this has perhaps been changed by Evan McMullin entrance into the race.

At the 2013 Values Voter Summit.
Ted Cruz won Utah’s Republican Caucus. 

McMullin is running as an independent, but is associated with the Republican Party. After ten years working for the CIA, he worked for Goldman Sachs, before becoming a senior advisor for the Republicans in the House of Representatives. McMullin was born is Utah and is a Morman. This has led to many Utah Republicans flocking to support him (as he is considered a ‘real’ Republican) ahead of the divisive Donald Trump.


Could McMullin win Utah?

The short answer here is, yes, he could. Despite extremely low name-recognition, McMullin is already polling at between 20–22 percent, and is therefore closing in on Trump and Clinton. With the release of these polls, his name recognition will have undoubtedly increased, which will help his candidacy.

But, whether McMullin can get over the line in Utah may depend on one person: fellow Mormon Mitt Romney. Romney’s popularity and influence in Utah cannot be overstated. In 2012, Romney won the Utah Republican Primary with an astonishing 93.1 percent of the vote, and he then won 72.62 percent of the Utah vote in the general election. In addition, Mitt Romney chose to endorse Ted Cruz in Utah’s 2016 Republican Caucus. Cruz subsequently won 69.46 percent of the vote.

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Mitt Romney is hugely popular and influential in Utah. 
McMullin has already benefited from Romney’s help, and is said to be using an email list cultivated by Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. But, if Romney were to endorse McMullin then this could allow him to win the state. Romney is someone who Utahns clearly listen to very closely, and if he is to suggest that they should vote McMullin over Trump, it is likely that many would listen.

Could McMullin become President?

Surely none of this speculation matters, right? I mean, McMullin has absolutely no chance of becoming President. For a start, he’s only on the ballot in eleven states, making it almost mathematically impossible for him to get the 270 electoral votes required to win in the electoral college. So this means he can never become President, right?

Wrong!

Whilst McMullin has no chance of an outright victory in the Presidential election, his winning Utah could be enough to prevent either of Clinton or Trump winning the 270 electoral votes required to win in the Electoral College. If the Electoral College is deadlocked, then the 12th amendment mandates how the election is decided. The top three candidates (that is, the three with the most electoral votes) are sent to the House of Representatives. Each State delegation in the House receives one vote, and casts it for their favoured candidate. The candidate with the most votes becomes President.

Given that the Republican Party controls thirty-three of the House’s state delegations, you would think that this would point to a Trump victory. However, Republicans have been deserting Trump in droves in the past week. In addition, who knows what the Republicans majority in the House will look like after 8 November. In this situation, the Republican Party in the House would likely be very divided. It may be that many Republicans choose to go for McMullin in order to negate the possibility of a Clinton victory. Whilst many Democrats may consider McMullin as a ‘lesser evil’ when compared to Trump, and so could support him. In any case, in the very unlikely event that the Electoral College is deadlocked, McMullin would have a pretty good chance of winning the Presidency. Likewise, the same could be said of Libertarian Gary Johnson if he is able to win either New Mexico or New Hampshire (although both of these states are looking pretty safe for Clinton at the moment).

Conclusion:

Evan McMullin is not going to become President. The likelihood of the Electoral College being deadlocked is very, very low.

However, his success in Utah could still have a key effect on the outcome of this election. Utah is a state that Trump must win if he is to have any chance of winning the Presidency.

Given that Trump is already struggling in such Republican strongholds as Arizona, he cannot afford to lose Utah.

As it stands, Clinton is going to win this election easily. When it comes to the popular vote, although Clinton will likely win, it probably won’t be by a huge margin. I would be surprised if the popular vote margin is that much more than the margin when Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012.

However, it is the Electoral College which could make Clinton’s victory look huge. She looks set to carry a huge number of states, and if McMullin does win Utah, then this just takes yet another state away from Trump, making Clinton’s task even easier.

12 reasons why Trump can’t win.

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1. His unpopularity with minority voters:

Trump’s dismal support amongst minority voters has been well publicised.

Some polling has suggested that up to 80% of Hispanic voters disapprove of Trump. This was also a group which Mitt Romney struggled with in 2012, winning only 27% of Hispanic votes. The latest polling by Pew Researchsuggests that Trump has the support of just 19% of Hispanics, compared with 58% for Hillary Clinton. The significance of this is reflected in the prevalence of Hispanic voters in several swing states, most notably Florida, where Hispanics now make up 15.4% of the electorate; compared to 13.9% in 2012, when President Obama carried the state thanks to his backing amongst minority voters. Hispanic voters also pose a problem for Trump in Arizona. Arizona tends to be considered a safe Republican state, but the RealClearPolitics polling average gives Trump an advantage of just 0.7%, suggesting it definitely isn’t safe in this election. A high Hispanic turnout would certainly have the potential to swing the state in favour of Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s support amongst African-American voters is even worse. A September poll by ABC News and The Washington Post found that 93% of African-American voters favoured Clinton, with just 3% favouring Trump. In 2012, 93% of African-American voters voted for Obama, with 6% choosing Romney. Given that Romney lost significantly, this surely looks ominous for Trump.

2. His inability to unite the GOP:

We have seen over the past few days how much of the Republican Party doesn’t support Trump. Senior party figures like Mitt Romney, John Kasich, and Jeb! Bush had already withheld their support for Trump, but over the weekend the likes of John McCain and Kelly Ayotte rescinded their endorsements, and Leader of the House Paul Ryan said that he would no longer defend Trump. Now Trump has always effectively been running as an independent, and has therefore always been somewhat detached from the rest of the Republican Party. But, given that the Presidential Election is fought on a state-by-state basis rather than with a nationwide popular vote, the ability to be able to draw upon state party machinery is very important. Over the last few days, Trump has done his best to burn his bridges with Senior Republicans, and this will make it extremely hard for him to run an effective campaign, particularly in the latter stages of this election. Few of the Republicans who have disavowed Trump will vote for Clinton. Instead they will stay at home or, cast a useless vote for either Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin. Either way, it’s seriously bad news for Trump.

3. The Democrats Electoral College advantage:

The Presidential Election’s Electoral College system means that national polling can massively overstate the closeness of a presidential race. In 2012, Obama led Romney by an average of only around 0.5% for the last few months of the campaign. However, he ultimately won by 332 electoral votes to 206. There are eighteen states (plus D.C.) which have voted Democrat in every election since 1992, this almost guarantees Clinton 242 electoral college votes, just short of the 270 needed to win. This leaves Clinton only needing to win a couple of the swing states (and she currently leads in all of them) to win. On the other hand, Trump’s road to the White House is much more difficult. He would have to retain all of the states won by Romney in 2012, as well as winning traditional Democratic states like Michigan and Wisconsin to stand a chance. For the most popular of Republican candidates this would be difficult. For Trump, it is nigh on impossible.

4. Significance of the white working-class vote is overstated:

Trump’s rise has been built on his strong support amongst the white working-class, with many saying that this could propel him to the White House. However, they are massively overstating the ability of this group to swing the result of the election. In 2012, Obama got just 36% of the white working-class vote, so the Republican Party’s strong advantage with this group is nothing new. What’s more, most of the white working-class voters that Obama won, lived in safe Democratic states like New York, California, and Illinois. Given that Trump has absolutely zero chance of winning these states, winning white working-class voters who live in them is of no consequence. Therefore, even though Trump will likely win an even higher percentage of the white working-class vote than Romney did, this won’t swing the result in any state, and is therefore of no benefit to Trump’s campaign.

5. Republican women:

In 2012, Mitt Romney won 44% of the female vote, but Trump looks certain to lose a significant portion of this. Trump’s problem with female voters extends to members of his own party. In March, polling by NBC News andThe Wall Street Journal found that 47% of female Republican voters couldn’t imagine themselves voting for Trump. This is hardly likely to have improved given last week’s events. In addition, modelling by renowned election forecaster Nate Silver has suggested that if only women voted, Trump would lose such Republican strongholds as Texas, Georgia, and South Dakota. Given that women are more likely to vote than men, this unpopularity could cause Trump huge problems.

6. John Kasich:

Yes, you’re right, Trump beat John Kasich in the Republican Primary. So surely we should forget about Kasich now? Wrong! Kasich could oddly still be crucial to the result in this election. Kasich is Governor of Ohio, perhaps the most crucial state of all in this election. Indeed, no Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio and its eighteen electoral votes. But, current polling suggests that Hillary Clinton leads in Ohio by four percent. A loss here would be devastating for Trump, and it is very hard to see how he could possibly win the election without winning Ohio. Kasich having withheld his support is significant. If Kasich had chosen to endorse Trump during the Republican Primary then Trump would have been able to draw upon the popularity of Kasich among Ohioans (currently over 50% of Ohioans believe Kasich is doing a good job as Governor), to gain statewide support. Instead, Kasich has spent much of the campaign denouncing Trump’s rhetoric. His failure to get Kasich on side may go some way to Trump ultimately losing the most important state in this election.

7. Lacklustre fundraising:

Throughout the campaign, Trump has had to put in a lot of his own money, in part because big GOP donors have been reluctant to fund his divisive campaign. This has meant that the Trump campaign has significantly less money than is really needed to mount a credible nationwide campaign, and is one of the reasons that Trump has had to rely on the free publicity given by the media. This funding deficit is only likely to get worse followingreports that the Republican National Committee is withdrawing funds from Trump in order to concentrate on holding the Senate and the House of Representatives; and will make it extremely difficult for Trump to afford the advertising he needs to make gains in the swing states.

8. Lack of organisation/ground game:

The US Electoral College favours the campaign which is the most organised. There can be little debate that this is Hillary Clinton’s campaign, with the Trump campaign having been characterised throughout by its total lack of organisation.

Although Trump rules the roost when it comes to Twitter, there is little evidence that he has built the digital volunteer networks which are so essential to modern campaigning. In addition, Trump’s campaign staff numbers about one-tenth of Clinton’s. For example, in Ohio the Democrats have around 150 paid campaigners on the ground compared to the Republicans 50. This, combined with the Democrats huge advantage in terms of signed-up volunteers will give Trump a huge advantage.

9. Republican primaries are not representative of the general election:

The huge success of Trump in the Republican primaries does not mean he will be successful in the general election. During the primaries, Trump boasted about how he was bringing loads of new voters into the Republican Party, however polling suggested nearly all of these voters were already committed Republicans. Although they may not have voted in previous Republican primaries, they generally always voted Republican when it came to a Presidential Election. So yes, Trump has expanded the Republican base who vote in the primaries, but he hasn’t succeeded in expanding overall support for the Republican Party. Very few people actually vote in primary elections; Trump may have got fourteen million votes in the primaries (not even a majority amongst Republican Primary voters), but he’ll need around 65 million to win an election, meaning the primaries are almost irrelevant. Even though Trump has boasted that his primary wins in Michigan and Pennsylvania mean that he’s likely to win these states in November, there is no evidence for this. In fact, Clinton leads comfortably in each — by an average of 6.8 percent in Michigan, and by an average of 9.2 percent in Pennsylvania. Trump’s success in the primaries suggests nothing about how successful he’ll be in November. Indeed, it is highly likely that the rhetoric which brought him so much success during the primaries will prove a huge turn-off to the swing voters he needs in order to win the Presidency.

10. Trump can’t resist playing to his base:

In the Second Presidential Debate, Trump didn’t do too badly overall, despite the lack of any sort of policy detail in the answers he gave. But, a feature of the debate was the lack of anything that could appeal to swing voters, and the constant return to populist policies which appeal only to his base. Trump’s fall-back is always immigration, and his pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexican border; but what he doesn’t seem to realise is that these policies don’t appeal to the swing voters he needs. Swing voters want to hear about the economy, energy, healthcare, foreign policy; and Trump has proved that he lacks any sort of policy knowledge on these kinds of issues. In addition, he decided that the debate would be a good time to discuss Bill Clinton infidelities. Voters are sick and tired of hearing about the indiscretions of someone who isn’t even running for office. Once again, Trump is falling into the trap of throwing red meat to his supporters, but not appealing to the voters he needs to win. It’s now surely too late for him to rectify this mistake, and therefore he cannot win.

11. Turnout will be HIGH:

A study released in July by the Pew Research Centre looked at the relationship between voter engagement in the run up to the election, and its ultimate effect on voter turnout. It found that engagement in this year’s election was much higher than in previous years: 80 percent of respondents had thought ‘quite a lot’ about the election; 85 percent said that they were following news on the candidates ‘very closely’; 74% believed that it ‘really matters’ who wins the election; and 60 percent said they were more interested in politics than they were four years ago. When compared with the results of the 2008 survey, these results suggest much higher engagement in this year’s election. 2008 produced the highest voter turnout since 1968 (58.23%). Given the level of engagement in this year’s election, it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that this is the first election since the 1960s where turnout will reach 60%. In addition, turnout is typically high when there is a large gulf between the two candidates, leading to voters being motivated to vote against one or the other. In this election, it would not be unexpected for Hispanic voters to turnout in record numbers just so that they can vote against Donald Trump.

12. The popularity of Barack Obama:

I know what you’re saying, Barack Obama isn’t running, so why does his popularity matter? The fact of the matter is that Obama’s popularity (55 percent approve of the job he’s doing according to Gallup), means that this election shouldn’t be a change election. If Americans could have four more years of President Obama, then that is what they would likely choose. But they can’t, which means that they’ll go for the next best option, Hillary Clinton.

Stop saying Trump is like Brexit!

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I personally don’t think that Donald Trump will win the Presidential election. I’ve said this ever since he announced his candidacy, and although by winning the Republican nomination he proved me wrong to a certain extent, I stand by my original prediction.

With Hillary Clinton surging to a lead of 11 percent in post-debate polling byNBC News and The Wall Street Journal, a Trump victory seems to be more unlikely than ever before. Nonetheless, I’ve lost track of the amount of times that I have read something which suggests that Trump ability to win is being massively underestimated, much like the way in which most people (me included) underestimated the ability of the Leave campaign to win in the EU Referendum. Generally this argument seems to rest upon the so-called ‘huge similarities’ between the Trump campaign and the Leave campaign, with these similarities allegedly suggesting that the victory for the Leave campaign in the EU Referendum foreshadowed a Trump victory in November.

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Does the victory of the Leave campaign in June’s EU Referendum foreshadow a Trump victory in November?

 

At first glance this rings true. On the surface, there are indeed some superficial similarities between the two campaigns.

Both campaigns have been led by charismatic individuals. Trump himself is inarguably charismatic, whilst the leading Leave campaigners — Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and erm…Michael Gove, managed to successfully pitch themselves in a more charismatic and optimistic way to their opponents on the Remain side.

In addition, both campaigns were built on a base of support which strongly felt that immigration had spun out of control and fundamentally altered the identity of their respective countries, and which is hugely distrustful of the so-called political elite.

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Vote Leave were helped by charismatic leaders like Boris Johnson. 

 

But, when you dig a little deeper, these similarities end.

Firstly, the arguments of the Trump campaign and the Leave campaign are not as similar as has often been suggested. Trump is vehemently against anti-free trade, and advocates strong protectionist measures. This wasn’t the argument of the Leave campaign. They were just as in favour of free-trade as the Remain campaign, where the two campaigns differed was simply how this goal could be best achieved. In addition, the political elite which Trump supporters distrust is based at home in Washington; in contrast to the Leave campaign, whose quarrel was with unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. In short, the US election is not a debate about sovereignty in the same way the EU Referendum was.

Secondly, the rhetoric surrounding the campaigns is very different. The Leave campaign was strongly in favour of reducing immigration. But, aside from Nigel Farage standing in front of some despicable posters, the Leave campaigners weren’t overtly racist. Donald Trump on the other hand, has consistently offered racist and xenophobic views; including the labelling of Mexicans as ‘rapists and thieves’, his suggestion that Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Mexican ancestry precluded him from being fair, his suggestion that he saw Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks, and his long running campaign suggesting that Barack Obama isn’t an American. Add this to his seeming indifference to sexual harassment and his admiration for Vladimir Putin; and you’ve got a candidate who many people can’t morally bring themselves to vote for. Even those who agree with Trump on the economy and energy policy for example, can’t bring themselves to vote for a candidate who is so overtly racist, and who will nominate a Supreme Court justice who will roll back minority rights so significantly.

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Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin, and derogatory remarks about Gonzalo Curiel (among others), means that many people have a moral objection to voting for him even if they agree with him on economic policy or energy policy. 

 

Thirdly, perhaps the main reason that Brexit doesn’t foreshadow a Trump victory, is that the UK and US electorates are not directly comparable. Trump main base of support comes from white males, the same base of support that the Leave campaign could draw upon. However, the main difference is that in the UK, 87 percent of the electorate is non-Hispanic white, compared with just 63 percent in the US. In the EU Referendum, ethnic minority groups voted overwhelmingly to remain, however the electorate simply wasn’t diverse enough for this to make a tangible difference. In the US, it is estimated that more than 30 percent of the electorate will be part of an ethnic minority group. Throughout the Presidential campaign, most polls have fluctuated between the two candidates. However, one poll which hasn’t changed, is that ethnic minority voters have an extremely unfavourable view of Donald Trump. Given the high number of ethnic minority voters in the US, this can make a tangible difference on the result, unlike in the EU Referendum.

In addition, anti-EU sentiment had been brewing in the UK for many years, whereas Trump is a new phenomenon. Many in the Leave campaign had been working for years to cultivate sympathy for a leave vote, and this helped hugely when it came to the referendum. There is also the fact that even many of those who supported remain, were lukewarm in their feelings about the EU. This isn’t the case with Trump. Those who oppose him, are vehemently against almost everything he stands for, and will turn out to vote to ensure that he doesn’t become President. Those who support Trump at this election won’t go away overnight. In fact, they will perhaps offer their biggest challenge at the next Presidential election, where an individual more palatable to the wider electorate can act as their standard bearer. This was effectively the case in the UK for a long time. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) had been building support for years, but hit a wall in part because the vast majority of people couldn’t bring themselves to cast a vote for a divisive figure like Nigel Farage. Indeed, Vote Leave Campaign Director Dominic Cummings said this week that Farage’s unpopularity came extremely close to them losing the referendum, and that excluding him from the wider campaign was key to their victory.

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Vote Leave Campaign Director, Dominic Cummings, has said that Nigel Farage’s unpopularity with the wider electorate meant that excluding him from the campaign was vital for victory. 

 

Donald Trump’s unpopularity is on another level to Nigel Farage. Although Trumpian politics may take root for years to come, they won’t be electorally successful until someone less divisive than Trump is found to be the standard bearer (maybe Mike Pence in 2020?).

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Could Mike Pence be the long-term standard bearer for Trumpian politics?

 

Finally, it would be wrong not to consider the differences in the democratic mechanism used for the EU Referendum and the mechanism that will be used for the presidential election. In the referendum, the traditional UK constituency boundaries didn’t feature. This meant that there were no ‘safe seats’, and every vote counted. The US Electoral College system is different, as it means that the campaign can be primarily fought in the swing states. The election will mostly be decided in Ohio, Colorado, and Florida; rather than through a nationwide popular vote. This gives a huge advantage to the more organised and strategic campaign, and there is little doubt that this is the Clinton campaign. The way the Electoral College is set up gives a huge advantage to the Democrats. Since 1992, there are eighteen states (plus the District of Columbia) which have been won by the Democrats every time. Between them, these states encompass 242 electoral college votes, very close to the 270 required for victory. Hillary Clinton only needs to win a couple of the swing states to become President. Donald Trump on the other hand, needs to hold all of the states won by Romney in 2012, plus win all of the major swing states. This would be an extremely difficult task even for the most popular of nominees. For Trump it is nigh on impossible. Whereas the format of the referendum gave the Leave campaign a clear road to victory, the same cannot be said for Trump in this presidential campaign.

So, although there are certainly some similarities on the surface, Brexit certainly doesn’t suggest a Trump victory. So stop saying it does!

Debate Debrief.

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Trump and Clinton face off last night in the Second Presidential Debate.

Trump keeps his campaign afloat, but his performance won’t affect the final result.

The expectation was that last night’s Second Presidential Debate would be dominated by the fallout from the derogatory comments made by Trump during an appearance on Access Hollywood in 2005. Early on in the debate, this prediction rang true. Previously, Trump had addressed his recorded comments with a short video, which didn’t include an actual apology but attempted to explain away his behaviour. During the debate, he addressed the scandal in a similarly brief fashion.

He disputed the view espoused by Joe Biden that the recording amounted to “sexual assault”, instead dismissing it as “locker room talk” and following this up with, “I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.” He then quickly pivoted to a monologue about his plans to destroy ISIS, and although this plan was relatively incomprehensible, it did prove somewhat successful in drawing the debate away from the subject of the tapes.

But when Clinton, in her strongest passage of the debate, offered a strong rebuke of Trump’s “fitness to serve”, Trump responded by bringing up historic allegations of sexual misconduct by Bill Clinton, which followed a pre-debate press conference that he held with several women who allege to have been assaulted by Bill Clinton. Although this was effective in distracting from the problems with his own campaign, it was in no way the best way to bring undecided voters to his side. Prior to the debate, polling suggested that a large majority of voters felt that it would be inappropriate for Trump to bring up Bill Clinton’s alleged misconduct. So although Trump may have reassured his base that he is someone who will stand up to the Clintons, what he won’t have done is persuaded any undecided voters to come aboard. Ultimately, the Trump base is in no way large enough to win an election. No candidate can expect to win without appealing to undecided centre-ground voters, and in bringing up Bill Clinton, Trump did precisely the opposite.

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Bill and Chelsea Clinton look on nervously. 

 

But one thing Trump did well throughout the debate, and which will have gone a long way towards keeping his campaign afloat for the time being, was that he stayed on-message throughout. With Trump, there is always the danger that he goes off on a complete tangent and brings up things completely irrelevant to his campaign, which is something we certainly saw during the first debate. However, this time Trump did well to keep to his long-term script of pitching himself as the only person who can make progress in Washington, as well as consistently disavowing the moderators (and in extension the whole mainstream media) for what he perceived as their biased coverage of him. He regularly interjected whilst Clinton was answering with something along the lines of, “It’s just words, folks,” looking to advance his analysis that throughout her career Clinton has been all words and no action. In addition, when moderators Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper cut him off for going over his two minute limit, he consistently complained that Clinton didn’t get the same treatment (even though she did), with Trump describing the debate as, “one on three”. Again this is a tactic that will further cement Trump’s approval amongst his base of supporters, many of whom believe that the mainstream media is lying to them. But it is unlikely to bring any new supporters into the Trump tent.

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Trump consistently interrupted Clinton’s answers with comments like, “It’s just words folks.”

 

Perhaps the most astonishing moment of the debate came when during an exchange about Hillary Clinton’s emails, Trump said that if he wins, he is “going to instruct my Attorney General to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.” When Clinton then suggested that given Trump’s loose grasp of the facts it was a good thing that he wasn’t in charge of law and order, Trump hit back with “Because you’d be in jail!” I thought that I’d heard it all in this election, but the threat of jailing the loser is certainly a new one. Making a threat like this is a pretty dangerous game to be playing. Despite the FBI saying that Clinton’s conduct over her emails was “extremely careless”, they concluded that she hadn’t acted illegally. Therefore, Trump is seemingly suggesting that he would imprison Clinton because of her political viewpoint, a tactic used by dictators around the world. Although it may have been meant in a tongue in cheek way, Trump should be disavowing this comment immediately, although don’t count on that happening anytime soon.


Trump did provide us with the best line thus far of any of this election’s debates. In a discussion about a leaked email from Hillary Clinton in which she suggested that politicians needed to have both a public and a private position on certain issues, Clinton gave a unconvincing response that she was referring to the example of Abraham Lincoln using different techniques to get lawmakers to agree with him. Trump responded with: “She lied. Now she’s blaming the lie on the late great, Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe.” This was easily Trump’s best line of the debate, reflected by the subsequent cheers from some members of the audience.


The second half of the debate was relatively civilised in comparison.

As always Trump answered questions without any reference to his prospective policies, which in any case seem to change from day to day.

When asked about how he would improve Obamacare, Trump responded by saying that he would repeal it and institute “the finest health care plan there is,” in its place. Naturally, there was no indication of what this plan might entail.

On every other subject Trump came up with more of the same. There was nothing in way of policy at all. Trump’s pitch rested on basically saying that he will make things better, but not telling anyone how he plans to do this; much like his oft-repeated (and oft-mocked) ‘secret plan’ for fighting ISIS.

But realistically, Trump didn’t need to put forward any substantial policy. If putting forward substantial policy was a requirement in this presidential election, then Trump would not have got this far.

The fact of the matter is that all Trump needed to do last night was come out and keep his cool, and show that his campaign wasn’t imploding in the way that the week’s events suggested it might be. He achieved this. He debated with much more confidence than in the first debate, and Clinton seemed less sure of herself, missing multiple opportunities to castigate Trump for his lack of policy knowledge.

Immediately prior to this debate, for Trump’s campaign to not completely implode whilst on stage, would have been considered a success.

With this in mind, Trump arguably won this debate. Although Clinton answered the questions better, actually put forward real policies, and showed far better temperament; the standard that Trump needed to hit was much lower. Given the events of the past few days, Trump actually turning up for the debate was a victory in itself. Unlike in the first debate, he wasn’t as eager to take the bait offered by Clinton, and Clinton herself was strangely reluctant to go after him when he made mistakes.

On this basis, it can objectively be said that Trump won the debate. Clinton had the chance to end the election then and there on the stage at Washington University, St Louis; but she blew it. Trump needed to win to survive, and there can be little doubt that he managed this. For Clinton, this debate was far less essential. Despite Trump’s narrow win here, she surely retains the momentum, and with the prospect of further tapes surfacing containing worse comments, there are sure to be many further opportunities for Clinton to trash Trump.

But, for now, the race continues. Will this debate have had any effect on the ultimate result of this election? No, I don’t think so. Clinton remains in pole position to take the White House. But Donald Trump lives to fight another day.

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Get ready for the bloodiest debate in Presidential election history.

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Clinton and Trump face off in the first Presidential debate.

After Donald Trump’s clear loss in the First Presidential debate two weeks ago and the week that followed for his campaign, tonight’s Presidential debate was always set to be a fiery one. But with the recent release of audio of Trump making lewd and derogatory comments about women during an appearance on Access Hollywood in 2005, tonight’s debate is set to be even more bad tempered than originally expected.


After the release of the tape, what seemed like a constant succession of senior Republicans rushed to condemn Trump’s comments, with many going as far as withdrawing their endorsement. Leader of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said he was “sickened” by what he had heard, and called off a scheduled joint campaign appearance in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the comments, “repugnant, and unacceptable in any circumstance,” and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney (who had already said that he would not be supporting Trump) said that Trump’s comments “corrupt” America’s image to the world.

Add to this the list of Republican luminaries who announced one by one that they were withdrawing their support for Trump: John McCain, Rob Portman, Condoleeza Rice, Kelly Ayotte, and Mike Crapo to name just a few. Given that so many of these individuals gave their support so reluctantly in the first place, perhaps this was just the kind of incident they were looking for — something to given them an excuse to eject themselves from the trainwreck that Trump’s campaign has become.


Tonight’s debate is realistically the final opportunity Trump has to stay in with a chance in this Presidential race. If he is unable to at least prove to some of the doubters in his own party that he is fit to be President, then he stands no chance of winning in November.

To have any chance of doing this, Trump has to act as Presidential as it is possible to act.

Following his loss in the first Presidential debate, it was widely expected that in the second debate, Trump would look to bring up Bill Clinton’s martial infidelities (and Hillary’s defence of them) as one of his key criticisms. However, after what we heard Trump say earlier this week, he has surely forfeited his right to do this.

Nonetheless, as a man of unlimited self-confidence, expect Trump to go big (sorry, I mean bigly) on Bill Clinton’s infidelities, and for him to completely miss the irony. Indeed he began this assault during the non-apology he gave on Friday, when he said:

“I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed, and intimidated his victims.”

It is perhaps this comment which shows us exactly what we can expect in tonight’s debate. Rather than any real admittance on fault on his part, Trump will do all he can to claim Clinton is worse. Naturally she will return fire, which will make for the bloodiest debate in Presidential election history.

It is hard to see how bringing up Bill Clinton’s infidelities will help Trump. Yes, there is an argument that it will persuade some people that Trump’s 2005 comments aren’t as bad as the reaction has suggested. But, given the sheer vulgarity of what he did say, it is hard to see how this would be possible. Rather than implying that Clinton is unfit for the Presidency, is bringing up her husband’s indiscretions not more likely to stoke sympathy for Hillary Clinton? Not to mention that it has been suggested that the electorate has no desire to hear more about Bill Clinton’s infidelities. In recent polling by Politico, it was found that 56 percent of voters felt that it would be inappropriate for Trump to bring this up during the debate, with only 33 percent feeling it was appropriate. Therefore, Trump’s most likely strategy seems misguided.


Trump’s task is further complicated by the ‘town-hall’ format of tonight’s debate, a format which Trump has little experience in.

Trump’s best moments on the campaign trail have come at his mass rallies, where he is alone on the mic in front of a huge group of adoring fans. When Trump has to interact with others, he tends to find things more difficult. We saw this in the first debate, where Trump couldn’t help but respond to Clinton’s baiting, with this leading to lengthy parts of the debate spent on damaging topics such as Trump’s ‘birther’ theory. Don’t expect this part of Trump’s personality to change anytime soon but, in a town hall debate it could prove far more costly. With the audience asking the questions, who would bet against Trump taking issue with a difficult question asked by an undecided voter? One of the key skills required in a town hall debate is the ability to respect the voter by listening to the question and actually answering it. This is something that Trump has typically found difficult, with his tendency to ignore the question and digress into a monologue about his brilliance, and his tendency to react angrily when faced with criticisms. This is something that he cannot afford tonight. But, given his always limited debate prep, which can’t have been made any easier by this week’s crisis, don’t expect him to have comprehensively fixed these flaws, Trump’s biggest failure may yet be the belief that he has no flaws.


All Clinton needs to do tonight is control the debate. If Trump behaves as expected (i.e in exactly the same way as he has throughout the campaign), then he will dig his own holes, and with tonight’s town hall format all Clinton needs to do is watch as the audience push him down them.

What to expect from the Vice-Presidential debate.

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Tonight, the first and only Vice-Presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence will take place, at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

Typically, there is minimal media attention directed toward the Vice-Presidential debate in an election campaign. This is because the Vice-Presidential debate rarely influences the result of the election in the same way as the Presidential Debates proper do. However, tonight’s debate still matters, and could potentially be important to the eventual outcome of the campaign.

Usually, the point of the Vice-Presidential debate is to test the competence of each Vice-Presidential nominee in case of a situation arising where said nominee is forced to deputise (or take over from) the sitting President. This means that the Vice-Presidential debate is usually a thorough discussion of the record of each candidate, and their competency for the job in hand.

However, this won’t be the case this time around.

This Presidential campaign has been dominated by the records of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the suitability of each of these candidates for the White House. Expect, this Vice-Presidential debate to be completely dominated by discussion of the competency of Trump and Clinton. Effectively Pence and Kaine will simply be acting as surrogates for their running mates, and answering questions on their behalf.

For Kaine this will mean going after Trump’s temperament and looking to hammer home the message that Clinton looked to push during the first Presidential Debate — that Trump doesn’t have the temperament required for the Oval Office. Given the week that Trump has had, Kaine will certainly have plenty of readily available material to use to criticise Trump.

Pence, on the other hand, will look to push the Trump line that Clinton will not be able to create the change in Washington that Trump can, and that she is simply a member of the political establishment. With Clinton having won the first debate, but not scored anything close to a knockout blow, Kaine’s performance could be very important.

For Pence, he needs to be able to show stability in the Trump campaign. Although Clinton won the debate, it wasn’t a thrashing by any means. However, Trump then spent the rest of the week making things very difficult for himself. He re-ignited a feud with a former Miss Universe winner, which involved him tweeting abuse in the early hours of Friday morning. There was then an investigation by The New York Times which suggested that Trump had been able to avoid income tax for almost twenty years, he failed to respond to this. Finally, he faced renewed question about the status of his charitable foundation, which he failed to answer satisfactorily. None of these did him any favours in terms of his goal of appearing Presidential. Pence needs to put in a solid, measured performance in order to try and put out the fire Trump has lit for himself.

Both Kaine and Pence are known for being mind-mannered, and so it will be interesting to see how they rise to the task of strongly criticising their opponent’s campaign. For Pence, the task is perhaps hardest. He has already been called into action throughout the campaign to defend Trump, but with the week Trump has had, this could prove very difficult. His only option could be to go on the attack.

What could be interesting is whether the debate boils down to a discussion on social issues. This was something which wasn’t covered in the first Presidential Debate, in part because they aren’t a key part of either Trump or Clinton’s pitch to become President. However, Pence is a social-conservative and has long been a champion of the anti-abortion movement, and the push to defund Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, Kaine has been a strong proponent for the abolition of the death penalty, and is generally socially liberal.

Overall, this Vice-Presidential debate could be an interesting one. With Pence facing the task of getting back on message, and negating the impact of some of Trump’s recent indiscretions; and Kaine attempting to hammer home these indiscretions, it could make for compelling viewing. On the other hand, with neither candidate known for their exciting oratory, it could be very dull. Who knows!