Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Three Key Numbers To Track This 2016 Election

As with any prolonged, complex campaign like a Presidential election, there are tons of raw numbers to comb through in order to make sense of the data and try to guess at predicted results.

Considering how important it is to ensure our nation's safety, it's vital to track Trump's numbers in the polls and pray to the Old Gods and the New that such numbers track bad for him and great for us (and by "us" I mean 6.5 billion people on the planet Earth).

I follow Jamelle Bouie on Twitter and he brought up an interesting reminder from January about Trump's unfavorable numbers: If I can find an image link I'll post it here, hold on...

For the primary season, the only column that matters for Trump is the Republican one: as long as he stays on the plus side, he's winning (and has been). It's that middle column that catches my attention: Independents are going to matter a lot when the cycle shifts over to the General election. With a lot of primaries and caucuses Closed to party-only voters, their opinions didn't matter: but in the General they do get to choose between Republican or Democrat (or Third Party, eh) and that's when their vote matters. And that's when that minus-27 points comes up to bite Trump and the Republicans on the ass.

Only thing about that chart: it's last update was January 11th. There's been a lot of changes since then (lots of drop-outs) and it'd be nice to see what the current numbers will say.

There's a lot of other numbers to track as well when it comes time for the primaries to end and the general vote to begin. A lot of key vectors that will show how the eventual nominees - currently Trump and Hillary - will perform and where they may need to adjust tactics to improve their results. One thing to follow is going to be Trump's changing his anti-immigrant Mexican-hating tune when the numbers start telling his campaign managers how deep in the red that's dropping his numbers. 

But while it'll be noteworthy to see how the Hispanic voting bloc warms to Trump - hint, they're not - the actual impact of that number can be deflected by other factors such as actual voter turnouts. So until turnout numbers can be confirmed or safely guessed at, that's just a notable side to track.

I'm going to narrow it down to just three numbers we'll need to track as a nation to see how we'll survive the oncoming storm that is Hurricane Trump 2016:

Party Enthusiasm: Which party is going to keep their voter base happy and eager to get the vote out? This New York Times article does some polling on that issue, and currently finds that the Democrats are more content with their party's overall position. A majority (around 60 percent) of Republicans are upset about how messy and divisive their primaries have been, and while Trump's support has gone up to 46 to 49 percent Republicans backing him, there's still a lot of discontent keeping him from a majority in his own party's ranks.

One of the narratives out there is how Republicans are fearing a drop in turnout. Granted, that report is coming from Karl "Which Reality Am I In Again" Rove, but Trump's low support - he's the front-runner but only 49 percent - and nearly half of Republicans polled are openly answering that they might not support him in the general. While Rude Pundit would remind me and others that when it comes down to it, the party voters will vote the party line even when common sense tells them the party's gonna screw them, Trump may be the one real exception because few candidates have garnered such disgust/disagreement/dismay from nearly half his/her own party... speaking of, the next number to track.

Independent Voter Favorability of Candidates: Like noted earlier from Bouie, that Gallup polling on the plus-minus favorability of candidates is going to be key. As long as Trump's negatives are higher than Hillary's negatives (and yes, she's up there), Trump's not going to win this thing.

This argument is purely anecdotal and based on my belief that Machiavelli wasn't joking or exaggerating about the argument over whether it is better to be loved or feared. To Machiavelli, it's hard to be both to where Princes (political leaders) should aim more for Feared (Loved makes them too vulnerable). But Machiavelli warns the trick is to avoid being Hated: the second people hate you, you lose their support and you gain more enemies. Hatred invites mockery and scorn: and rarely can you win any of them back - barring a sincere change of behavior and atonement in the leader - meaning they're lost for good.

We've seen this before, whenever a popular politician goes from being liked to despised: I can throw out a list of names from Harry Truman (whose popularity tanked in the 1950s) to Richard Nixon (oh brother) to Sarah Palin (a large media fanbase who quickly soured on her and turned her into a target of parody) to let's admit it Barack Obama (based not on reality but on a major GOP campaign of misinformation).

Thing is, once Trump's unfavorables are at a particular point - especially after the convention and the general election gears up in earnest - there's very little he can do to turn that around. He can bullsh-t all he wants, but one of the big reasons he HAS those high unfavorables is that his haters KNOW he's a bullsh-tter and isn't going to buy one word of it.

The final number to keep track of is Barack Obama's Favorability: this is a key number for Democrats because as long as Obama polls favorable, that means a significant portion of the voter base are content with the current economic trends, and will vote to protect his legacy and ensure the next President continues Obama's policies.

Right now (March 22) Obama is polling pretty well, close to 50 percent and almost entirely in the plus+ favorables. Historically, a lot of Presidents in their final years see a downturn in such numbers: Truman is a perfect example, but also Eisenhower dropped, Reagan dropped, Clinton dropped, Dubya dropped. Bush the Lesser's dropping into the low 30s was a key factor in the Republicans losing in 2008. For Obama to be well into the high 40s if not 50 percent itself is a great sign, because that covers not only the Democratic base being content but a significant portion of the Independent voters as well.

So, who else is going to track them numbers with me?

Update (3/23/16): RealClearPolitics has updated some of the polling on the hypothetical matchup Trump vs. Clinton. Caveat as always: it's early in the year and these numbers can change due to external factors and voter mood swings. I think I can copy/paste the table here:

Polling Data

PollDateSampleMoEClinton (D)Trump (R)Spread
RCP Average2/29 - 3/22----49.338.8Clinton +10.5
FOX News3/20 - 3/221016 RV3.04938Clinton +11
Bloomberg3/19 - 3/22815 LV3.45436Clinton +18
Quinnipiac3/16 - 3/211451 RV2.64640Clinton +6
CBS News/NY Times3/17 - 3/201058 RV4.05040Clinton +10
CNN/ORC3/17 - 3/20925 RV3.05341Clinton +12
ABC News/Wash Post3/3 - 3/6864 RV4.05041Clinton +9
NBC News/Wall St. Jrnl3/3 - 3/61200 RV2.85138Clinton +13
Rasmussen Reports2/29 - 3/11000 LV3.04136Clinton +5

For the main candidate of the Republican Party to be polling in late March below 40 percent on average is not a good sign for the GOP. The real troubling number for Republicans is how Trump's unpopularity (-28) runs deeper than Hillary's (-17)... because in that situation the voters in the middle will vote for the candidate they can tolerate or at least not hate as much.

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