US Presidential Elections 2016 – A Snapshot

~ By Bryan Stout

2016 is a U.S. Presidential election year. This year comes with the usual high drama in politics for electing one of the most visible and important offices in the USA. This year’s cycle, however, is more unique than others with the nomination of a real estate billionaire and reality T.V. star Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for the President’s office. This year we have an election that has thus farand will likely defy political analysis. However, despite the sound bites, Twitter wars and new campaign tactics, the cold hard facts of electoral-college math cannot be ignored.

One feature of the U.S. Constitution, right from the 18th Century, has been that the electoral college allows for electors (actual individuals) to be selected based on a state’s congressional representation (number of U.S. Representatives plus two) when each state has two U.S. Senators. The candidate who receives a majority of electoral-college votes (270)is elected as the President. So, one might conclude that California with 55 electoral votes is the most important state for the Trump and Clinton campaigns. However, since all but two states award their electoral-college votes on a “winner takes all” basis, and California is solidly a Democratic state, Trump and Republicans will have to look elsewhere for electoral-college votes.

After we sort out each of the 50 states (and Washington, D.C.) based on competitiveness, we are left with only a handful of truly competitive states or “swing” states. Chief among these swing states are Florida (29 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (23 votes), Virginia (13 votes) and Ohio (18 votes), among a few others. The difficulty that Donald Trump faces is that the electoral map for Republicans in general has been getting more and more challenging since George Bush’s re-election in 2004. In fact, Donald Trump will not only have to win all of the states that Mitt Romney won in 2012, but also pick up states like Florida, Ohio, and Virginia for a chance to win the White House.Is this possible?

If this past year has taught us something it is that anything is possible in American politics.But this is a tall order for a candidate who seems to be more committed towards driving out his supporters to vote than reaching out to new voters. It should be noted that the second place finisher in the Republican presidential primary race, Texas Senator Ted Cruz failed to endorse Trump during his convention speech and John Kasich, the sitting Republican governor of swing state Ohio and third place finisher in the Republican primary behind Ted Cruz has so far declined to support Donald Trump.

While Mr. Trump has a difficult task ahead of him, Secretary Clinton also faces her own challenges. While the FBI decided not to proceed with criminal charges, it did condemn her handling of classified information. Adding to this, there is a continued tension and lack of trust among many Democrats for Mrs. Clinton especially after a bruising primary contest with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Unfortunately, a growing number of voters across America feel they are faced with voting for the “lesser of the two evils” and are exploring not voting or voting for a third party. When included in polling questions, Libertarian candidate (and former Republican Governor of New Mexio) Gary Johnson polls between 9-11 per cent nationally – a significant increase over the party’s past presidential performances.

Donald Trump’s pick of current Indiana Governor, Mike Pence gives the ticket a degree of governing experience.Also, Pence, who hails from Indiana, has a track record of pursuing conservative policies in Indiana, which often appeals to Republican votes. Since Indiana has been the state that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 but switched back to the Republican column in 2012, this is going to be a state to watch out for. It would be interesting to see how Trump wins the other swing states if he cannot carry Indiana.

In Virginia, Hillary Clinton’s recently announced Tim Kaine as Virginia Senator. While Obama carried Virginia both in 2008 and 2012, the margins were extremely slim and George Bush carried the state in 2000 and 2004. If Clinton counts on Kaine to deliver his home state (where he also served as governor) and he does, that would be a major blow to Trump’s efforts to win the needed electoral-college votes.

Beyond the running mates and the math of the electoral there are some issues that have, at this point, seemed to raise themselves to the top of the American voters’ minds. Not surprisingly is the issue of the candidates themselves. Critics of Donald Trump point out that in addition to his total lack of government experience, the billionaire’s sterling business reputation is undeserved. They citethe failed Trump University venture and subsequent class action lawsuit by those who purchased Trump’s product and felt that they were taken advantage of. Mr. Trump alleged that the federal judge in the case is biased against him. Trump says that because he is running for president and has a tough stance on illegal immigration (the judge himself is a citizen from Indiana, but is active in immigration politics and his parents are immigrants from Mexico). Trump’s brash nature and “shoot from the hip” comments have endeared him to many across the country, but additionally turned off others who view his unfiltered comments as un-presidential or even worse.

Of course, Hillary Clinton has her own set of issues that are part of the political discussions of this election season. Like Trump, she has a very high negative rating with many voters and has some serious trust issues to overcome, some dating back to her days as First Lady – as early as 1992. While Clinton claims her experience as U.S. Secretary of State (and Senator and First Lady prior) make her more imminently qualified for office, supporters of the Secretary are hard pressed to name even one major achievement during her time in the U.S. Senate she claims. Her days as Obama’s Secretary of State narrate her failures of U.S. Policy in Libya and the on-going crisis in Syria and a more aggressive Russia.

Substantive issues on the campaign trail this season seem to be shifting more to security – both at home and abroad – in the light of the terrorist attacks in, France and Germany, as well as the shootings in the United States and the worsening relationship between police forces and African American communities. Trump has promised to be the law and order candidate and the only candidate who can ignite the U.S. out of the morass internationally. All the while Clinton has been saying that her experience as Secretary of State and her calls for a national dialogue on race and racism to address the issue of violence in many American cities stands in her stead.

The economy is always a major focus for campaigns and this election will likely be little different. With the U.S. still engaged in a tepid recovery from the Great Recession and fears of international economic slowdown ever-present, many Americans are concerned that their children may not have as high a standard of living as they have. What is different in this cycle is that Donald Trump has strayed away from the traditional Republican arguments for lower taxes across the board and free trade and suggested that people like him can pay more in taxes. Additionally, while candidates of the past and in the Republican primary have pushed for mild reforms to entitlement spending (such as Social Security) in order to ensure long term financial solvency, Mr. Trump has dismissed changing any aspect of the program during his time as President.

However, with any discussion of issues, we should note that this election may not focus so much on issues this time around, if they ever really did in presidential politics in America. While there are some voters who examine party planks and platforms, and weigh the pros and cons of each candidate on each of the issues important to them, these voters are likely to be in the minority. Many times a candidate will either succeed or fail because of some intangible quality, such as “How does he appear or sound ‘presidential” (as some criticize Trump) or that “She is not likable as a person” (as others have alleged against Mrs. Clinton), and not so much on their stand on any one issue. Predicting what will be on voters’ minds when they vote and what is most important to them (“likability” of a candidate, a stance on issues, the party affiliation of the candidate, etc.) will be the name of the game leading up to the election this November.

So with all the polls and prognostication, and analysis, can we say who will likely end up on top come this November? Given the almost unexpected rise of Donald Trump to secure the Republican nomination and the surprisingly vigorous primary challenge by Senator Bernie Sanders to Secretary Clinton, anything is possible this season. There could be horrible gaffs, breaking world headlines, or an “October surprise” revelation that changes the calculus almost overnight. Nationally, it looks like the polls are fairly even, with Mr, Trump enjoying a post-convention bounce. But we must remember that this election is the battle in the trenches for each of the states. Can the Clinton campaign count on what appears to be superior grass roots efforts to identify voters and turn them out in November? Or has Donald Trump ushered in a new age of politics when traditional methods of contesting an election are now secondary giving way to getting free media attention and mastering Twitter in order to make headlines? Only time will tell.

The author has campaigned during US Presidential Elections for Ohio in 2005. He cuurrently resides in Columbus, Ohio. 

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