The Electoral College system in United States Presidential Elections typically limits the viable field in Presidential Elections to just two viable candidates. In this case of course, that was Hillary Clinton and the ultimate victor, Donald J. Trump.
However, despite the fact that the system for the electing the President makes it near impossible for a third-party candidate to win, that doesn’t stop third-party or independent candidates running, and this election was no exception.
Of the myriad of other candidates who were on the ballots in some of the States, the most high-profile were the Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and the Libertarian Party candidate, former Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson.
Given the national unpopularity of the two main candidates in this year’s presidential race, it was expected that this election could be a bumper one of third-party candidates, with forecasts during the campaign suggesting that many voters were considering backing third-party candidates out of distaste for those nominated by the Democrats and the Republicans. However, in the end, third-party candidates didn’t do anywhere near as well as expected. During the campaign, Gary Johnson was polling upwards of nine percent nationally, and had a justifiable claim for being included in the Presidential debates. However, when it came to the Presidential Election he only received around four percent of the popular vote, which amounted to more than four million votes. This meant that Johnson didn’t achieve his stated aim of gaining a five percent of the national popular vote.
However, although the national returns of these third parties candidates were less than satisfying, both Johnson and Stein did manage to gain quite sizeable number of votes in the battleground States — many of which were ultimately won by President-elect Donald Trump. It has been argued by many that the presence of the likes of Johnson and Stein in the race helped to hand the Presidency to Trump. Whilst this is hard to prove or support, it is indeed inarguable that these candidates made an impact in the battleground States.
This was particularly notable in Florida. It was of course Florida where then Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader’s candidacy in the 2000 Presidential Election was widely considered to have handed the State and the Presidency to Republican Candidate George W. Bush, despite Democrat Al Gore winning the national popular vote. This time around the situation was remarkably similar, with Hillary Clinton prevailing in the national popular vote, but ultimately being well beaten in the Electoral College. In 2000, Nader received 1.63 percent of the vote in Florida. The margin between Bush and Gore was just 0.05 in Bush’s favour. Although Nader has always disputed his impact, if he hadn’t been a candidate then it would have been hard to see his Green Party supporters plumping for Bush over noted environmentalist Gore.
This year, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Florida by 2.4 percent, so won by considerably more than Bush did in 2000. Gary Johnson won 3.1 percent in Florida, whilst Jill Stein won 0.7 percent of the vote there. It was a similar situation in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, with the margin in all of these States being eclipsed by the number of votes cast for Stein and Johnson. This means that if you assume that the Stein and Johnson vote would go to Clinton, then Clinton would have won these States had they not been standing, and therefore she would have won the Presidency.
However, in my opinion, this is a pretty lazy assumption to be making.
Firstly, there is no way to prove that the Johnson and Stein vote would go directly to Clinton. Throughout the campaign, Johnson and his campaign team were clear that they thought that they were collecting votes from Democrats, Republicans, and independents, meaning that there is no guarantee that Johnson’s non-candidacy would have had any significant effect on the margins between Trump and Clinton.
Secondly, one of the main reasons that people were backing these third-party candidates was as a protest against the quality of the two candidates of the main parties. What’s to say that if Johnson and Stein hadn’t offered them another option, that they wouldn’t have just stayed at home on Election Day and not even voted. I’m sure some of them would have voted and particularly with Stein’s voters, you would have thought that most would fall on the Democratic side, however it seems unlikely that they would have been enough to overhaul Trump’s margin, particularly in Florida. In 2000, just one-third of Nader’s voters going for Gore, would have been enough to flip Florida into his column. However, in this election, more than two-thirds of Johnson and Stein’s combined support would have had to vote for Clinton in order to flip Florida. To me, this just doesn’t seem likely.
Overall, although the numbers mean that it is possible to argue that Johnson and Stein caused the Trump Presidency, to me it doesn’t really stack up. It looks to me more like an easy answer to the question of why Trump’s right-wing populism won the day. For the Democratic Party going forward, it is not at all helpful to any sort of re-building process to suggest that the election was in some way stolen because of the presence of third-party candidates. Of course, it is right to assess why many voters felt it necessary to cast a protest vote for one of the these candidates, but there should be no assumption that this was what lost the election, because the facts just don’t stack up that way.
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.
Doesn’t even need to be discussed. Has voted Republican in every Presidential Election since 1976, and this won’t change now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
Has always voted Democrat, will do so again this time around.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A safe Democratic State which hasn’t voted Republican since 1988. Current polling puts Clinton close to twenty percent ahead of Trump.
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.
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.
One of the safest Republican States that there is. There is no question about who will triumph here.
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.
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.
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).
Very safe Democratic state which Hillary Clinton will win with ease.
Voted Democrat in the last seven Presidential elections, and a very safe Democratic state this time around. Another easy Clinton win.
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.
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.
One of the safest Republican States out there. An easy Trump win.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Very safe Republican State which has voted Democrat only once in the past 76 years.
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.
Has voted Republican in all but one of the Presidential Elections here since 1948, will definitely vote Republican again.
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.
Commonly considered a swing state, but in recent elections Pennsylvania has been carried by the Democratic candidate. This will continue this time.
Safe Democrat, and has only been won by the Republican candidate for President twice in the last fifty years. Easy Democratic win again.
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.
Very safe Republican state which hasn’t voted Democrat since 1964.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Has voted Democrat in the past seven presidential elections, and the Democrats have a strong advantage here again. Will be an easy Clinton win.
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.
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.
Reliably Republican, and has voted Democrat just twice since 1944. Will be an easy Republican win.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
Libertarian Party candidate for President Gary Johnson is fast becoming the most mocked candidate in this Presidential debate on account of some of his mistakes during the campaign. Quite an achievement in an election featuring Donald Trump.
Johnson’s latest misstep brings back memories of the candidacies of Sarah Palin and Rick Perry for sheer idiocy.
When being interviewed on Wednesday on MSNBC, Johnson was asked the question, “Who is your favourite foreign leader?”
Johnson sighed and took a deep breath, clearly struggling to answer the question, before saying, “I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment.” This refers to Johnson’s now infamous television appearance in which he answered a question about Aleppo, the epicentre of the Syrian Civil War with, “What is a leppo?”
After putting his difficulty in answering the question down to ‘brain freeze’, Johnson then quickly stated that his favourite foreign leader was the former President of Mexico. But he still didn’t know his name. His Vice-Presidential running mate Bill Weld then had to step in and put him out of his misery with the name of Vicente Fox.
Johnson’s original ‘Aleppo moment’ suggested that he was severely lacking in basic foreign policy skills, and this latest misstep only proves it further. This won’t impress traditional Republicans amongst whom Johnson has proved relatively popular due to their concerns over Donald Trump’s foreign policy credentials. Could Johnson’s mistakes therefore prove beneficial to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy?
Johnson’s inability to remember a single world leader who he admired, brings back memories of similar mistakes during previous Presidential campaigns.
For example Sarah Palin’s (when running as John McCain’s running mate in 2008) failure to name a single newspaper or magazine that she had read, instead answering: “Um, all of ’em, any of ’em that, um, have, have been in front of me over all these years.”
Similarly, during the 2012 Republican Primary debates, Rick Perry could only remember two of the three federal government departments that he was pledging to scrap, one of his keynote policies.
So Gary Johnson’s ‘brain freeze’ is just the latest in a long line of similar moments during Presidential campaign.
Both the Palin and Perry incidents were famously satirised on Saturday Night Live, and one would expect that comedians will have similar fun at the expense of Gary Johnson over the next few weeks.
For Sarah Palin, the interview in question proved to be the spark for her loss of public support and descent into caricature, whilst for Perry it signalled the beginning of the end for his Presidential ambitions. What is interesting in the case of Johnson though, is that his poll numbers haven’t yet been hit as a result of his latest mistake. This perhaps points to the strangeness of this Presidential race. We’ve seen it time and time again with Donald Trump, candidates seem to be given far more leeway to make mistakes (unless you’re considered to be part of the Washington elite of course), and perhaps this is why Johnson is yet to haemorrhage support. Either way, this election just gets stranger and stranger.
A comfortable win for Hillary, but does it matter?
Yesterday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump finally collided in the first Presidential debate of the 2016 campaign.
For each candidate, what would have constituted a successful debate was rather different. For Trump, arguably the most important thing was to show that he had some depth of policy knowledge which stretched beyond the soundbites and freewheeling style he employed to great effect during the Republican primary debates. For Clinton, there was always going to be a focus on her stamina, after the recent scrutiny regarding her health.
In this debate, it is fair to say that Trump started brightly. He did well to bring up Clinton’s praise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal as the “gold standard” of trade deals; whilst his criticism of Clinton’s near thirty years spent in Washington may resonate well with blue collar workers in important swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Trump also got cheers from the audience following his early exclamation that he was “going to cut taxes bigly”, whilst Clinton was planning to “raise taxes bigly”. As is often the way with Trump, the choice of language was strange, but it seemed to resonate with the audience nonetheless.
However, for Trump that was about as good as it got. When the debate moved onto law and order and foreign policy, his lack of policy knowledge was exposed. He suggested that murder rates in New York City are rising following less use of stop-and-frisk, when in fact they are on the decline. He also stated that Clinton had been “fighting ISIS her entire adult life”, slightly odd given that Clinton was born in 1947 and ISIS only properly formed in 2006. He also struggled to convince with his ‘secret plan to fight ISIS’, which realistically seems to amount to having no plan at all.
Earlier in the debate Trump came close to admitting he didn’t pay federal income tax. When pressed by Clinton about why he wouldn’t release his tax returns, he offered to do so if Clinton released her deleted e-mails. A good response, and in keeping with the Trump campaign’s aim of making Clinton look as untrustworthy as possible. However, when Clinton suggested that Trump wasn’t releasing his tax returns because he hadn’t paid income tax, he took the bait and said that not paying tax, “makes me smart”, and that it didn’t matter “because the money would be squandered”. Unsurprisingly, after the debate the Trump campaign denied that Trump had failed to pay income tax. Nonetheless, Trump suggesting what he did was a huge mistake, particularly when he is attempting to pitch himself as a man of the people.
Although Clinton performed solidly, it has to be said that there were several occasions when she should have capitalised. When Trump responded with relish to a question on the profits he made during the banking crisis with “that’s called business, by the way”, Clinton simply ignored it. A better debater would have made it a moment, creating a soundbite which could lead news bulletins. In addition, as expected Clinton came across well-prepared. But, at times some of her answers appeared overly scripted. However, this was in any case better than Trump’s improvisational approach which saw him rambling, along with several instances of him tripping over his words.
One thing Trump did manage was the best soundbite of the debate. In events such as these, one of the most important things can be to create a soundbite which can be played over and over again. In describing Clinton as having “experience but it’s bad experience,” Trump managed this.
But what he failed to do, was control the debate and push his agenda. There was scant mention of immigration, Trump’s keynote policy. Far too often, he seemed to focus on prescribing America’s problems, rather than suggesting policies which could solve these. In addition, he allowed himself to be dragged into a ridiculous discussion on his previous claims regarding Obama’s nationality, and even suggested that these rumours had been started by people close to Clinton.
In contrast, Clinton provided some relatively assured (albeit unexciting) policy proposals. This is something that Trump seriously needs to work on if he is to improve in the next debate.
But, whilst Hillary Clinton was clearly the victor in this first debate, does her victory really matter?
To those voters who have already decided which candidate to vote for, the answer is not really.
Throughout the campaign it has been clear that there is little that will turn Trump supporters away from their chosen candidate. As such, Trump’s clear lack of foreign policy knowledge, brutally exposed during this debate, seems unlikely to have affected his overall popularity. Likewise, those who began the debate with the view that Trump is not qualified to serve as President, and who want to see Hillary Clinton continue President Obama’s legacy, will not have changed their mind.
In short, for decided voters, this debate told them nothing that they didn’t already know.
However, where this debate might have had an effect is in those voters who are still undecided, or who are supporting third-party candidates.
Undecided candidates will have seen one candidate, who despite not being particularly exciting, was solid and well prepared. Whilst her opponent’s rambling answers betrayed a lack of preparedness for the foreign policy challenges which will be faced by the next President.
For those backing third-party candidates, such as the thirteen percent of voters in Colorado who back Libertarian Gary Johnson, this will have been a wake-up call. Many of those backing Johnson are traditional Republican voters dissatisfied with their party’s nominee. As traditional Republicans, ensuring the White House is occupied by someone with strong national security credentials is extremely important. Seeing Trump’s rambling answers on this topic may persuade them to forgo casting a protest vote for Gary Johnson, and instead swallow their pride and vote for Clinton, simply in order to keep Trump out of the White House.
As such, it would be relatively unsurprising for Clinton to gain a small bounce in the polls as a result of this debate. But in this weird election, don’t count on it lasting long.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Let Gary debate. Let Gary debate.” The chant rang around the recent rally held in Seattle by Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld. Alas, Johnson’s supporters were to be disappointed.
On Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that both Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein had failed to make the cut for the first presidential debate, due to be held on 26 September.
Johnson responded by describing the presidential debates as a “rigged game”, going on to say, “Democrats and Republicans make up the presidential debate commission, 15 percent is not the law. It’s Democrats and Republicans not wanting a Ross Perot on the stage again.”
He’s got a point.
The American Presidential electoral system conspires against third-party candidates, perhaps more than any other system in the world. Johnson certainly has some right to feel aggrieved at his exclusion from the first debate.
As a libertarian, Johnson has views that span the political spectrum. As such, it is difficult to predict whether his popularity is more of a danger to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Johnson is fiscally conservative — he wants to abolish the minimum wage, abolish income tax and replace it with a national sales tax, as well as submitting a fully balanced budget. Yet, he is also very socially liberal — he favours the legalisation of marijuana, same-sex marriage, and abortion rights. With this melting pot of views he clearly has the potential to prove dangerous to both Clinton and Trump, whilst his socially liberal views give him the chance to court the young voters who are so far proving rather elusive to both candidates. Given Johnson’s potential to prove dangerous to both Clinton and Trump, there is little to gain from allowing him into the presidential debates. Consequently, it seems highly unlikely that he will make a debate.
Johnson says this is unfair, citing the case of Ross Perot who was allowed to take part in presidential debates during the 1992 Presidential Election. Johnson claims that Perot was granted permission to take part in the debates despite polling in single figures at the time. This isn’t strictly true. Throughout the early autumn of 1992, Perot was generally polling around 10 to 20 per cent. This was despite him having dropped out of the race between June and September due to various campaign difficulties. Prior to this temporary drop-out, Perot had been polling as high as 39 per cent. Therefore, for Johnson to compare his case to Perot’s is bending the truth a little. Perot clearly enjoyed a significantly higher level of nationwide support than Johnson currently does. In terms of the precedent set by previous presidential elections, the campaign of Gary Johnson has no divine right to be featured in the presidential debates.
However, that being said, this is no ordinary presidential election.
The 2016 Presidential Election has been particularly notable for the fact that this is the only occasion in recent times where both the candidates selected by the two major parties have proven to be quite so unpopular. Whilst both Clinton and Trump are adored by their base supporters, in the minds of swing voters they leave a lot to be desired.
Bearing this in mind, it seems fair that Gary Johnson be allowed to take part in the Sept. 26 Presidential Debate. In such a divisive election, allowing voters another option is definitely the right thing to do.
And yes, I know that as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are on the ballot paper then voters nominally have the option of voting for them. But, the fact of the matter is that their lack of media coverage means that the vast majority of the electorate have no idea who they are.
That Johnson has managed to reach double figures in the polls despite this lack of media exposure, suggests that many voters are interested in what he has to say. He has reached this height in the polls despite a polling system that works against him. Johnson has been shown to be doing particularly well amongst millennial voters, yet the main polling method used is through landline telephone, something most millennials don’t use. What’s more, much of the polling doesn’t even include Johnson, with polling companies generally restricting their polls to head-to-head match-ups between Trump and Clinton. Given these circumstances, it seems almost impossible for Johnson to reach the mythical 15 per cent polling threshold, and to gain inclusion in the debates.
Therefore, it seems only fair to allow him to share his vision for the future of America on the national stage, as well as a proper chance to explain (and be interrogated about) his monumental “what is Aleppo?” gaffe.