Did Gary Johnson and Jill Stein help Trump win?

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Libertarian Party candidate for the Presidency, Gary Johnson. 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.