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November 2014
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Electoral College: The Race Begins

OK, now that all of that “launching the analysis site” stuff is over, time for the first actual look at the 2016 Presidential race.  Let me start with this map:


This has NO 2016 data. This represents the average margin in each state over the past 5 presidential elections.  Thats 1996 to 2012. That is a long time. A lot has changed since 1996.  In those 5 elections, the Democrat won 3 times, and the Republican won 2 times. When you crunch the numbers, you end up with only SIX states where the average margin in these five elections has been less than 5%.  That would be Nevada (Dem+2.8%), Ohio (Dem+1.7%), Florida (Dem+0.9%), Colorado (Rep+0.0%), Virginia (Rep+1.6%) and Missouri (Rep+2.8%).  Every other state is basically solidly on one side or another when you average these five elections. Those six states add up to 85 electoral votes.  If you let these six states swing from one side to another, your range is from the Democrats winning by 146 electoral votes, to the Republicans winning by 24. If all the states just went the way of their averages, the Democrats would win by 82 electoral votes.

That essentially was the state of play immediately after the 2012 election.  But we’ve had a lot of polling since then.  There have been 745 polls added to my database so far. That covers eight potential Democratic candidates, and 24 potential Republican candidates.  There have only been a few combinations with a significant amount of polling though.  On the Democratic side, only Clinton has substantial polling. (Biden is next, but he is way behind.)  When looking at how much polling there has been in close states, the “best polled” combinations at the moment are Clinton vs Paul, Bush, Christie, Ryan and Huckabee.  Next would be Cruz and Rubio, but lets concentrate on the Top 5.  These are not necessarily “front runners”.  We’re measuring how interested the pollsters are in these candidates, not their chances of winning the nomination. But presumably the pollsters are polling about the folks who are looking like possibilities, so it is a good enough place to start.

Although I generally prefer looking directly at Electoral College margins, for now the best visual of the difference between the generic “last five elections” position versus where we are now is actually looking at the “Tipping Point Margin”.  The tipping point margin is the margin in the state that would push the winner “over the edge” if you ordered the states by candidate support.  It can also be thought of as how much you would have to shift the popular vote nationally to flip the result of the election (assuming that shift was distributed uniformly across all states).  In other words, it is a pretty good indicator of who is ahead and by how much.

Here is what that looks like for the top five candidate combinations from the 2012 election through to today:


Click the image to go to the full comparison page with all sorts of other detail.

The key here though is that as we get more and more polls, we’ve seen a significant shift toward Clinton over the “starting point” defined by the last five presidential elections.  This seems to be true whichever of the five opponents you look at.

Now, at this stage you have to interpret these graphs carefully.  Most of what you see in this chart is NOT movement or changes in support.  Rather, it is just the process of getting enough polls in enough states to get an actual picture of how these two specific candidates fare against each other, rather than just a generic Republican vs a generic Democrat based on 18 years of history.  We are only now at the point where we might be starting to see things representing actual movement in charts like this.  But what we can see is that at a starting point, Clinton has a big advantage here.

If you look at the actual electoral college expectations, you see this:


Between these five candidates, the expected case (where everybody wins all the states they are ahead in) ranges from Clinton winning by 156 electoral votes (against Bush or Huckabee) to Clinton winning by 126 electoral votes (against Ryan).  Those are not insubstantial margins.

Even if you give the Republicans all the close states, you end up with results ranging from Clinton winning by 96 electoral votes (against Paul) to Clinton winning by 14 electoral votes (against Huckabee).  In no cases are ANY of these five Republicans registering a lead against Clinton at the moment.  Even if you give them ALL the close states.

This is somewhat to be expected of course.  Clinton has the name recognition.  She had high recognition and approval ratings coming out of being Secretary of State.  Meanwhile, while those of us who follow these things closely know a lot about each of the five Republicans here,  your average guy on the street probably goes “Who?” when hearing many of these names, or even if they have heard of them don’t know much beyond that. Like her or not, everybody knows who Clinton is.

So it is not surprising to see Clinton with a big lead at this stage.  That does not mean it will stay that way.

Are the 2014 election results (major Republican wins nationwide) an indication of things to come in these Presidential numbers?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  The Presidential landscape is very different than the landscape for Congress.  The structure and fundamentals are just very different. If 2014 is an indication of a wider trend to the Republicans, that will surely show up on these sorts of charts soon.  But even without that, there are tons of reasons that things may move toward the Republicans.

Everything is still very theoretical at this point. The real campaign against Clinton hasn’t ramped up yet. Lots of mud will be thrown. And the Republican candidates will get more and more visibility. Although anything is possible in either direction, it is quite possible that what we are seeing right now will be Clinton’s high water mark. The race is likely to get closer as we move through 2015 and people get more engaged.

I mentioned that on the two charts above we may still be seeing “settling in” to the real positions between these candidates vs the generic positions we started with and that therefore it might be hard to distinguish actual movement yet.  But is there anything else we can look at?

Yes.  We can look specifically at how the polls are going in some of the more heavily polled states, where we have frequent enough polls that we long ago washed out the previous election results and can see trends based on the candidates themselves.  There are only a handful of these highly polled states, but one of them may be indicative.  North Carolina:


As before, click through on the graph for more details.

There is a clear pattern here.  All of the Republicans except Christie (who is still sinking) and Ryan (who has not been polled at all in North Carolina) seem to have bottomed out earlier in 2014, and since then have been improving their positions against Clinton. For the last six months we haven’t seen any category changes here.  This movement is within the “Weak Clinton” category.  So no changes yet to the electoral vote summaries.  And North Carolina is pretty far from the tipping point at the moment, so no changes there either.  But we CAN see definite movement toward the Republicans here.

North Carolina is the only state with such a clear pattern at the moment.  But it is also one of the most highly polled close states.  So is it an indicator of things to come?

We’ll find out over the next few months.

The race is on!