Were the United States elections held today it appears that Hillary Clinton would be the next
president. At least this is what the polls and political pundits declare. Yet with still nearly 90 days before the general election on November 8, it would not be impossible for Donald Trump to win, although his window of opportunity is closing.
Consider first that in the US the president is not selected by the direct popular vote where whoever receives the most popular votes wins. Instead to become president one has to win a majority of the electoral vote. That number is 270. The US Constitution created the Electoral College as the means to select the president, creating a complex and confusing process (even for American citizens) where effectively the 50 separate states in America have their own rules and election to select their electors. As Al Gore learned in 2000, one can receive the most popular votes in the US presidential election but still lose because you did not win a majority of the electoral vote.
Because of the oddities of American party politics, we are certain already regarding how 40 states will cast their electoral votes. States such as New York and California are reliability Democrat and will support Clinton while Texas and Oklahoma are Republican and will go for Trump. There are only about ten states that are uncertain and how they vote will decide who becomes president. These states are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada. New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These are the swing states, with Florida and Ohio being the two most important. Thus, the real battle for the US presidency is to win the electoral votes in the swing states in the race to get to 270.
Now think about what has transpired over the last month. As it typical after a national political convention in the United States, its presidential candidate generally receives what is called a bump or a rise in the polls. This is due to the publicity that the convention and candidate receive because of all the television coverage they receive. Trump’s bump was about six points in national polls. Coming off of the national Republican convention Trump was tied or had a slight lead over Clinton nationally, but as also tied or in the lead in several swing states including Florida and Ohio.
But then Clinton had her convention and she too received a bump–a total of seven points–and she went back into the lead nationally and in swing states. Generally post-convention bumps fade, but Clinton’s seems to be holding and today she has a solid 7-8 point national lead and is ahead in all the critical swing states. She looks today like a certain winner.
In the weeks since the Republican convention Trump has made several major mistakes. His often racist rhetoric has scared off minority voters such as African-Americans and Hispanics. His temperament has raised concerns about how and whether he can be trusted with US nuclear weapons and whether he has the diplomatic skills to work with foreign leaders. And Trump has simply not managed his campaign well such that there is even some evidence that his core constituency–angry white males–are not quite as enthusiastic for him as he needs to have. Trump needs even greater support among this group that Romney had in 2012 to win, especially given that the percentage of the electorate that is white male is smaller than it was four years ago. Trump thus needs a bigger percentage of a declining pool of voters and it is not sure that is happening.
Trump’s response has been to blame the media and the news for his bad fortunes and drop in the polls. He has again changed is campaign staff and it looks like he plans to be even more aggressive in attacking the press and Clinton. All indications are that he will use of rhetoric of fear and prejudice not too different from what LaPen in France, Hofer in Austria, or the Brexit supporters used in Great Britain. Whether such a strategy will work in the United States is yet to be seen. Richard Nixon, whom Trump is modeling his campaign on, successfully used a similar strategy and appeals to law and order in 1968.
But this is not 1968–it is 2016. There are fewer whites to appeal to now than then as America is more racially diverse. Second, with Trump’s recent decline in the polls, he may not have much time to recover. In many states US election law allows for early voting and the projections are that 40% of voters will cast their ballots in advance of the November 8. Many voters may thus cast their votes before Trump has a chance to persuade them to change their minds. In effect there may actually be less than 90 days till the election. Trump is running out of time to win.
Yet Trump’s other strategy–to claim the election is rigged–is meant to perhaps intimidate some voters from showing up to vote. In effect it is a variation of voter suppression. Yet claims of a rigged vote might also discourage some of his supporting from voting, thinking that it might not matter. All this of course is conjecture.
However, three political debates are scheduled between Clinton and Trump, there is the possibility of a terrorist attack, or something else might change the election dynamics in the next few weeks. There is another Wikileaks dump of e-mails and I can see the House of Representatives moving to try to have Clinton indicted for perjury under oath arising out of her testimony before Congress. All these could damage her again in ways uncertain. Yet right now the electoral chances for Clinton look very good. But still anything can happen. As Yogi Berra once said: "It ain't over till it's over."