There is a lot of fluidity in polling data, but it is not too soon to delineate the four electoral equations that will determine the outcome of this presidential race. These equations are the political equivalent of currency trades. To be assured of victory either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton must prevail in three of the four equations.
The first political equation is gender gap. Will Clinton carry women by more votes than Trump will carry men, and by how much? Keep in mind that in the last two presidential elections, women cast a 53 percent share of the total popular vote.
The second equation concerns whether Trump will carry white males with a high school or less education level by more votes than Clinton carries college-educated whites. Trump may win this equation, but historically Republicans almost always carry whites holding a college degree – Mitt Romney swept both ends of this equation in 2012 and still lost. If Clinton cuts into potency of Trump’s lead among blue-collar white males by winning the white college educated vote, that is a huge plus precisely because of the next equation.
The third equation is not only the share of the vote cast by minority voters (the aggregate of black, Latino/Hispanic, Asian and multiracial voters), but the margin by which Clinton carries those minority voters. This minority share has steadily grown, rising from 24 percent of the total vote in 2004 to 26 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2012. Obama carried minority voters by an 85-15 margin in 2008 and 87-13 in 2012 (due to higher levels support from Hispanics and Asians).
The pivotal question becomes whether the minority share slides down toward the 25 percent level or continues rising toward a 30 percent share. But even if the black share drops to 12 percent of the total vote (from 13 percent in 2012), if the Hispanic share continues on its recent trajectory and reaches a 12 percent share and the Asian share merely stays at 4 percent while multi-racial voters also stand pat at 2 percent, the total minority share will hit 30 percent.
If that happens, and Clinton carries minorities by 90-10 percent, that would give her 27 percent of the total vote, leaving Trump with a 3 percent share of ballots cast by minority voters. Consequently, Clinton would begin election night with an advantage of 24 percent of the total vote from minority voters alone.
If, however, the minority share drops back to 25 percent and Trump outperforms his poor minority polling numbers to the tune of 20 percent of that vote, then Clinton’s lead among minority voters would represent only 15 percent of ballots cast (20 percent for Clinton to a 5 percent share for Trump of the overall electorate from minority voters).
If the former pattern holds, Trump would have no chance to win the popular vote and almost no prospect for prevailing in the Electoral College, as the electoral votes of Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and perhaps even Arizona or Georgia would fall to Clinton. Alternatively, if the latter pattern took hold among minority voters, Trump would have a narrow shot at pulling off a Trumanesque rebuke to the pollsters.
The fourth equation is how moderate independents break in this election. Moderates make up about 40 percent of self-described independents, who in turn make up about 40 percent of the electorate. I long ago dubbed this equation the “40 within 40” test. Winning the lion’s share of these swing voters (approximately 15 to 17 percent of the total electorate) is the final piece of the electoral puzzle.
The political arithmetic underlying these four equations will also determine if there are any coattails attending this contest. Coattails remain our most vivid political metaphor, but it falsely implies a top-down effect, when in fact coattails are a bottom-up phenomenon.
Coattails exist when the voters who turn out and/or stay home in greater numbers due to the top of the ticket, also have a predisposition to vote for or against one party’s down ballot candidates. Therefore, the electoral currency trades at the root of each of these four equations will determine not only who wins the White House, but which party holds congressional majorities in the U.S. Senate and the House, and by how much.
So if you see Chuck Schumer and Paul Ryan with slide rulers on the evening of Nov. 8, you’ll know why.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political and strategic consultant at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.
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