Sunday, October 23, 2016

Votes, Voters and Volatility

It is easy to get caught up in an election with the speeches, debates and polls.

However, all of this is just noise. There is only one objective in an election. Votes. And each vote is cast by one person. At least, that is the way it is supposed to work.

Those people are all different. Men. Women. White. Black, Young. Old.

Come November 8, between 125 and 130 million American citizens (at least, that is the way it is supposed to be) will cast a vote for President of the United States. Let's assume that the 3rd party candidates on the ballot this year draw somewhere close to 10 million of those votes. That means to win the popular vote a candidate has to count on collecting in the range of  62 million votes. to win. Those votes will be cast by 62 million different individuals who all come to their decision with unique life experiences and different perspectives.

This chart shows how many votes have been cast in the last three Presidential elections.

The next chart shows how those votes have been cast between Democrats (Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 and 2012) and Republicans (Bush in 2004, McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012).

You will note that the GOP vote has been remarkably consistent between 60 and 62 million. On the other hand, Obama received more than 10 million more votes than Kerry did. However, he then lost almost 5 million of those votes when he ran for re-election. 1 million of those votes went to Romney but the other 4 million voters presumably did not vote in 2012 as overall turnout decreased.

Turnout is a huge factor in any election but it is particularly important for Democrats as several of their key demographic constituencies are not as reliable in turning out to vote as some of the GOP groups are.

Compare, for example, the number of voters age 18-29 compared to those age 65 and over who voted in the last two Presidential elections which Obama won and the last two mid-term elections that the Republicans dominated. Young voters favored Democrats by an average of 62% support over those four elections. On the other hand, age 65 and over voters supported the GOP with an average of 56%.

A big reason that the Republicans won big in 2010 and 2014 is that older voters voted and younger voters stayed home.

The African-American vote is also critically important for Democrats but this group has not historically gotten to the polls year in year out. They did turnout for Barack Obama. The big question this year is whether they will turnout for Hillary Clinton with the same enthusiasm or will it revert to somewhere closer to the 2004 election with John Kerry on the ballot?

In this year's election there is also the question of how loyal Democrats and Republicans will be to their candidate when many are dissatisfied with their party's choice. In 2012, 93% of Republicans voted for Romney and 93% of Democrats voted for Obama. Those who said they were Independent were split 50%-50% between the two candidates.

This dynamic is a big reason I think pollsters are having a difficult time getting a sense of this race and we are seeing wide variances in polling. For example, the ABC News poll released today has Clinton leading 50%-38% over Trump. On the other hand, the Investor's Business Daily (IBD) daily tracking poll (which was the most accurate poll in 2012) has Trump up 43%-41%.

What is going on? That is a huge variance. I believe it shows how much volatility there is in this race. I continue to believe that this race is extremely hard to predict because of the high level of negatives that both candidates possess with voters.

Let's compare the internal numbers of the ABC News and IBD polls looking at party identification labels and what those polls show about where these votes are going right now.

If you look at the internal numbers of the IBD poll you can see that a big reason that Trump is leading is in the dynamics of how the party id vote splits are coming out in the polling.

For example, 84% of self-identified Republicans say they are going to vote for Trump. That is a long way from the 93% support that Romney received. However, Hillary only has 77% support from Democrats! Only 8% of the remaining Democrats say they will vote for Trump. The rest of the Democrats are either voting 3rd party or are unsure right now. Can Hillary get these voters to come home to her by Election Day?

As for Independents in the IBD poll, Trump has a massive lead of 44%-31% over Hillary. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, the two 3rd party candidates, are pulling 20% of this vote and 5% of Independents are undecided right now. If the final vote on election day is anywhere close to these numbers, Hillary has a big problem. Independents generally make up about 28% of the electorate. Obama got 56% of this vote in 2008 and split the vote with Romney in 2012.

Here are the internal numbers on party identification in the ABC poll. It is a stark contrast to the IBD poll. It is almost as if they are polling on a different planet.

It shows Clinton with much stronger support with Democrats than the IBD poll (84% to 77%). It also shows Hillary with a 8 point lead with Independents while the IBD poll shows Trump ahead with this group by 13 points. How is that possible? It does look like a different planet.

Both polls show that a large percentage of Independents are either supporting 3rd party candidates or are unsure at this point (25% in IBD, 18% in ABC) of who to vote for.  Let's put that in context. Independents make up about 28% of the electorate. That is around 35 million voters and anywhere from 20%-25% of them could be in play at this late date. That is 7 to 9 million votes. It is a huge number and it is a bloc of votes that could be especially susceptible to what happens in the last two weeks of this race. People have short attention spans and what is most recent in their minds is going to be the most important to them. This is especially true if they have not made up their minds at this late date.

9% of voters stated in exit polls in 2012 that they made their decision on who to vote for within a couple days of election day. To show you how important late events are to a race, consider that President Obama's response to Hurricane Sandy was cited in exit polls by 15% of voters as the most important factor in their vote. And those people voted for Obama 73%-26%! Obama had a four year record. Romney had campaigned for a year and a half. And the most important factor in their vote was one event that occurred a week before the election? It defies logic but who said human beings are logical when making decisions?

I don't know who is going to win this election. I am not sure the pollsters do at this point either.

What I do know is that it will be determined by how many vote (turnout), who those voters are (young, old, black, white) and events that still may play out and play on the minds of voters (volatility) between now and election day.

The candidate who is able to garner 62 million popular votes will likely have enough votes to assure that they can also win the electoral college vote which is the only vote that really counts in the end.

Accumulating 62 million votes will not be easy for Trump to do as that requires him to tally more votes than either McCain or Romney did in the last two elections. It should be easier for Hillary as she can lose 4 million voters who voted for Obama and still hit that number.

What is certain is that one side is going to be shocked at what happens on election day. If it is Trump there will be a virtual meltdown of the media and political establishment, not to mention the Democrat party. A Trump victory is unfathomable to them. It remains to be seen if it is unfathomable to 62 million voters.

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