One easy way to make yourself look stupid is by confidently predicting what will happen in an election that’s six months away. Political prognostication is a minefield, and last-minute upsets aren’t at all uncommon in electoral politics. That said, I’m going to take the plunge here and make a prediction: Democrats will win the White House in 2016. Regardless of who the nominees are.
It’s very premature to predict something like this, and I’ll be eating crow at Donald Trump’s inauguration if I’m wrong. But statistically, historically, and demographically, the odds are stacked very strongly in favor of the Democrats. It ultimately boils down to this: The country is in pretty good shape, the current Democratic president is well-liked, and Americans hate the Republican Party.
For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to assume that the Democratic and Republican nominees will be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, because that looks most likely at this point in the race. But all of the reasoning here applies just as well to a Sanders-Cruz contest (or a Chafee-Jindal contest, for that matter). The point is that the eventual Democratic nominee will become the 45th president of the United States. Here’s why.
Americans Feel Good About The Economy
Economic fundamentals have long been one of the best predictors of presidential elections. When the economy is generally on an upward trend, it favors the incumbent party; when things are taking a turn for the worse, it benefits the challengers.
It’s six months until the general election, and the economy has been doing quite well for a while. The unemployment recently fell to 5 percent, the lowest rate since before President Obama took office. More importantly, the unemployment rate has been steadily falling for the last year (In fact, it's been falling for the last six years, but the last year is what counts in terms of predictive power). In April, weekly jobless claims fell to a forty-year low.
Just as importantly, American consumers believe that the economy is doing well. According to the Index of Consumer Sentiment, the longest running survey of economic attitudes in the US, Americans have a more positive view of the economy now than at any point since mid-2005. This combination — a growing economy that’s being perceived as healthy by everyday Americans — is a big boon for the incumbent party, and whoever it nominates in November.
Hillary's Polling Lead Is Historically Significant
In general election match-ups, Hillary Clinton consistently defeats Donald Trump by around eight points. This may not seem to mean much — polls are sometimes wrong, and a lot can change between now and November. But historically and statistically, an eight-point lead in May is good reason for any presidential candidate to be optimistic.
How optimistic? Election guru Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium ran the numbers, comparing presidential candidates’ poll numbers in May versus their ultimately performance at the polls. Wang found that, if a candidate has an eight-point lead at this point in the cycle, they can be expected to win the popular vote in the general election about 91 percent of the time.
This doesn’t account for a lot of things — late-breaking scandals, shifts in economic trends, or a disparity between the electoral college and popular vote results. But it’s a sign that, from a strictly historical perspective, the odds of Trump tying or winning the popular vote are very small.
The GOP Brand Is In The Toilet
A Pew Poll released in late April showed that the GOP has a net favorability of -29. This means the GOP is viewed more negatively now than it has been at any point since 1992. Democrats, meanwhile, have a -5 approval rating.
It gets worse for the GOP, because party is the midst of a downward spiral: Its popularity has been steadily plummeting since 2011, when it had a -9 approval rating. In fact, the party hasn’t been viewed positively by more Americans than not since 2008 — and that was only for a week. Democrats, by contrast, have enjoyed positive approval ratings at several points over the last several years, the most recent being in July of 2015.
The American electorate has becoming increasingly partisan over the decades, as evidenced by the decline in split-ticket voting and the growing ideological divide in Congress. The Democratic and Republican candidates for president, whether they like it or not, inevitably end up wearing their party IDs on their sleeves in the general election. The fact that Americans heavily dislike the Republican Party is, well, great news for the Democratic Party.
President Obama Is Popular
Hillary Clinton is very strongly affiliated with Barack Obama, and that's not just because they’re both Democrats. Clinton served as Obama’s Secretary of State for four years, campaigned for his reelection in 2012, and is now running, essentially, to carry out Obama's third term.
Democrats should be happy about all of this, because as far as second-term presidents go, Obama is quite popular. As of late April, he has a 51-46 job approval rating. That may not seem like much, but second-term presidents normally round out their last terms being disliked: On average, two-term presidents have an approval rating of 46 percent in the eighth April of their presidency, according to Gallup.
This difference isn’t trivial: A majority of Americans support Obama late in his second term, and that’s historically anomalous. Voters were going to associate Clinton with Obama whether she liked it or not, because that’s how modern presidential campaigns work, and the fact that Obama is riding high means that she’ll benefit from this association.
The Thirteen Keys Favor The Dems
Back in 1981, two historians claimed to have discovered a way of predicting the outcome of presidential elections months in advance, without looking at a single poll. They published their findings in a book, The 13 Keys To The Presidency; when applied retroactively, their method accurately predicts the popular vote winner of every election since 1860.
The model consists of thirteen statements (or “keys”) about the state of the country and election. Examples include “ the incumbent president has enacted major changes in domestic policy,” “the incumbent party candidate is a sitting president,” “there is no sustained social unrest,” and a few economic questions. If six or more of the statements are false, the incumbent party loses the next presidential election. The general theory is that elections are more determined by what happens in the four years before a campaign than the campaign itself.
According to my own application of the model, between four and five of the 13 statements are false, which means the Democratic Party will win in 2016 regardless of who either party nominates. Admittedly, using the Keys model requires some subjectivity, and different people will arrive at different conclusions while using it. However, I am not the only one to use the method and determine that Democrats will win in 2016.
The Demographics Are Hard To Deny
It’s been clear since Obama’s election that demographic trends favor Democrats. The groups of people that tend to vote Democratic have been growing as a share of the electorate, while the groups that vote Republican have been shrinking.
For example, white men are one of the GOP’s strongest pillars of support, and the last three Republican presidents were able to win the presidency with around 63 percent of the white male vote. Yet over the last three decades, white men have gone from making up 35 percent of voters to just 25 percent. That’s a pretty big drop, and it explains why Mitt Romney, despite winning the 63 percent of white males that's standard for Republican presidential candidates, lost the election by about three million votes. Other groups that vote heavily Republican, such as people over 65 and whites without a college degree, are also shrinking.
Meanwhile, the Democratic coalition has been growing for decades: Since 1980, non-white voters, who overwhelmingly support Democrats, have ballooned from 12 percent of the electorate to 28 percent of the electorate. Just as importantly is the growing gender gap: The majority of the electorate in 2016 will be women, who voted for Obama by a record 12-point margin in 2012. Imagine how big that gap will be if the nominee is Trump, who currently has a -47 favorability rating with women.
Democrats Have A Built-In Advantage
The electoral college is a frequent punching bag for Democrats, many of whom feel that it gives an unfair advantage to small, rural Republican states. As of 2016, however, the electoral college actually favors Democrats.
The basic reason is that there are more “safe” Democratic electoral votes (like the ones in California) than “safe” Republican ones (like the ones in Texas). To see this, take the results of the 2012 election, but set aside the 10 states where the vote was the closest. Amongst the remaining states, Democrats won 217 electoral votes to Republicans’ 191. This means that, even before a single swing state voter heads to the polls, Democrats will begin election night with 26 more electoral votes in the bag than Republicans.
Democrats simply have more electoral votes locked-in than Republicans do. The fact that Hillary Clinton will be running against an extremist Republican candidate in 2016 makes it even more likely that she’ll be able to pick up swing states as well, which means that an electoral college blowout is not at all unlikely.
None of this is an assurance of anything, of course. But from just about every angle, it's clear that the the fundamentals of this election overwhelmingly favor the Democratic nominee, whoever she may be.