Does Donald Trump have a road to victory?

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Yes, but it is a very narrow one.

 

We’ve known for a long time that the Electoral College makes a Republican Presidential victory that much harder than a Democratic victory — especially when you take into account the ongoing demographic changes in many of the swing states, with the rapid increase in the proportion Hispanics and African-Americans who make up the electorate, which would seem to strongly favour the Democrats.

However, Donald J. Trump won the Republican Party’s nomination earlier this year, and throughout the primary process (and since) has claimed that he can turn States which have voted Democrat in the past six Presidential Elections, meaning that he thinks he can win handsomely.

There are eighteen States (plus Washington D.C), which have voted Democrat in every Presidential Election since 1992. This amounts to 242 votes in the Electoral College, just short of the 270 required for victory. In short, this means that it can be tough for a Republican to win without taking nearly all of the so-called swing states.

I have made my predictions for the Presidential Election, and I broadly stick by them, although I concede that given how the polls have tightened in the past ten days, I may have overestimated Hillary Clinton’s winning margin. However, I maintain that Hillary Clinton is on course to win, as Trump does not really have much of a path to the White House through the Electoral College.

However, this being said, there are some ways that Trump could fashion a road to the White House, albeit a very, very narrow one.

The ‘must-wins’ for Trump:

For Trump, there are several States that he must win, or his chances of winning the Presidency are completely dead and buried.

If we assume that the Electoral College map at present looks a little bit like this:

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I’ve been conservative here with the States I have called for each candidate (in particular Clinton). Even though Trump hasn’t led in a poll in Pennsylvania since late June, I’ve put it as ‘leaning’ Democrat rather than ‘safe’ Democrat, in order to be on the safe side. Likewise with Michigan and Colorado.

However, if we assume that Clinton is going to win Michigan, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, then we begin to see the difficult task that Trump has. With these three States added to the ones already wrapped up by Clinton, she would already have a total of 268 votes in the Electoral College, meaning she would need to win just one more swing state for victory.

For Trump, the path to victory is much less simple. He would have to win Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa. The most recent polling in Florida has suggested that Clinton has edged ahead, but early voting has suggested that although she has an advantage in Florida, it is not quite the same advantage as President Obama had after early voting in 2012. Remember that he beat Mitt Romney in Florida by just 0.88 percent. Therefore, I think it would be fair to say that Florida is a virtual tie at present. As for the other three States I mentioned, Trump appears to have the edge. If we look at the RealClearPolitics polling averages, Trump has a lead of 3.0 percent in Iowa, 1.4 percent in North Carolina, and 3.5 percent in Ohio, meaning that victory in these three States is well within his grasp.

If Trump were to win Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Iowa, then that would leave him with 259 votes in the Electoral College, still short of the 270 needed for victory but not to far away. To get over the finish line, he would need to win both New Hampshire and Nevada, as well as taking the one electoral college vote allotted to the winner of Maine’s Second Congressional District. This would give him 270.

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The problem: NEVADA.

Early voting data from Nevada has suggested that Hispanic voters are turning out in record numbers to vote in this year’s Presidential Election. It has been suggested that this is as result of outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s famed Get Out The Vote operation. Given the inflammatory rhetoric used by Donald Trump towards the Hispanic community at large, it is hard to imagine many Hispanics voting for Trump, and the polling throughout the race has reflected this trend. Therefore, it seem sensible to suggest that Nevada is now leaning Clinton’s way. Indeed, experienced Nevadan political analyst Jon Ralston has suggested that Clinton has already built up more of a cushion in the early voting than Obama did when he won the State by seven percent in 2012. If this is indeed the case, then victory for Trump in Nevada is now as good as impossible. Therefore, Trump will have to find a different path to victory than the one I suggested previously.

Could Trump win Michigan or Pennsylvania?

Current polling averages give Clinton a lead of 4.7 percent in Michigan, and just a 2.4 percent lead in Pennsylvania. This means that she is relying somewhat on good turnout in these States, particularly in Pennsylvania. Both States are marked by the limited impact which early voting will have: in Pennsylvania just five percent of voters early voted in 2012, and Michigan doesn’t allow early voting at all. Therefore, it is harder to properly judge the enthusiasm for either candidate this time around. The lack of early voting in these States explains why Clinton has made lots of recent trips to Pennsylvania and Michigan, and why her final rally with Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, and Bruce Springsteen in attendance, will be held in Philadelphia on Monday night.

What seems clear, is that Pennsylvania is improbably close, compared to how it seemed just one month ago. However, for Hillary Clinton to lose Pennsylvania on election day would mean an absolute calamity for her campaign, and would suggest the polling is completely wrong. It seems improbable to say the least.

For Trump, the best hope is probably Michigan given the prevalence of ‘blue-collar’ voters. However, the Clinton campaign is extremely organised here, and it is hard to see Trump making to breakthrough he requires.

Realistically, the only path I can see for a Trump victory is the one I mentioned previously. For Trump, winning Florida, Iowa, Maine’s Second Congressional District, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Ohio seems the only way. And with Nevada looking how it does, although a Trump victory remains possible, it is looking very unlikely at this point.

How Clinton could finish Trump off: win Florida.

For Clinton, this is the State which could precipitate a good night’s sleep on Tuesday. She doesn’t have to win Florida, but if she does then the race is as good as over. Assuming she has won Nevada, then if she also wins Florida, Trump could take Pennsylvania and still lose:

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If Clinton wins Florida, it is an absolute knockout blow. There is no way Trump will come back from that.

What will actually happen?

As it stands, I maintain that Clinton will win, and probably relatively comfortably as well. Although perhaps not as comfortably as I predicted last month (click here to view my earlier predictions).

I still think that Ohio and Florida can be won by Clinton, but it is looking more and more unlikely. It has been reported that her early voting numbers in Florida are not quite as good as Obama’s were, which suggests that she is on course for a narrow defeat. However, this doesn’t really matter, as Clinton can comfortably win the Presidency despite losing Florida (and Ohio).

I would be unsurprised if Clinton managed to take Florida but narrowly missed out on Ohio, which would still give her a very comfortable victory in the Electoral College.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Electoral College map looked something like this:

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Overall, I think that despite the late tightening of the polls, Clinton is on course for victory. There have been suggestions that the polls must be wrong, and that they must be underestimating Trump’s support. In fact, I think that the opposite is more likely. It wouldn’t surprise me if Clinton’s victory margin on Tuesday is more than the polls suggest. With the news that the FBI won’t be changing their conclusions in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to expect some of the ‘soft Republicans’ who had considered reluctantly voting for Trump, instead casting their votes for Clinton. Given this possibility, I wouldn’t rule out Clinton also taking Ohio; and getting very close in Iowa, Arizona, and crucially North Carolina.

All in all, the stage is set for an exciting election night. Although I would say a Clinton victory is very likely, the real question is, by how much.

Predicting the Presidential Election.

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Who will win? Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?

 

With the debates over and only a couple of weeks until the Presidential Election, the race is hotting up. Here’s my prediction for how each state will vote, and whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will win in November. 

 

Alabama

Doesn’t even need to be discussed. Has voted Republican in every Presidential Election since 1976, and this won’t change now.

Prediction: Trump.

Alaska

Typically a safe Republican state, and the last time Alaskans voted Democrat was 1964. Although polls suggest the race here is closer than normal this time around, it look likely that Trump will still win relatively comfortably.

Prediction: Trump.

Arizona

Typically Arizona is a relatively safe Republican State, although Arizonans did vote for Bill Clinton in 1996, therefore its definitely possible to turn the State. Polling suggests that this election could be the first since 1996 where Arizona turns blue. The latest polling by the Arizona Republic puts Clinton five points ahead, whilst the RealClearPolitics average has Clinton 1.5 ahead, making it look like a Clinton victory is coming in Arizona.

Prediction: Clinton.

Arkansas

Arkansas almost always votes Republican. They did vote for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, but that was only because he was previously the State Governor. Polling for this years race has consistently suggested that Trump leads by over twenty points here, and so the result here is a foregone conclusion.

Prediction: Trump.

California

California is one of the safest Democratic states, and hasn’t voted Republican since the days of Ronald Reagan. This will be an easy Clinton win, probably by around twenty points.

Prediction: Clinton.

Colorado

Typically considered one of the swing states, Colorado is usually won by the ultimate election winner, with President Obama having won the state in both 2008 and 2012. Polling suggests that Clinton has a relatively comfortable lead here, with the RealClearPolitics average giving her an advantage of 8%.

Prediction: Clinton.

Connecticut

Has voted Democratic in the last six Presidential Elections and it would be very unlikely for the result to differ this time around. A comfortable Clinton win.

Prediction: Clinton.

Delaware

Has voted Democratic in the last six Presidential Elections and it would be very unlikely for the result to differ this time around. Clinton currently has a comfortable lead in the polls here.

Prediction: Clinton.

District of Columbia

Has always voted Democrat, will do so again this time around.

Prediction: Clinton.

Florida

Often described as the swingiest of all swing states, it was victory in Florida which won the Presidency for George W. Bush in 2000 despite him losing the popular vote to Al Gore, and it could be similarly significant this time around. Florida normally votes for the winner, with 1992 being the last time it didn’t. Obama won here by just 0.9% in 2012, but current polling suggests that Hillary Clinton has a lead of 4% going into the final stages of the campaign. Victory here could ultimately be crucial to her White House bid.

Prediction: Clinton.

Georgia

Georgia hasn’t been won by the Democrats since 1992, but even though it tends to be a relatively safe state for the Republicans, the margins are never huge. In short, it is winnable for the Democrats. Current polling provides a mixed picture, with most polling suggesting that Donald Trump is holding a slim lead, but others showing that Hillary Clinton has pulled ahead. Although Georgia can currently be considered a toss-up, I am doubtful that it is really a State that the Democrats can win, and there are certainly easier Republican targets for them to aim at (Arizona for example). At the moment it looks as though Trump will hold on here.

Prediction: Trump.

Hawaii

One of the safest Democratic states of all, Hawaii has only voted Republican in Presidential Elections twice in its history. Clinton will win comfortably here.

Prediction: Clinton.

Idaho

The last time Idaho was won by a Democrat was in 1964, and it’s been a safe Republican State ever since. There is no chance of that changing.

Prediction: Trump.

Illinois

A safe Democratic State which hasn’t voted Republican since 1988. Current polling puts Clinton close to twenty percent ahead of Trump.

Prediction: Clinton.

Indiana

Not considered a swing state, Indiana tends to be strongly Republican. However, the Hoosiers did vote narrowly for President Obama in 2008, before swinging sharply back toward the Republicans four years later. The RealClearPolitics polling average suggests that Trump has a lead of five percent, and although this may lessen as we near the end of the race, it looks as though he will hold on.

Prediction: Trump.

Iowa

Iowa is currently considered a battleground state, but Iowans have in fact voted Democrat in six of the past seven Presidential elections. However, current polling suggests that could be about to change. The latest polling suggests that Trump has pulled into a four point lead, however Hillary Clinton looks as though she is gaining support here, and by the time the election comes around she should probably have taken the lead. In any case, the margin here looks set to be one of the narrowest in this election.

Prediction: Clinton.

Kansas

One of the safest Republican States that there is. There is no question about who will triumph here.

Prediction: Trump.

Kentucky

Tends to vote Republican, although did vote for Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996. Trump has a very comfortable lead in the polls here, and it will remain that way.

Prediction: Trump.

Louisiana

Another Southern State which voted for Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, but otherwise a safe Republican State. Looks set to be another comfortable Republican victory here.

Prediction: Trump.

Maine

One of only two States (the other being Nebraska) who don’t allocate their Electoral College votes on an ‘all or nothing’ basis. In Maine, the statewide winner gets two electoral votes, with one electoral vote up for grabs for the winner of each of Maine’s Congressional districts. As of yet this hasn’t resulted in a split electoral vote, and Maine has voted Democrat in the last six Presidential elections. But current polling suggests that the race is much more competitive this year than in previous years, with Clinton sitting on a five percent statewide lead (a significant fall from the fifteen percent margin President Obama led Mitt Romney by). But, although Clinton leads statewide, Trump leads in by around ten percent in Maine’s Second Congressional District, which would give him one electoral vote.

Prediction: Clinton (3 votes), Trump (1 vote).

Maryland

Very safe Democratic state which Hillary Clinton will win with ease.

Prediction: Clinton.

Massachusetts

Voted Democrat in the last seven Presidential elections, and a very safe Democratic state this time around. Another easy Clinton win.

Prediction: Clinton.

Michigan

During the Republican Primary Campaign, Michigan was a State picked by Trump as one he felt he could capture from the Democrats. Although Michigan has voted Democrat six presidential elections, Trump felt that as a State that was significantly affected by the financial crash, it could be his for the taking. However, it is looking as though this confidence was misplaced, and polling suggests that Clinton has a lead of about eleven percent here. Michigan will remain a safe Democratic state for now.

Prediction: Clinton.

Minnesota

The last time Minnesotans didn’t vote Democrat in a Presidential election was 1972, when Richard Nixon won a landslide victory. Although Hillary Clinton is leading here in the polls, it is looking much closer than usual. President Obama won Minnesota by ten percent in 2008, and by seven percent in 2012, Hillary Clinton currently leads by only around five percent. Nonetheless, it looks as though she will hold on, and carry the State.

Prediction: Clinton.

Mississippi

One of the safest Republican States out there. An easy Trump win.

Prediction: Trump.

Missouri

Missouri has voted Republican more than Democrat in recent years, however it does have a relatively good record at picking the overall winner. However, this was lessened in recent years, John McCain carrying the state by just 0.1% in 2008, and Mitt Romney winning comfortably in 2012. Polling suggests that Trump leads in Missouri by about 5–8%, and expect it to stay this way on polling day.

Prediction: Trump.

Montana

Montana has only voted for two Democrats in the last fifty years, and it looks sure to stay red this year. Trump will win comfortably.

Prediction: Trump.

Nebraska

In the same way as Maine, Nebraska allocated its votes by Congressional district with one for the winner of each of these, plus two for the statewide winner. A split has only occurred once, when President Obama narrowly won the Second Congressional District in 2008. The Clinton campaign has put a lot of money into the Second Congressional District, and it looks as though they may be able to replicated Obama’s 2008 success. The overall State vote will be comfortably won by Trump.

Prediction: Trump (4 votes), Clinton (1).

Nevada

A true swing state, Nevada tends to be one of the best predictors of the overall winner. The last time Nevada didn’t vote for the overall winner was 1976, where it voted for Gerald Ford ahead of Jimmy Carter. This year, most polling conducted in the State has given Hillary Clinton a relatively secure lead, with the current polling average giving her a 4.2% advantage in a three-way race. Expect it to stay this way on election day.

Prediction: Clinton.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire has voted Democratic in five of the last six elections, and although John Kerry carried the State in 2004, it generally has a good record of picking the overall winner. It is a State which Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson suggested he could have a chance of taking on election day, but his challenge seems to have fallen by the wayside a little. Clinton holds a comfortable lead here, and it looks set to remain that way.

Prediction: Clinton.

New Jersey

Although New Jersey has a Republican Governor, the former Republican Presidential candidate Chris Christie, it has voted Democrat in the last six Presidential elections. Polling suggests that Hillary Clinton has a twenty point lead here, and there is no way this will change.

Prediction: Clinton.

New Mexico

New Mexico is typically a Democratic State, and has voted this way in five of the past six presidential elections. Nonetheless, as a previous Governor of the State, it was a target for Gary Johnson. However, it looks like Clinton has done more than enough to win it, with polls suggesting that she holds a comfortable lead at this stage.

Prediction: Clinton.

New York

A safe Democratic State which hasn’t voted Republican since the days of Ronald Reagan. Despite Donald Trump suggesting early on the campaign that as a New York native he stood a chance here, polling has suggested otherwise. Clinton will win comfortably.

Prediction: Clinton.

North Carolina

A battleground state, North Carolina tends to be Republican more often than Democrat. Having said that, the State was carried by President Obama in 2008, only to be lost to Mitt Romney four years later. This year, Clinton has generally been in the lead here, but it has been very, very close. The latest poll gives her an advantage of just two percent. Despite this narrow lead, she has probably done enough to hold on.

Prediction: Clinton.

North Dakota

Very safe Republican State which has voted Democrat only once in the past 76 years.

Prediction: Trump.

Ohio

In recent years, Ohio has been a very strong predictor of the overall election winner. Since 1944, Ohioans have voted for the losing candidate just once, when in 1960 they selected Richard Nixon ahead of John F. Kennedy. Polling in Ohio for this race has constantly flitted between Clinton and Trump, and both candidates have held leads of up to seven points here at some point in this election. The current RCP Polling average gives Trump a lead of 0.6%, but recent polls have been tied suggesting that Clinton is gaining momentum here. I think that she has momentum enough to carry the state.

Prediction: Clinton.

Oklahoma

Has voted Republican in all but one of the Presidential Elections here since 1948, will definitely vote Republican again.

Prediction: Trump.

Oregon

Was a relatively strong Republican state until 1988, and since then has voted exclusively Democrat in Presidential elections. Polling suggests Clinton leads by about ten points here, and will win comfortably.

Prediction: Clinton.

Pennsylvania

Commonly considered a swing state, but in recent elections Pennsylvania has been carried by the Democratic candidate. This will continue this time.

Prediction: Clinton.

Rhode Island

Safe Democrat, and has only been won by the Republican candidate for President twice in the last fifty years. Easy Democratic win again.

Prediction: Clinton.

South Carolina

A safe Republican State which hasn’t voted Democrat since 1976 (when Jimmy Carter who was from neighbouring Georgia was on the ticket). Will definitely vote Republican again this time around.

Prediction: Trump.

South Dakota

Very safe Republican state which hasn’t voted Democrat since 1964.

Prediction: Trump.

Tennessee

In the last two elections, Tennessee has been carried by the Republican candidate for President, but other than this and 1960, the State has sided with every Presidential Election winner since 1928. However, evidence suggests that the State has become more Republican in recent years, and can now be considered safe.

Prediction: Trump.

Texas

Texas is usually a reliable Republican State, and has voted this way in every election since 1980. In 2012, Mitt Romney won here by almost sixteen percent. However, recent polls have suggested that the State is now in play for the Democrats, and that Trump’s lead here is down to around two or three percent. However, given the dominance of the Republican Party here, it would be a really tough ask for Clinton to win. I expect the Republicans to hold on, but the gains made here in this presidential election could prove very helpful to the Democrats in 2020 or 2024.

Prediction: Trump.

Click here to view a slightly more in-depth piece on whether Hillary Clinton could win in Texas. 

Utah

Utah is one of the oddest states in this years election. Usually a very safe Republican state, the State’s high Mormon population have not warmed to Trump at all, and the Republican candidate only came third in the caucus here earlier this year, behind Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Enter independent Presidential candidate Evan McMullin, a former Republican aide in the House of Representatives. Recent polling has put support for McMullin in Utah as high as 29 percent, just one percent adrift of Donald Trump. Although polls tend to overestimate support for third-party candidates early on in presidential races, they tend to be pretty accurate later on. Therefore, we should be able to be pretty confident that McMullin can hold on to this support, or increase it. McMullin has the advantage of being able to focus his campaigning efforts on Utah, whilst Donald Trump has to travel all around the country as part of his campaign. Therefore, with only a few percent to make up, I think that McMullin can do it and become the first third-party candidate since George Wallace in 1968, to carry a state.

Prediction: McMullin.

Click here to view a more in-depth piece on the state of play in Utah. 

Vermont

From 1856 to 1988, there was only one occasion that Vermont wasn’t carried by the Republican candidate for President, in 1964 when the State voted for Lyndon B. Johnson ahead of Barry Goldwater. However, since 1992 the state has been reliably Democratic. In addition, the Democrats could benefit from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is campaigning hard for Clinton. All in all, Vermont will be an easy Clinton win.

Prediction: Clinton.

Virginia

From 1953 until 2004, Virginia was a safe Republican State, and was only carried by the Democrats once in this period. However, in 2008 and 2012, President Obama won here, both times by around five percent. Virginia has been considered a key state throughout this election campaign, and was perhaps one of the main reasons that the Clinton campaign chose former Virginia Governor (and now Senator) Tim Kaine to be Hillary Clinton’s running-mate. Polling suggests that this move has paid off, and Clinton holds a strong lead here in the run-up to election day.

Prediction: Clinton.

Washington

Has voted Democrat in the past seven presidential elections, and the Democrats have a strong advantage here again. Will be an easy Clinton win.

Prediction: Clinton.

West Virginia

West Virginia was won by Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 Presidential Election, and held by Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. However, since then it has been reliably Republican, and the last three Presidential Elections have seen Republican landslides here. Expect another Republican landslide this time around.

Prediction: Trump.

Wisconsin

Often considered a battleground state, but has actually voted Democrat in the past seven Presidential elections. Clinton leads here comfortably, so expect the same this time.

Prediction: Clinton.

Wyoming

Reliably Republican, and has voted Democrat just twice since 1944. Will be an easy Republican win.

Prediction: Trump.

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As you can see from the above graphic, the following predictions would result in Hillary Clinton winning a commanding victory in the Electoral College. As for the popular vote, I do not expect the margin to be as large as Clinton’s margin of victory in the Electoral College suggests. In 2012, President Obama beat Mitt Romney by just 3.9 percent in the popular vote. If the polls are to be believed, and they sound believable, then the popular vote margin in this election will be greater. Although Hillary Clinton is doing slightly worse than Obama in many of the North-Eastern Democratic strongholds, she is doing considerable better in many of the Southern states. In 2012, Romney won most of these by double figure margins. Texas was won by more than fifteen percent, Arizona by eight, Missouri by nine, Idaho by almost 32. In this election, these margins will be much, much narrower. Given this, it would be unsurprising to see Clinton’s lead in the popular vote getting closer to seven or eight percent, maybe even ten if she does particularly well on the day.

But, it is the Electoral College that matters, and in the Electoral College Clinton is set to win comfortably, consequently winning the Presidency.

With the Presidential Election on November 8, we’ll find out soon enough whether these predictions are correct.

 

 

 

What to expect from the final Presidential debate.

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It’s finally arrived, the final debate in this marathon Presidential campaign.

With Donald Trump having lost a lot of ground in the race to the White House, polling suggests that Hillary Clinton has a national lead of around six percent, Trump certainly has a lot to do in this debate.

Expect Trump to go on the attack from the beginning, in an attempt to make up some of this ground. It would be no surprise to see Trump continue his claims that the election is being rigged against him by the media. Given that this debate is being moderated by Chris Wallace from FOX News, it is perhaps less likely that Trump calls the moderation biased than he did in previous debates. However, Wallace is a registered Democrat (although he says that this is just so he can vote in the primaries) and he did say earlier this year that he felt the media weren’t hard enough on Donald Trump.Therefore, if Trump feels that he’s losing the momentum, don’t be overly surprised if he decides to claim that everyone is ganging up on him, as did in the first debate when he suggested that it was “three against one”, with Clinton, and moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz all ganging up against him. A repeat of a similar scene would not be unexpected.

In addition, with the continual dumping of John Podesta’s hacked emails by Wikileaks, expect information gleaned from these to make up a large proportion of Trump’s attacks. The emails which suggested Clinton knew CNN debate question in advance during the Democratic Primary feed into his rigged election narrative. In addition, the revelation that the government of Qatar (who have a sketchy human rights record) had donated $1 million to the Clinton Foundation could prove slightly embarrassing to Clinton. Trump claims that these emails have been completely ignored by the media. He is wrong. The media have reported them, and in normal times they would be front page news. However, the recording of Trump’s derogatory remarks on the set of Access Hollywood in 2005, and other reports of sexual misconduct, have drowned out the stories about Clinton. This means that this final debate is the only chance Trump will have to confront Clinton about these allegations.

One thing notable about this debate, is that a full fifteen minute section will be devoted to the topic of immigration. It was surprising how little immigration was discussed during the previous two debates, and it was quite surprising that Trump didn’t look to steer the conversation towards one of his stronger topics. This debate will give Trump the opportunity to talk about one of his keynote policies: the wall on the US-Mexico border. Of course, this debate also gives an opportunity for this policy to be properly scrutinised. It seems pretty obvious that building a wall on the whole border is completely unrealistic. For a start, we’re talking about a full-blown wall, not just a fence. This means that the cost will be completely exorbitant, with it having been estimated that costs could rise at high at $25 billion. In addition, the wall would have to cover a border which is almost 1,900 miles long. Much of this land isn’t owned by the US Government, which would push the cost even higher. All in all, the policy of building a wall on the US-Mexico border is completely unrealistic. This perhaps explains Trump’s reluctance to bring it up in a debate, as he realises that it would be picked apart by Clinton and the moderators. Nonetheless, it seems likely that this debate will force him to discuss it. Whilst the issue will likely further energise his base, it seems unlikely to be one which will gain him any undecided voters. I mean, if you wanted a wall on the US-Mexico border, then surely you’d be supporting Trump already?

These undecided voters, are who Trump chiefly needs to target in this debate. With polling suggesting he is six points behind Clinton, and this being the final televised debate, he is rapidly running out of opportunities to appeal to undecided voters. This is where a debate strategy that involves continuous attacks on Clinton could fall flat. Undecided voters are tired of hearing about this. Instead, they want to hear about policy. With debate topics including: debt and entitlements, the economy, and foreign hot spots; both candidates have a chance to show off their policy ideas, in an attempt to woo some of these undecided voters. If Trump’s policy knowledge is as lacking as it was in the first debate, then he could well seriously struggle with this.

As well as appealing to swing voters, Trump needs to try and persuade the traditional GOP supporters, who are deserting him in droves, to vote for him in November. Polling currently suggests that traditionally safe Republican states such as Arizona, Georgia, Utah, and even Texas, are now considered toss-ups. It is the polling from Texas which will have most alarmed the Trump campaign. Although, there is a growing Hispanic population in Texas, it was still considered to be safe. Indeed, just one month ago Trump had a lead of eleven points in Texas, but this has now fallen to just four points, which is within the margin of error. Trump needs to be clear on his commitment to traditional Republican policies, otherwise he risks losing these kind of states. Given that he is already up against it in the swing states, losing perceived ‘safe’ states would be disastrous.

Equally, Trump has to ensure he appeals to those in the key swing states of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Iowa. All in all, this means that Trump has to carry out an unenviable balancing act, to try and keep voters from many very different constituencies on side.

Given these competing priorities, it would be no surprise to simply see Trump fall back on his usual tactic of insulting the competition, but not actually offering much substance. He has already announced the slightly baffling news that he has invited President Obama’s half-brother, Malik Obama, to attend the debate. Malik has previously said that he supports Trump, but this invite feels just like a publicity stunt, much the same as when Trump invited Bill Clinton’s accusers to the last presidential debate. The stunt didn’t have an impact then, and it isn’t going to work now. Trump has a misguided knack of attacking people who aren’t on the ballot, at the last debate it was Bill Clinton, throughout the past week it has been Paul Ryan, and at this one it looks as though it will be Barack Obama. This isn’t going to do anything to help Trump in this election, and seems totally unnecessary.

Overall, this debate gives Trump one final chance to appeal to undecided voters in the swing states. This is the most important thing for his campaign, and is absolutely what he should be focusing on. However, things like inviting Malik Obama to the debate suggests that Trump is going to fall back on his strategy of getting the odd good soundbite. This hasn’t worked so far as a way of persuading swing voters to back him, therefore there seems no reason that it will work now. For populist actions like this, Trump can use his mass rallies to energise his base. There seems little point in using the final presidential debate to do what he can do in fifteen minutes at one of his mass rallies. Instead he must use his debate to put forward some substantial policy, or his chances in this election are numbered. The indications suggest that once again Trump will avoid actual policy, and as a result the Hillary Clinton campaign must be licking their lips, a result like this couldn’t be more perfect for them, as it further consolidates Clinton’s position as the only candidate in this race who has put forward any real policy.

With Clinton’s poll numbers now pretty good, all she has to do is turn up and perform as competently as she did in the first two debates. For Trump, he must now put forward some proper policy, or he has got no chance.

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.

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.

The debate which could change the course of this presidential election.

Why Monday night’s debate is important.

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Clinton and Trump will face off in the opening presidential debate on Monday night.

Tonight, the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will take place at Hofstra University, New York.

For the candidates, this will be one of the most important moments of the campaign thus far. Polling by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News has found that 34 percent of voters consider the debate very important in deciding who they support, whilst it has been estimated that the television audience could reach 120 million.

For Trump this debate is a step into the unknown. During the Republican Primary campaign, he took part in eleven debates. However, the smallest of these contained four candidates. Contrast this with Monday’s debate, which will be head-to-head between just Trump and Clinton, after Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein failed to qualify. The significance of this is that Trump will be forced to speak for considerably longer than he had to during the Republican primary debates.

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Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have failed to qualify for tonight’s debate.

In the Republican Primary debates, Trump relied upon an improvisational style, and proved to be strong in terms of soundbites and withering putdowns, with his labelling of Ted Cruz as ‘Lyin’ Ted’, and Marco Rubio as ‘Little Marco’. However, in this head-to-head debate, that won’t be enough. Trump will be required to speak for around 40 minutes, and will have to display a strong grasp of policy, something which wasn’t really required during the primaries. How well he manages this, may well decide the outcome of this debate.

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Tonight’s head-to-head debate will be very different from the large debates during the Republican Primary campaign.

For Hillary Clinton, she faces a very different task in this debate. During the primary campaign, she took part in a string of head-to-head debates with Bernie Sanders, whilst she also took part in many during the mammoth 2008 Democratic primary campaign. In short, she has always been considered to be a confident debater. But in this debate, the scrutiny on Clinton will be regarding something very different: her health.

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Hillary Clinton’s health will be scrutinised after her pneumonia diagnosis.

Presidential debates can be a very superficial way of judging who is the best candidate for the job of President. Typically, the candidate judged to have won the debate is the candidate who people feel looks the most presidential whilst on stage, rather than the candidate who displays the best grasp of policy. Take the example of the 1960 Presidential campaign, the first to feature televised debates between the candidates. In these debates, the television viewers judged John F. Kennedy to have comprehensively defeated Richard Nixon, in large part because Nixon appeared nervous and sweaty on stage. However, those listening to the debate on the radio, felt that Nixon had won because of his better grasp of policy. This shows just how important appearance and confidence can be in deciding the victor in a televised debate.

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Nixon’s sweating and nervousness during his 1960 debate with John F. Kennedy contributed to his loss.

In fact, campaign staffers have been known to say that the best way of knowing who will be judged the winner in a televised debate, is to watch it with the sound on mute, as it will be the candidate who appears most confident who wins.

For Hillary Clinton to be considered to have performed well, she will need to demonstrate that she has fully recovered from the bout of pneumonia that she was struggling with earlier this month. Any repeat of the coughing fit she suffered when addressing a campaign rally earlier this month, could be hugely damaging during a televised debate. Given her experience, it is clear that her knowledge of policy will be up to the task of debating Trump. However, for Clinton, the important thing is to try and show the country that she is physically fit for office.

Generally, candidates don’t manage to win a presidential race as a result of a good performance in a debate. However a bad performance in a debate, can certainly go a long way towards losing the presidency. For example, the aforementioned incident of Nixon’s severe sweating on stage. Whilst George H.W. Bush checking his watch during a 1992 debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, gave the impression of someone who didn’t want to be there, and was taking victory for granted.

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George H.W. Bush checking his watch during this 1992 debate made him look out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.

In the 2000 Presidential Election, during debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush, Gore was heard to sigh when Bush gave answers, giving the impression of being condescending, whilst he was also accused of invading Bush’s personal space by walking over to him as if about to start a fight. Gore’s debate performances were said to have severely damaged his chances of winning the presidency.

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Al Gore’s invasion of George W. Bush’s personal space cost him dearly.

It is from the debates in the 2000 election that Clinton can learn the most. If she acts like Gore and reacts condescendingly to Trump’s answers, then she will likely be punished for it. For Trump, not having debated on this scale before is perhaps an advantage. As a result, there will be relatively low expectations regarding his performance, and he is likely to get away with more mistakes than his rival.

Overall, for these two unpopular candidates this debate is very important. Whilst it may not decide the outcome of this presidential race, it will certainly decide who has the momentum going forward.

In such a close race, a big mistake could be absolutely fatal to either of the candidates’ chances. Trump must appear to have a strong grasp on policy, whilst for Clinton it will be vitally important that she appears physically fit for the office of President.

For both, this could be a defining moment of the campaign.