Category Archives: United States of America

Michael S. Lewis-Beck – Presidential Power and US Electoral Forecasting

This is a guest post by Michael S. Lewis-Beck, Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Iowa

Recently, different teams of political scientists who specialize in US election forecasting released their fall forecasts at the annual professional meeting. These forecasts have been discussed in the media, and have now appeared in print, including the forecast that Charles Tien and I made (see, respectively, Balz, 2016; Lewis-Beck and Tien, 2016). We forecast a win for Hillary Clinton, with 51.0% of the popular vote share (the Democratic and Republican total), which converts to an estimated Electoral College win of 274 votes.  What forms the basis of this close, but winning, margin?  Our Political Economy model points to two factors, presidential popularity and economic growth. The first variable, the popularity of president Obama, exercises a positive pull; the second variable, economic growth, exercises a positive pull, but much less so.  In this essay, I will lay out the workings of the model, focusing on the power of the sitting president in this equation.

Our Political Economy model relies on enduring theory, as manifest in numerous scholarly investigations. This model was our first, appearing over thirty years ago and we have returned to it now, on evidence that it is, after all, our best effort ever (Lewis-Beck and Rice, 1984). The theory contends that the presidential election constitutes a referendum on how the party in the White House handles the big political and economic questions of the day. The better he (or she) does on the critical issues, the more votes go to the party (Lewis-Beck et al. 2008). We measure these two variables simply. For the president’s treatment of leading political issues, we utilize the Gallup pool question on job approval.  For performance on economic issues, we utilize economic growth. Further, since we wish to make a forecast, from an optimal lead time, we measure these things in the mid-summer of the election year.

Put another way, the underlying explanation finds this expression:

Incumbent Vote = Presidential Approval + Economic Growth.

Of course, more complicated models are possible. (See, for example, Dassonnville and Lewis-Beck, 2015). However, this uncomplicated one appears to work rather well, drawing on estimates from the multiple regression equation below, applied to the 17 presidential elections, 1948-2012.

Vote = 37.50 + .26 Popularity + 1.17 Growth

Predicting the 2016 presidential election, we merely plug in the final numbers of these two variables, as of August 26, 2016. That is, July Popularity = 51% and Gross National Product Growth (2016, first two quarters, non-annualized) = .20, yielding this forecast:

Vote = 37.50 + .26 (51) + 1.17 (.20)
= 51.0 % of the popular two-party vote to Clinton, the Democratic candidate.

A popular vote share of this magnitude yields an Electoral College forecast of 274 (derived from the following formula:

Electoral Vote % = -198 + 4.88 Popular Vote).

How much error can we expect from such a prediction?  Perhaps surprisingly, not that much.  Looking at Table 1, we see the actual forecasting error from the prediction of each election in the series. It is important to note that these jackknife forecasts are out-of-sample, i.e., the election called is forecast from data gathered only on the other elections. Observe that the median error is just 2.0 percentage points. More generally, column 3 of the Table below reports that the forecasts correctly pick the winner in 13 out of the 17 contests, meaning it has been right 82 percent of the time.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-10-32-57

What lies behind this level of accuracy?  Mostly, it comes from the power of the presidential variable. That variable – public approval of how the president handles the job – correlates with vote at about .83 across the series, and accounts for the lion’s share of the variance in the multiple regression equation (where the R-squared = .76). Indeed, if we look at the presidential approval variable by itself, we can formulate an interesting rule: when the president’s mid-summer approval exceeds 50%, the party in the White House will win the national popular vote. (Curiously, this rule had an early, but rather neglected, emergence in the literature; Lewis-Beck and Rice, 1982). This rule has held for all 7 of the elections across this period where the 50% standard is met or exceeded, namely 1956, 1964, 1972, 1984, 1988, 1996, 2000.

CONCLUSION

A straightforward, theoretically sound Political Economy model suggests that Clinton will be the next president. The promise of that suggestion comes mostly from the relatively high popularity that President Obama, as a Democrat, has recently enjoyed. His comparative success on big issues appears to have allowed a majority of voters to transfer their support to the new candidate of his party, Hillary Clinton. When presidential elections are viewed as referenda on the performance of the party in the White House, that gives the man (or woman) occupying that office enormous de facto power to determine the next winner.

REFERENCES

Balz, Dan.  September 3, 2016. “Election Forecasters Try to Bring Some Order to a Chaotic Political Year,” Washington Post.

Lewis-Beck, Michael S. and Ruth Dassonneville.  2015.“Comparative Election Forecasting: Further Insights from Synthetic Models,” Electoral Studies, 39,2015, 275-283.

Lewis-Beck, Michael S., William Jacoby, Helmut Norpoth and Herbert Weisberg.  2008.  The American Voter Revisited.  Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Lewis-Beck, Michael S., and Tom Rice.  1982.  “Presidential Popularity and Presidential Vote.”  Public Opinion Quarterly, 46 (Winter), pp.534 – 537.

Lewis-Beck, Michael S., and Tom W. Rice.  1984.  “Forecasting Presidential Elections: A Comparison of Naïve Models.”  Political Behavior 6, 9-21.

Lewis-Beck, Michael S. and Charles Tien.  2016. “The Political Economy Model: 2016 US Election Forecasts,” PS: Political Science and Politics, October, 2016.

Craig Allen Smith – Navigating the Home Stretch of the 2016 American Presidential Campaign

This is a guest post by Craig Allen Smith, Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State University

Having witnessed the referenda on Scotland’s independence and Brexit, world attention is now on the 2016 American presidential campaign.  The torrent of social media and non-stop news updates provide a disconcerting blend of information, misinformation, and trivia.  This is the first of two posts designed to provide a framework for interpreting those data points, headlines, tweets, and predictions (the second will appear after the election).  Today’s post discusses the procedural requirements that generate strategic challenges for candidates and suggests ways for observers (foreign and domestic) to understand  the campaign.

The Framework

In Presidential Campaign Communication, 2nd ed. I suggested that we view American presidential campaigns as a national conversation among three sets of participants: Citizens, Campaigners, and a greek chorus of Reporters (Smith, 2015). Their “trialogue” unfolds in four functional stages — Surfacing, Nominating, Consolidating, and Electing — each of which has “instrumental objectives” for advancement to the next. Thus the first strategic question is, “What must one do to advance?”

The instrumental objectives require the accumulation of “victory units” that include votes, volunteers, publicity, and money. Those resources are unequally dispersed; some have money to donate, some have time to volunteer, and some are more likely to vote than others.  Thus the second strategic question is, “Who holds the resources one needs for victory units?”

Candidates begin with no victory units and proceed to accumulate them through “rhetorical transactions” with those who have the desired resources. They trade words and symbolic actions for attention, campaign resources, and votes much as comedians trade jokes for laughs or buskers sing favorite songs to attract contributions. Thus the third strategic question is, “What need be said for candidates and audiences to complete their rhetorical transactions?” Those questions can help us to understand the current campaign.

“What must one do to advance?”

By 1 February 2016 the Surfacing stage had defined the campaign by rhetorically constituting the rules, issue publics, news habits, and candidacies (Smith 2016). The candidates who surfaced moved into the Nominating stage where they competed in state level party contests (primary elections, caucuses, or conventions) to win commitments from a majority of their national party’s convention delegates. Nominating led to the Consolidating stage when Donald Trump secured a majority of Republican delegates on 26 May and when Hillary Clinton secured a majority of Democratic delegates on 7 June. Both nominating campaigns had so fragmented their parties that both nominees had many fences to mend by the end of their national party conventions.

The Electing stage began with the nomination acceptance addresses that concluded the conventions (Trump’s on 21 July and Clinton’s on 28 July). It is crucial to understand that American presidential elections hinge not on the national popular vote but on electoral votes. Each state and the District of Columbia has a number of electors equal to its number of U.S. senators and Representatives. When votes are counted on election day the candidate with a plurality of votes in each state wins its electors (except for Maine and Nebraska, which award their electors by congressional districts).

Therefore, the strategic challenge for each candidate is to secure a plurality of voters in a combination of states that yield 270 electoral votes (a majority of the 538 electors). Remember that Vice-president Al Gore won the 2000 national popular vote but lost the electoral vote to George W. Bush whereas Bill Clinton twice won more than 68% of the electoral votes without polling 50% of the popular vote. Unfortunately, too many American pollsters focus on the largely meaningless popular vote. Daily they report polls of 45%-43% and the like without considering electoral strength.  This misleads many Citizens, Reporters, and even some candidates.

The proper way to track the candidates’ progress during the Electing stage is to follow state level polls that show which candidates lead which states by how much. When those polls suggest margins in excess of the margin for error, one can infer the candidate likely to win those electoral votes.  The inconclusive state polls identify the “battleground states” that can be won by the candidate who invests wisely their campaign resources.

Three excellent web sites daily update state polls and project electoral votes— electoral-vote.com, 270towin.com, and Nate Silver’s 538.com. All three sites average recent state polls and allocate electoral votes accordingly. Especially informative is electoral-vote.com because it includes the “tipping point” at which each candidate would win an electoral majority.

To appreciate the difference between national and state polls, let is consider the 18 October reports. The average of national polls put Clinton ahead by 3% (within the statistical margin for error) suggesting a popular vote both too close to call and —  Mr. Gore might remind us — meaningless.  But that day’s state polls showed Clinton surpassing the 270 electoral vote tipping point by winning every state where she then led Trump by 5% or more; Trump needed to win every state where he was within 6% of Clinton.  A week later the October 24th average of national polls showed Trump ahead by 1% whereas the tipping point still showed Clinton needing to win only the states where she led by 5%.

During the recent week Trump alleged repeatedly that the election is “rigged” and declined to commit himself to the outcome of the election. Perhaps he was reasoning that the Founders had rigged the election by creating the Electoral College, or perhaps he simply failed to understand the process. This week he is and is alleging that the polls are also rigged against him by dishonest media companies. Until we learn that a cabal of pollsters intentionally engaged in flawed polling it seems more reasonable to suspect that the politically inexperienced Trump has been seduced by his supporters’ cheers.

In short, national popularity is a good but indirect predictor of the presidential election because Americans are not electing the President of the People, we are voting to decide how our states will elect the next President of the United States.

“Who holds the resources one needs for victory units?”

Candidates need to win states, but which states do they need? Theoretically, the election should hinge on the eight battleground states where state polls report margins less than 5%.  But with two weeks to go Clinton leads by 5% or more in 23 states and DC with a total of 279 electoral votes and need not win any of those eight states. Unless she loses Pennsylvania (which voted for Barack Obama by margins of 10% and 5% and where she leads by 5%) or other states where she has even larger leads she need not win any of the eight battleground states.

State polls currently show Trump leading by 5% or more in 19 states with only 117 electoral votes, which explains why Trump needs those polls to be rigged, wrong, transient, or poorly related to voting. How could Trump win? From the October 25th Electoral-Vote.com tipping point site we can infer that Trump’s need for 270 electoral votes requires him to win (1) every state that he leads by 5% for 117 electoral votes, (2) every state that he leads by less than 5% (South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and Ohio) for an additional 87 electoral votes, (3) every state that currently favors Clinton by less than 5% (Arizona, North Carolina, and Florida) for another 61 electoral votes, and (4) Pennsylvania and Nevada, where he trails by 5% and 6%, respectively. Therefore Trump’s first strategic priority must be to dramatically alter the situations in Pennsylvania and Nevada; unless he does so — or dramatically wins even stronger Clinton states with at least 11 electoral votes —he will lose.

If Trump can solve that problem he will also need to win Florida and Ohio (which Obama won by averages of 1.5% and 4%, respectively) and North Carolina (which Obama won by 1% then  lost by 2%). He currently leads Ohio by 2% but trails in Florida by 4% and North Carolina by 2%, all of which are within the margin for error and could conceivably vote for Clinton.

Five other battleground states voted for the previous Republican nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, by substantial margins. Their average margins of victory were 14% in Texas, 12.5% in Mississippi, 9.5% in South Carolina, 9% in Arizona, and 7% in Georgia.  But Trump currently trails Arizona by 1% (-10%) and his leads in the other four states are considerably smaller than were theirs: 3% in Texas (-11%) and Mississippi (-6.5%), 4% in South Carolina (-5.5%), and 3% in Georgia (-4%).

In short, Clinton need only win Pennsylvania (+5%) or Florida (+4%) to surpass 270 electoral votes; Trump can only win the presidency by winning every state where the current polls show him trailing by 5% or less. Of course, it is possible that Trump could win both Pennsylvania and Florida, but he would still be short of victory unless he also won all of the other battleground states.

“Who needs me to say what before granting me their resources?”

As the election nears, candidates need two resources: support and votes. It is one thing to entice citizens to prefer you over your opponent, and it is quite another matter to entice your supporters to vote. The last American presidential election in which 60% of those eligible voted was 1968. Put differently, for nearly half a century more than 40% of eligible American citizens have declined to cast a vote for president

Ideally, we might hope for rational policy discussions and uplifting talk to unify citizens behind their next president. But presidential campaigns are less a search for consensus than a push toward preference. Points of difference are exaggerated whenever possible to heighten contrast. This cycle saw Trump defeat sixteen other Republican candidates as Clinton outlasted Bernie Sanders. Many of those who supported the nominees’ adversaries have been reluctant to transfer their support to the nominees, such that many of the rhetorical transactions have amounted to attacks on the opposition. Clinton and Trump have attacked one another as unfit for the office. We rarely hear of undecided citizens who like both candidates. The polls discussed above suggest that the national aggregate preferences are roughly equal, but that electorally important states prefer Clinton.

For several months Trump has needed to expand his appeal, but he has been slow to do so. Instead he has repeated the themes that appeal to his base of support, even attacking Republicans such as McCain and Romney, and House Speaker Paul Ryan. He seems to expect that his attacks on Clinton will expand his support, but the polls discussed above provide little evidence of success.

But the ultimate question is, then, who will vote? The closing effort to “get out the vote” (GOTV) is crucial. Barack Obama’s GOTV efforts resulted in historic vote totals. The Clinton campaign has invested heavily in similar efforts, suggesting that the Trump campaign will need to perform even better if their votes are to exceed their state polls.

But Trump has raised less money than Clinton and has been slow to develop a GOTV operation. electoral-vote.com reported that “The Democrats have 5,100 paid staffers in the battleground states. The Republicans have 1,400.”  Trump has said all along that he speaks for those who have been excluded or who have seen little reason to vote. But those people, by definition, offer unreliable votes. They may well vote in record numbers, but Democrats are providing 3.6 times the guidance to potential voters about polling places, hours, and transportation.

Earlier in the campaign some Trump advisors apparently reasoned that winning the Republican nomination would commit the Republican Party to do their GOTV work for them. That could work in Republican strongholds, but many of Trump’s supporters dislike establishment Republicans nearly as much as they dislike Democrats. Indeed, the national polls suggest that Trump is doing well in states that he is sure to win while floundering in the battleground states. Wary of Trump, Republicans have turned their resources to “down ballot” races for the Senate, congressional seats, and governorships.

So the question is, what does Trump say to entice irregular voters who dislike both parties to vote? One wonders why his supporters would be more likely to vote if the election is “rigged” as he has been contending. On the other hand, the Clinton campaign must overcome the complacency that derives from their supporters’  confidence. They are increasingly responding that their supporters should provide an overwhelming landslide to undermine doubts and to provide her with Senate and perhaps congressional majorities.

Conclusions

I have suggested the the American presidential campaign is a national conversation in which the nominees face three strategic questions: What must one do to advance?, Who holds the resources one needs for victory units?, and “What need be said for candidates and audiences to complete their rhetorical transactions?

For Hillary Clinton to advance to the presidency she needs her supporters (and Trump’s opponents) to vote. She has thousands of GOTV workers in the battleground states to help convert the state poll percentages into votes, and if she does so she will win states providing more than the 270 electoral votes.

Donald Trump has a narrow path to the presidency. He needs to win every state in which he trails by 6% or less but he is running well behind his Republican predecessors in several of them. Trump urgently needs to cut into Clinton’s leads in Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Florida to put them in play. Thus he needs to broaden his appeal but has been reluctant to do so. He then needs to generate a far greater turnout rate than Clinton in order to win battleground states where his polls lag, but he has assembled an anemic GOTV force. In the next post we will see how well the candidates performed.

Reference List

Smith, C. A. (2015). Presidential campaign communication (2nd ed.) Cambridge: Polity.

Smith, C. A. (2016, 20 April). The Surfacing Stage of the 2016 American Presidential Campaign: A Status Report. presidential-power.com.

William J. Crotty – Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and a Nasty U.S. Second Presidential Debate

This is a guest post by William J. Crotty, Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Chair in Public Life and Emeritus Professor of Political Science, at Northeastern University

The second of the presidential debates proved to be explosive. There was speculation that given the events that had preceded it, it might well determine the election’s outcome.

The Town Hall debate, the format used, turned out, as promised, to be an angry, contentious, even embarrassing series of exchanges built primarily around character attacks from both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. There was a policy component but the differences, and claims as to their effectiveness, were so extreme and the arguments over effectiveness so unrelenting that it was unclear whether either candidate succeeded in making their point. This debate was centered on personal behavior.

Hillary Clinton was seen by Donald Trump as the problem; an insider who, along with her allies, made the mess (as he saw it) of the country that he had vowed to “make great again.” Clinton was a symbol of the status quo, a candidate committed to continuing things much as they were, allowing for a few incremental changes and little more. Appealing to his party’s base (and some Republican officeholders) that appear to hate Hillary Clinton (this was said publicly), Trump referred to her as a “lying Hillary,” “cheating Hillary,” and, at one point, the “devil.” This in a presidential election.

Trump continually, as he had throughout the campaign, made accusations against women and, in particular, a former Miss Universe who he felt was “overweight”; the disabled, other Republicans, John McCain (a loser because a winner does not get captured, a reference to McCain’s five years as a prisoner of war in a Hanoi prison during the Vietnam War); and post-debate, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House and the highest ranking Republican in the nation (a “very weak and ineffective leader”); a Muslim family that lost a son in Iraq (and in fairness had criticized Trump in an appearance at the Democratic National Convention); the “weak” in general (he promised to be a “strong man” president and made it clear he admired Putin and Russia); and so on. During the debate, he also said he would put Hillary Clinton in jail if elected, a Third World moment resented by many. All in all, it was among the most contentious of debates (there have been others) in American political history.

The run-up to the Town Hall meeting served to ensure that what was to follow would be acrimonious, to an extent few had ever encountered. Two events immediately prior to the Town Hall meeting ensured it would be explosive. First, and seemingly striking at the heart of the Trump campaign, the New York Times released a series of tax records  in a story detailing Trump’s staggering business losses (casinos, worldwide real estate holding, gold courses, an airline, a yacht he had valued at $100 million, and so on) in the 1980 to the mid-1990s. The article reported that Trump had lost almost a billion dollars ($916 million) in 1995.  In addition it was claimed that he likely had paid no taxes for the following 18 years.  He would have been drawing on a provision of the tax code that allowed such write-offs for business failures of this nature for corporate and real estate investments. The financial institutions and individual investors took catastrophic losses. At least three business bankruptcies ensued.

Trump came out from it all comfortably. He personally lost little to any money.  The major financers of his holdings decided that rather than force Trump into personal bankruptcy, it better served their interests to put him on a retainer ($450,000/month)1 and to pay him for the use of his name (believed to be a marketing draw for other investors). Also he was to manage a number of the hotels and casinos, for which he received an additional fee. He did lose the airline and the yacht and he was not to own the buildings and developments, then or in the future, with his name on them.2

Trump’s response was that he was a good businessman and took advantage of the tax code to advance his own interests. He claimed to know it better than anyone else and had no apologies. The investors should have done the same.

The financial interests that took over the Trump empire saw him as a poor businessman but a great salesman, a set of skills he was using to good effort in the election. The entire financial mess served not to hurt Trump with his supporters. He continued to claim he was a great businessman who would use his proven ability to make America great again. The issue came up in the second debate but Trump dismissed it and again there appeared to be little harm done to his campaign.

The second explosion in the period between the first and second debates, if anything, was even more of a shock. For years, Trump had been accused of denigrating women and seeing them only in terms of their physical appearance. In the days following the first debate, he continued his accusations as to the looks and made charges in crude terms about a former Miss Universe. These included tweets sent between 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. further attacking the woman. Odd as this was, it was soon overshadowed by the release of a decade-old tape by the Washington Post which captured Trump talking about women on his way to taping a TV soap opera. In it he told of kissing them as he pleased, groping their private parts and being on them (this is not pleasant) like a “bitch.” Married women were fair game to Trump.3

The reaction to the video was instantaneous. Hillary Clinton called it “horrific” and others followed with similar comments. There were calls for Trump to resign his position or be replaced as the head of the ticket (almost impossible to do). His reaction was that the words [spoken on the video] “don’t reflect who I am,” that the video was a decade old, that he was embarrassed by it. He appeared to give what was seen as a partial apology4, repeatedly then and afterwards referred to it as “locker room” talk and said that while his were only words Bill Clinton has acted on his impulses and he promised to make Clinton’s predatory behavior a campaign issue, a threat he kept.5

Going into the debate speculation centered on whether Trump would apologize as many of his supporters wanted, withdraw from the race or continue to fight and campaign. The answer came soon enough. In the afternoon preceding the debate, Trump held a press conference with four women, three of whom claimed to have been targets for predatory assaults by Bill Clinton. One woman said she had been raped by Clinton. The fourth woman claimed to have been raped when she was 12 years old and that Hillary Clinton represented the rapist in court proceedings. This was true. Clinton had been appointed by the sitting judge who would not let her withdraw. Trump threatened to take the four women into the debate, which he did.

Trump was far from contrite in the Town Hall meeting. He aggressively and repeatedly attacked Hillary Clinton, even walking the stage and appearing to stalk her while she spoke to the audience. He would stand behind her and make gestures disapproving of her remarks. As promised he ripped into Bill Clinton for his behavior.

Hillary Clinton refused to get into discussing her husband’s affairs. She said she would take the high road and attempted to stay on message, although frequently responding to Trump’s charges and interruptions. Trump had further argued that the video tape was a diversion from the more important issues of the campaign. The approach succeeded. The debate turned to a series of policy differences between the candidates, argued with the intensity and anger with which the questions had been addressed.  All in all, it was a hostile, volatile and ugly series of exchanges unlike any in modern memory.

In the aftermath of the debate, Hillary Clinton was praised, Trump criticized. Clinton was seen, as in the first debate, as making the more effective presentations. However when the polls came out, Trump had actually increased his support among Republicans to 89 percent. He also cut into Clinton’s national lead in some of the polls.

The Republican party was in turmoil and there was talk off a “civil war” in party ranks. It was party leaders and officeholders against the party’s base which supported Trump. Trump seemed unmoved and in fact promised a meaner, more provocative, more Far Right campaign to come. One thing the debate did establish was that with one month to go, Trump was in it to the bitter end and the chances were it would not be pleasant.

Notes

1. Russ Buettner and Charles V. Bagli, “How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions.” New York Times. June 12, 2016, P. A1. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/nyregion/donald-trump-atlantic-city.html

2. David Barstow, Susanne Craig, Ross Buettner and Megan Twohey, “Donald Trump Tax Records Show He Could Have Avoided Taxes for Nearly Two Decades, The Times Found.” New York Times. October 1, 2016. P. A1. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html

3. “Donald Trump’s Latest Comments About Women Are So Disturbing They Can’t Be Printed.” Fortune. October 7, 2016 Accessed October 12, 2016 at: http://fortune.com/2016/10/07/donald-trump-bragged-sex-married/

4. Maggie Haberman, “Donald Trump’s Apology That Wasn’t.” New York Times. October 8, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/08/us/politics/donald-trump-apology.html?_r=0

5. Jeremy W. Peters, “Trump Campaign Tried to Seat Bill Clinton’s Accusers in V.I.P. Box.” October 10, 2016. Accessed October 12, 2016 at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/11/us/politics/bill-clinton-accusers-debate.html

Joel K. Goldstein – The U.S. Vice Presidency and Presidential Power

This is a guest post by Joel K. Goldstein, Vincent C. Immel Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law

The American vice presidency has had a complicated relationship with the concept of presidential power.  The complication traces both to the dynamic nature of the vice presidency over time and its multi-faceted relationship to presidential power in virtually any period.  The second office has changed dramatically in recent decades, especially during the last 40 years, as I recount in my new book, The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden (Kansas, 2016)Yet even that very positive development has not removed intricacies inherent in the relationship of the second office to presidential power.

The vice presidency was created for instrumental reasons related to filling the presidency so it could exercise its constitutional power.  Fearing that parochial attachments would obstruct the election of a national president after George Washington, the framers gave each elector two votes for president with the constraint that no more than one vote could be cast for someone from the elector’s state.  The existence of the vice presidency would, the farmers hoped, discourage strategic voting by attaching a consequence to the second votes.  The office was an expedient to allow selection of a president, a prerequisite to the exercise of presidential power.  But the design failed to anticipate the development of national political parties which disrupted the framers’ plan.  Accordingly, the original electoral system lasted for only 15 years until the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution installed the current arrangement by which electors vote separately for the two offices.

During that first decade and one-half and long beyond, the vice presidency was given two formal duties which reflected an anomalous relationship to presidential power.  The vice president’s ongoing duty was to preside over the Senate and to break tie votes in that body.  As such, the vice president, as president of the Senate, was a legislative officer and accordingly part of the system of separation of powers and checks and balances that the framers thought would prevent the concentration and abuse of power, presidential and otherwise.  Yet the vice president was also made the first presidential successor who would discharge the “powers and duties” of the presidency in case the president died, resigned, was removed or was disabled.  Whereas the vice president’s ongoing duty made him adverse to presidential power, his contingent role made him heir to those very powers.  The former provided little power, the latter, all the executive power the Constitution conferred, a reality captured by the insight of the first vice president, John Adams, who said, “I am vice president.  In this I am nothing.  But I may be everything.”

The reality Adams described essentially lasted through the first 35 vice presidents, through and including the tenure of Alben Barkley (1949-1953).  With few exceptions, vice presidents spent most of their professional time performing their duty to preside over the Senate.  Seven of the 35 succeeded to the presidency following the death of their predecessor (two later vice presidents succeeded presidents who did not complete their terms due to death or resignation) and became “everything”; but while vice president, they and the others were closer to nothing, at least with respect to their relationship to presidential power.

The growth of presidential power associated with the New Deal and World War II changed the vice presidency, a development I described in my first book on the office, The Modern American Vice Presidency: The Transformation of a Political Institution (Princeton, 1982).  That growth allowed presidential nominees to select their running mates beginning in the 1940s, thereby associating the two officers politically.  It made the qualifications and preparation of the first successor more material especially given the advent of the nuclear age and the Cold War.  The president was expected to respond to more domestic and international issues.  These developments drew the vice president into the executive branch beginning especially with the vice presidency of Richard M. Nixon.  Nixon and his next five successors, through and including Nelson A. Rockefeller (1974-1977), headed executive branch commissions, engaged in foreign travel and performed other political chores for the administrations.

Although these vice presidents moved from the legislative to the executive branch, as vice presidents they remained somewhat peripheral to presidential power.  When President Dwight D. Eisenhower was asked at an August, 1960 press conference to name an idea Nixon had contributed to the administration, he famously responded, “If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember,” a devastating answer for Nixon whose presidential campaign messaging was predicated on the superior experience he had gained at Eisenhower’s side.  More than a decade and one-half later, Rockefeller disparaged the second office as “simply standby equipment,” a description that suggested that it remained “nothing” or lose to it absent a succession.

Three institutional barriers kept these vice presidents from getting too close to presidential power even as they entered the executive branch.  Presidents hesitated to give vice presidents significant duties since the vice president was the one subordinate the president could not remove until the term ended.  The vice president’s successor function role inhibited close relations between the two as presidents suspected the motives and loyalty of someone whose ambitions would be realized by their own demise.  Finally, presidents lacked a vision for how to make the vice president significant.

The vice presidency made its most significant institutional advance during the vice presidency of Walter F. Mondale (1977-1981) as the office moved to the center of the presidency.  It did so, in part, because Mondale was able to circumvent or remove the barriers that had kept earlier vice presidents separate from presidential power.  In essence, Mondale proposed, and President Jimmy Carter embraced, a new vision of the vice president as a close presidential adviser and trouble-shooter who would have no ongoing portfolio.  Carter, who was disposed to elevating the office, gave Mondale the resources to make success possible—regular and extensive access to Carter in private and group sessions, access to the information Carter received, staff support and involvement of Mondale’s staff in White House operations, and visible presidential support for Mondale, through word and deed.  Carter gave Mondale a prize West Wing office symbolizing his importance and facilitating his involvement.  This new vision and accompanying resources gave Mondale an ongoing role as part of Carter’s inner circle and as someone who could handle presidential level missions, at home and abroad.

The presence of a significant, ongoing role allowed Mondale to circumvent the barrier the contingent, successor role had presented.  The new vision presented Mondale as part of the effort to make the Carter administration succeed, not as someone standing by to succeed the president.  Avoidance of portfolios coupled with Mondale’s investment in Carter’s success and their mutual trust made the vice president’s possession of a fixed term a less imposing barrier.

The Mondale vice presidency succeeded even as Carter’s presidency was rejected in the 1980 election.  It created a workable model for vice presidential contributions, what I have called the White House vice presidency, and expectations of vice-presidential involvement.  Carter’s and Mondale’s successors, beginning with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, adopted the Mondale model and this new institutional vision and its associated resources have now lasted for the last 40 years across six administrations, three from each major political party.  To be sure, vice-presidential influence has varied and different vice presidents have emphasized different aspects of the job.  And some have abandoned Mondale’s aversion to portfolios and have assumed some specific portfolios generally involving interdepartmental matters.  Yet all have served as general presidential advisers and trouble-shooters with access and information.

This new institution makes the vice presidency a much more consequential office than it has been for most of American history.   Yet it continues the office’s ambivalent relationship to presidential power even as it introduces entirely new considerations into the analysis.  In an important sense, the White House vice presidency expands presidential capacity by helping presidents deal with an increasingly challenging international and domestic arena.  The president needs help, not simply from staff assistants, but from high-level, politically attuned officers who can provide politically sensitive advice and handle assignments that need attention at the most senior levels.  By empowering the vice president, the president creates a surrogate who can pinch hit for him in discharging highly significant matters.

The advising role of the White House vice presidency reflects the complicated relationship of the office to presidential power.  The presence of the vice president as a senior presidential adviser, as the “last person in the room” in Joe Biden’s formulation, contributes to the exercise of presidential power by giving the president the counsel of a senior politician who largely shares his perspective and interests.  That role also, in a sense, creates an additional informal check of sorts on presidential power.  It can be used as a means to make certain the president has a full range of advice before making decisions as Mondale, George H.W. Bush and Biden among others did.  It also can introduce someone in the inner circle who can tell the president things they do not want to hear and which others may shy away from saying.  Here the vice president’s fixed term and stature provides some security that some others may not feel.  Of course, vice presidents remain dependent on presidents but presidents now also rely on their first subordinate, to help achieve their political and governmental objectives.

The development of the White House vice presidency has benefitted vice presidents by relieving them from the drudgery and many of the associated frustrations of their office.  Yet its greatest contribution has been enhancing the capacity of the presidency to respond to the demands it faces in a wise and effective manner.

William Crotty – The U.S. Vice Presidential Candidates Debate: Democrat Kaine vs. Republican Pence

This is a guest post by William Crotty , the Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Chair in Public Life , Department of Political Science , Northeastern University

The 2016 presidential race has been a nasty and bitter contest dominated by the two major party nominees. The vice-presidential race between two nationally unknown figures was considered inconsequential with no likely impact on the vote. The contestants were Mike Pence, a former congressman and governor of Indiana, a by-the-book, small government, anti-regulation, no tax conservative from a conservative state. Pence, an evangelical, claims Christianity dominated his life, more important than family or party, in that order.  Hillary Clinton chose Tim Kaine, a former governor of Virginia and presently a U.S. Senator. Kaine’s state was considered to be in play in the election. Ideologically Kaine was a centrist/conservative. He appeared to be an amiable candidate, who had been a finalist for the vice presidential nomination in 2008 before Barack Obama close Joe Biden. Clearly he appeared attractive to major candidates while at the same time remaining obscure to the voting public. Kaine was an ardent and observant Catholic. Both candidates emphasized their faith.

In the Bill Clinton conception of governor (he pioneered the tactic) Kaine announced he was pro-life but emphasized that as governor he had executed a man sentenced by the courts, his point being that whatever his own beliefs he followed the law. He was anti-abortion and in the Senate in the run up to the debate had voted against a provision that would make Medicare more readily available to more people (the “public option”). He did not fit the profile of a Democratic party candidate but he was experienced and had done well in his home state.

The two-hour debate took place on October 4th. Both candidates were well prepared, a contrast with Trump in particular and his lack of preparation for debates. They later were held out (especially Pence) as a model Trump should follow in the two presidential debates to come. Kaine was unusually aggressive in presenting the Democratic party’s positions on issues and insisting that Pence present Trump’s views and/or defend his party nominee’s stands, a difficult position for Pence to be in. Both candidates interrupted the other although Kaine did it far more regularly than Pence. His comments were along the line of he’s not answering the question, he changed the subject, what he says is not true, that’s not accurate, and so on.

While Kaine seemed revved up, Pence’s responses were slow and measured and his overall approach cool and, to an extent, detached. His approach was, as Kaine repeatedly pointed out, to not answer questions, to deflect and change the subject, to repeatedly declare Kaine’s charges as “false,” “false,” “false” and to turn attention to attacks on Hillary Clinton whenever possible. The difference and what appeared to impress the television commentators following the debate was that he (again) did it in a cooler, unemotional, and restrained manner. This was opposed to Kaine’s seventy-two interruptions while Pence was speaking (no such figure is available as to the times Pence interrupted Kaine but it was considerably less).

After the debate, the instant television analysis was that Pence had done well and had won the debate. Further, a number commenting on his gentlemanly manner of response (as contrast with Kaine’s intensity) immediately pronounced him the frontrunner for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination. The lesson would seem to be that a politician who looks unruffled on television while effectively stonewalling an opponent, constantly denying what had taken place in the campaign or in this case what Trump said or did and lying (“not true”, “false,”) qualifies as the perfect future presidential candidate. His skills would be those required in a president and in line with those who have held the office. This perspective by much of the nation’s newsmakers begins to suggest why voters think the system is corrupt and rigged and why change is needed.

The saving grace (short-term) in all of this is that outside of the two parties’ core supporters, few voters are likely to take the v.p. debate seriously or to read or listen to what the observers have to say. The debate was even less likely to change any votes.

In truth, not all media commentators accepted what was the early responses of the television analysts. Frank Bruni, a New York Times reporter, writing on the paper’s op-ed page, had a different take. Bruni wrote:

It’s hard to think of a vice-presidential candidate in modern history who has gone so far against his supposed nature and his proclaimed values in the service of his running mate. I guess that’s fitting, because it’s hard to think of a presidential candidate in modern history who has behaved in a fashion as heedless, vulgar and vicious as Trump has. Any politician sharing the ticket with him would be in for a soul-lacerating ride. Pence … isn’t just any politician. He’s one who wears his religiousness with particular pride, and is fond of introducing himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” In 1991, after losing a race for the United States Congress in which he harshly attacked his opponent, he published an essay, “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” in which he invoked Jesus and mentioned sin as he swore off such ugliness in the future. …. Never has he [Pence] taken Trump to task or taken a stand for “basic human decency.” He seems to have reversed the order of those three adjectives in his identity. “Republican now comes first and “Christian” last.1

Bruni’s reaction was in the minority although as the post-debate week evaluations went on as to the candidates’ performance they became more balanced and less adulatory of Pence. Trump however did congratulate himself for choosing Pence as his running mate.

Other than that, attention returned to the main arena and the upcoming second presidential debate. Republicans in the Congress and at the state level, never enthusiastic about Trump and fearful of his effect on their races, indicated that another disastrous performance as in the first presidential debate and they would be cutting ties with their party’s nominee.

The debates as a whole were proving to be important to critical, even potentially decisive, to the election and its outcome.

Note

  1. Frank Bruni, “Pence’s Ugly Assignment,” New York Times, October 5, 2016, p. A21. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/05/opinion/mike-pences-galling-amnesia.html

Heather Hodges, Julian Gottlieb, Lisa Argyle, Skylar Covich, E.G. Garay – In November, US voters’ assessment of the candidates will depend on the economy

This is a guest post by Heather Hodges, Julian Gottlieb, Lisa Argyle, Skylar Covich, and E.G. Gary. It is based on their recent article in Electoral Studies.

In the upcoming months, voters will hear the policy plans presented by presidential candidates. Perhaps more importantly, they will hear attacks on the character of past Presidents and current presidential candidates (see the New York Times compilation and Prof. Martin Wattenberg’s post in Presidential Power). Presidential candidates seek to convince voters that their opponent does not have the administrative competence or moral character to enact an economic plan or to lead the nation in other policy areas. Candidate Trump’s branding of Secretary Clinton as ‘Crooked Hillary’ is a glaring example of this technique.

An extension of this strategy is to link the incumbent party’s presidential nominee to the economic failings of the current administration, which is evident in the way President Obama’s record has been evaluated thus far. A recent Politico article notes President Obama’s mixed economic record. GDP growth has been slow so far this year, which usually benefits the challenging party in a presidential election, but the New York Times points out that the numbers are not as grim as in 1980 or 2008. The unemployment rate is now at pre-recession levels before President Obama took office, but labor force participation has also fallen and wage growth has been slow.

Donald Trump has a unique opportunity to link Hillary Clinton to previous Democratic presidents, given her prominent role in health care policy reform as FLOTUS in her husband’s administration and her service as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, where she embraced his administration’s foreign policy agenda and many aspects of his domestic policy agenda as well. To exploit his GOP base’s disdain for last two Democratic presidents, in his nomination acceptance speech Trump placed blame squarely on the Obama administration for the sluggish recovery.

Although we cannot directly speak to how voters will assess President Obama’s performance in office and the impact this may have on the two current candidates, our research suggests that fluctuations in personal and national economic conditions affect voters’ assessments of presidential character, which in turn influences their evaluations of policy performance, not just in the case of economic policy, but across the policy spectrum.

Our research, recently published in Electoral Studies, looked at whether or not the actual performance of the economy, as well as voters’ subjective evaluation of the economy, affect assessments of the president’s character. We argued that “good” economic outcomes would be linked to positive assessments of the president’s character, regardless of whether the trait has an obvious connection to economic leadership.  For example, a president of dubious character who presided over a growing, healthy economy might receive positive evaluations of their moral character or leadership abilities.

From 1984 on voters have been asked how well various traits, such as moral and intelligent, describe the president. We paired these assessments with economic indicators (ex. the Consumer Price Index, Gross Domestic Product, Barro’s Misery Index, and subjective retrospective and prospective economic circumstances) to see how national and personal economic conditions affect these evaluations.

Character Trait Evaluations from 1984 – 2008

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Using both objective economic indicators and subjective evaluations of economic performance, we demonstrate that voters’ stated presidential character traits are correlated with the state of the economy.  Presidents are often held accountable for the state of the economy, but voters do not evaluate presidents’ capability as economic managers and their personal characteristics as separate inputs into an overall evaluation of presidential approval. Instead, how well the economy is doing several months before the election has a direct impact on how voters view the personal traits of incumbent presidents.

Change in Evaluations as National Economy Improves

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Change in Evaluations as Personal Economic Conditions Improve

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As shown in the above figures, voters are more likely to give positive evaluations and less likely to have negative evaluations of presidential traits as the economy improves. This is the case whether the national or one’s personal economic conditions are improving.

Also, as you can see, the relationship between economic performance and presidential character exists across the partisan spectrum. Although the effect is strongest among members of the president’s party, even opposing partisans give higher ratings of the incumbent president’s character traits when the economy is growing.

The economy has long been shown to be a powerful predictor of economic elections.  One mechanism by which this voting cue functions is through the attribution of positive personal traits to presidents who oversee economic growth.

In this election, the character and trustworthiness of both major party presidential candidates have been called into question by voters of all stripes. Although Candidate Trump continues to hammer on the economy as a major concern, the most recent jobs report was positive, boasting a low unemployment rate, and while it is not out of the question, the economy is unlikely to spiral downward in the next few months (as emphasized on FiveThirtyEight). Also, President Obama enjoys relatively strong approval ratings for a lame duck president and confidence in his command of the economy is also stable after a slow, but steady recovery during his tenure in office. This presents an opportunity for Secretary Clinton, as she can potentially overcome perceived ‘character deficits’ by promoting her strong working relationship w/ President Obama & confidently campaigning on her effort to extend President Obama’s economic gains in a way that John McCain could not rely on President Bush’s record during the 2008 campaign. Yet, this strategy only works in so far as President Obama’s economy holds or improves between now and November. If the economy weakens objectively, or subjectively in the eyes of voters, look for Candidate Trump to double down on character attacks against Secretary Clinton and her complicity in the Obama Administration’s economic mishaps.

Martin P. Wattenberg – Will Trump vs. Clinton See a Resurgence in the Relevance of Presidential Candidate Personality?

This is a guest post by Martin P. Wattenberg, Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.”  Because the presidency is a uniquely personal and powerful office, character matters enormously in terms of governing.  Recognizing how factors like integrity, competence, reliability, and leadership skills have made a difference in past presidencies, American voters naturally take such factors into account when they cast their ballots.

In the 2016 campaign, it is clear that both of the major party nominees will be extensively discussing personal attributes.  Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to Hillary Clinton as “crooked Hillary” and charged that she is a weak leader.  He offers his business experience as a major reason for voting for him, saying that if he can make billions of dollars he can certainly manage the nation’s economic affairs.  For her part, Clinton argues that Trump is temperamentally unsuited to be president and too politically inexperienced to be given the reins of power.  In contrast, she has offered her vast experience in government and knowledge of the issues as major justifications for voting for her.

Yet to be seen is just how much voters will really focus on personality matters when they cast their ballots in the fall of 2016.  My research finds that in recent elections the electorate’s focus on candidate attributes has substantially declined.  The analyses were based on a set of open-ended questions asking respondents what they liked and disliked about the major candidates, which have been asked in every American National Election Study from 1952 to 2012.

A great advantage of open-ended questions is that people can say whatever is on their mind, without prompting from survey designers.  Hence, it is revealing that the majority of respondents have consistently said something about the candidate’s personal attributes.  But the trend has definitely been downward, as displayed in the figure below.

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An examination of the data from 2008 and 2012 reveals that young people were substantially less likely than older people to focus on candidate personality.  Having grown up in a much more polarized political environment in which policies are more clearly sorted according to party affiliation, young voters have come to focus more on policies than candidate character.  Assuming this generational change continues, we can expect that the saliency of personal attributes in voters’ evaluations of candidates will probably continue to decline in the future.

In this more polarized era, there is reason to expect that personality evaluations will be more diametrically opposed than ever before.  In the past, it was pretty common for respondents to say that they liked both candidates in terms of their personal characteristics.  But as people have come to hold more black and white views of the candidates, personal character is no longer likely to be judged objectively without regard to political bias. The correlation between personality evaluations of the Democratic and Republican candidates’ provides a simple measure of polarization, with a more negative correlation indicating greater polarization.  The figure below shows that candidate personality evaluations have been more polarized than ever during the last three presidential elections.

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One major reason why candidate character evaluations are now more polarized is that they have become more likely to be seen through the perceptual screen of partisanship.  Indeed, recent elections have seen a much tighter relationship between partisanship and evaluations of candidate character.

With fewer people mentioning personal attributes and with those who do so filtering their comments through the perceptual screen of partisanship, the independent impact of candidates’ personal qualities on voting behavior has declined over time.  My final figure shows that the partial correlation between voting decisions and candidate attribute ratings has clearly lessened in recent presidential elections, with the 2012 election representing the lowest figure ever in the time series.

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Although these results point to a generally lessened role for personality evaluations in the decisions of American voters, they do not necessarily mean that candidate character will never again be crucial to the outcome of presidential elections.  Any future presidential candidate who sees an opening to take advantage of a perceived edge on some personal attribute will no doubt seize on it and voters are bound to pay at least some attention.  With Donald Trump’s outsized personality it is certainly conceivable that personality factors will play a larger role in 2016 than they have in the past several elections.  However, as candidate character evaluations have become so polarized and filtered through partisanship, it seems unlikely that personality factors will be as important to the outcome as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s.

US – The General Election: Let the Games Begin

Now that all of the primary voting has ended, what comes next in this unconventional and unpredictable presidential campaign? While the casual political observer might expect a lull in campaign activity for several weeks as both Republicans and Democrats prepare for their nominating conventions, this may simply be the calm before the inevitable storm. The general election has already begun, and the next four months leading up to Election Day promise to be like no political campaign American voters have ever seen.

Conventional wisdom has provided little guidance during this campaign, though this time period in the political calendar is usually reserved for convention preparation, staffing and organizational issues, building a ground game in swing states, fundraising, vetting potential running mates, and transitioning to a general election narrative designed to attract independent voters. And while all of that is certainly happening in the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns, the news media is perhaps the most important participant right now. Journalists, and particularly their editors, are the gatekeepers who decide what stories to cover and what stories to ignore, and they also set the narrative about each candidate. However, the stories do not always provide the narrative that the candidate wants.

For example, Clinton wants to be seen as the seasoned, experienced politician who can provide a steady hand for American leadership in turbulent political times. Yet, one of the more popular story lines about Clinton has been the continuing FBI investigation into her use of a private email server while Secretary of State, as well as the possible conflict of interest involving donations to the Clinton Foundation. This storyline feeds into another narrative of how a majority of voters in poll after poll find Clinton untrustworthy.

On the GOP side, Trump wants to be seen as the populist, anti-establishment answer to all that is wrong with Washington. He is also trying to establish himself as the leader of the Republican Party. Yet, the news media continue to report on party disunity, high-profile Republicans who refuse to endorse Trump (like conservative columnist George Will) or have endorsed Clinton (like former George W. Bush treasury secretary Henry Paulsen, and former George H.W. Bush national security advisor Brent Scowcroft), and whether procedural rules at the Republican convention can still stop Trump.

In addition, the media tend to frame political news, especially that coming from the campaign trail, as a game or sporting match. This “horse race” coverage about who is winning v. losing (regarding fundraising, endorsements, the latest poll numbers, etc.) provides an “us v. them” mentality that seems to feed directly into the current hyper-partisan political environment. I call this trend the “ESPN Effect,” as news coverage, especially on television, can often remind the viewer of watching coverage of the “big game” on ESPN’s flagship show, SportsCenter.[1]

For example, there have already been numerous stories predicting possible running mates, which is often framed as “Who will win the Veepstakes?” And then there are the polls, which provide so much data and so many numbers yet seem to lack substantive information. National polls may make for a good headline (“Clinton has extended her lead” or “Can Trump close the gap?”), but Americans do not elect their president nationally through popular vote. Polls in swing states (like Ohio or Pennsylvania) can tell us something, but even then, they only offer a snapshot over a few days with an election that is still more than four months away. And, for any poll to be statistically significant, the random sample has to be large enough (around 1,000 respondents) and it has to be among “likely” as opposed to simply “registered” voters. This is not always the case, yet the results get reported is if they are nonetheless valid. Regardless, polls this far out cannot predict voter selection and/or turnout.

Stories like these about the candidates also compete with numerous breaking stories throughout each news cycle, and there have been several significant stories of late. Each story also gets reported through an analytical lens that asks, “What does all of this mean for the presidential election?” The mass shooting in Orlando, the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom, and Democrats staging a sit-in over gun control legislation in the House of Representatives are just a few examples. Other recent political stories include Bernie Sanders’ presumed support for, yet non-endorsement of, Clinton, and Marco Rubio’s change of heart about running for reelection for his Senate seat in Florida (so that he can help block bad decisions by a President Clinton or President Trump). Add to that the latest comments from President Barack Obama or Speaker of the House Paul Ryan about the presidential campaign, and voters will find more information about the players and their strategy (how to win the White House) than substance (what happens when the “big game” is over and the new president tries to govern).

Given the media’s tendency to frame the presidential campaign as a zero-sum game that mirrors some of the biggest sports rivalries in American culture (like Lakers v. Celtics, or Yankees v. Red Sox), the strength of movements like #NeverTrump, #NeverHillary, or “Bernie or Bust” is not surprising, especially in the combative environment of social media. Nor is the record-breaking unpopularity of both major party presumed nominees. Voters looking to side with Team Clinton or Team Trump can easily find reason to cheer meaningless data points along the way if their candidate has a good day in the latest poll, fundraising numbers, or dominates news coverage with a pithy comment. On the other hand, voters looking for substantive analysis about important policy positions need to be savvy media consumers who can look beyond the day-to-day horse race coverage.

Perhaps the least surprising (though rarely reported) storyline to date has been the interest in third party candidates. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein are at 8 and 5 percent, respectively, in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls.[2] Those numbers are perhaps one of the only meaningful data points that deserve attention from not only the news media, but the Democratic and Republican parties as well. It is too early to predict how either Johnson or Stein may influence the final Electoral College result in November, but it does suggest that a four-way race to the White House may be, to use sports terminology, “The Fight of the Century.”[3]

Notes

[1] This research is in the early stages. I presented a paper with my colleague, Dr. Brian Calfano, University of Cincinnati, at the 2015 Western Political Science Association annual meeting titled “The ESPN Effect: Building Efficacy via Competition.”

[2] See national polls results at: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_clinton_vs_johnson_vs_stein-5952.html

[3] The championship boxing match between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, on March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden in New York, has been labeled “The Fight of the Century” by sports writers and historians. It was the first time that two undefeated boxers fought for the heavyweight title.

James D. Boys – Hillary Clinton: Slouching towards success?

This is a guest post by James D. Boys from Richmond University, London

After a lifetime in politics, Hillary Clinton finds herself at the threshold of greatness. The White House is tantalisingly close, yet the American people remain uncertain what to make of her. The 2016 campaign will either result in Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president of the United States, or it will undoubtedly mark the end of her political career. Though she is far ahead in the delegate count, she has yet to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination, despite the smallest, weakest field of challengers the Party may have ever known. Until she secures the nomination, she cannot turn her energies to defeating her Republican opponent in the general election. To date, the 2016 primary season has demonstrated Hillary Clinton’s continuing struggle to overcome a series of formidable obstacles that have long-plagued her time in public life.

Her steadfast determination to appear tough and resilient has ensured that she remains an enigma, removed from the lives of the American electorate. Little, it seems, has been as important to Hillary Clinton as portraying a sense of control, either real or imagined throughout the course of her life. All things considered, this is perhaps not surprising. Raised by a cold and distant father, and married to the world’s most famous unfaithful husband, it is little wonder that Hillary Clinton appears to have created a seemingly perfect public persona that few can penetrate. In an era in which the American electorate has routinely demonstrated a propensity to elect presidents they would choose to share a beer with, however, her struggle to project personal warmth is a serious impediment to her election.

A fundamental challenge also exists in regard to Hillary Clinton’s liberal credentials. For many in her party, the New Democrat policies that she and her husband adopted in the 1990s was as unpopular as the New Labour project was with socialists in the UK; it felt like a betrayal of the party principles in a (successful) bid to gain power. Having been out of power for 12 years in 1992, the Democratic Party was inclined to accept such an approach. In 2016, having been in power for the last 8 years, this is no longer the case and explains, in part, why many members of the Democratic Party hanker after a candidate further to the left of the political spectrum. The self-described socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, who no one expected to be any serious threat to Hillary Clinton, has defeated her in key battleground states and has repeatedly drawn tens of thousands to rallies across the country as he advocates an approach very different from that being offered by the Clinton campaign. Although he is now mathematically incapable of winning the nomination, his remarkable efforts have drawn Hillary Clinton to the left of the political spectrum in order to gain her party’s nomination, which will force her to reposition herself once again for the general election in the autumn.

Once she secures the Democratic Party’s nomination, can she win the presidency? A key determining factor will be Hillary Clinton’s continuing capacity to adapt and change. In 2008 she was determined to run on the basis of being the best-qualified candidate and was adamant that gender play no part in her campaign.  ‘I am not running as a woman,’ she told supporters at the Iowa State Fair in July 2007, ‘I am running because I believe I am the best-qualified and experienced person.’ This was perfectly encapsulated in her campaign advert that asked who Americans wanted to answer an emergency call at 3am. In seeking to pass the commander-in-chief test, however, Hillary Clinton appeared to be content to jettison her femininity and unique appeal to 51% of Americans. It was clear that her campaign took far too long to recognise that it had missed an opportunity to make Hillary Clinton’s candidacy about more than her, and to position it as an historic chance to break the gender lock on the Oval Office. Hillary Clinton appears far more content to utilise the gender issue if it will help secure victory in 2016, insisting that whatever her age, she would be ‘the youngest woman president in the history of the United Sates.’

Hillary Clinton has successfully maximised the financial opportunities that have accompanied her celebrity and political power in the United States. However, her highly publicised lecture fees and book royalties have elevated her income and personal net worth into the stratosphere, beyond the wildest imagination of most Americans. Her wealth is compounded by the amount of time she has spent in the public arena. When Bill Clinton first appeared on the national stage in 1992 he was relatively unknown and could introduce himself to the American public, to whom he was a virtual blank canvas. In the subsequent quarter century, however, the Clintons have rarely been out of the American eye, complicating efforts to present a ‘new’ Hillary Clinton to voters in 2016. Indeed, Hillary Clinton has been omnipresent since 1992, through 8 years of her husband’s administration, 8 years in the Senate, a presidential campaign in 2008 and 4 high profile years as Secretary of State. First time voters in 2016 will have never known an American political landscape that didn’t include Hillary Clinton in one role or another, as she has become part of the establishment. Such a situation presents a challenge to her campaign, eager to portray her as a progressive candidate for change.

If elected in November 2016, Hillary would be 69 when she takes the oath of office in January 2017, making her America’s second oldest president; only Ronald Reagan will have been older. The Baby Boomer generation that Hillary Clinton represents is now retiring as the Millennial Generation comes to the fore. The fact that Bernie Sanders has managed to tap into the frustrations of the youth vote is an indication of Hillary Clinton’s status as a member of the establishment, rather than of a reform movement. The experience that she has gained since she last ran has actually proven to be a handicap for her as she seeks to project a readiness to lead, with a vitality that connects her to a youthful demographic. It is a circle she has thus far failed to square.

For all of the talk about personality, politics and policy, however, the presidential election is all about electoral mathematics. All considerations must be geared towards securing the 270 Electoral College votes that will secure the White House. Any electoral calculations, therefore, must address the state-by-state approach that the United States adopts on Election Day, for there is no national poll, but rather 50 individual polls that will provide a victor. The popular vote would be nice, but it is the Electoral College that will decide the election, as Al Gore discovered in 2000.

The Republicans have only won the popular vote in a presidential election once since 1988, ensuring that the Democrats have secured the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections and won 5 of the last 7 presidential contests. The national demographics appear to point to a Democratic victory irrespective of the party candidate, however, with Hillary Clinton’s unique appeal, such a result appears all the more likely. The route to electoral victory will need to ensure that Hillary Clinton retains the overwhelming ethnic minority support that secured Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House and build upon the large female vote that she secured in the 2008 primaries, but which Obama failed to secure in 2012. Such a combination of Latinos, African Americans and women, as well as the usual percentage of white men who would be expected to vote Democrat, should be sufficient to capture the White House in 2016 and propel Hillary Clinton into the history books as the first female president of the United States.

Dr James D. Boys is an Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University, London and is the author of Clinton’s Grand Strategy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015) and Hillary Rising (Biteback, 2016). He maintains a website at www.jamesdboys.com and tweets at @jamesdboys

US – Can Donald Trump Win the Presidency?

I count myself among the legions of political scientists, pundits, and other so-called experts that got it wrong about Donald Trump’s candidacy for the Republican nomination. When he first announced that he was running for president last June, especially in such a crowded field of Republican contenders, I thought that when serious campaigning got underway, the Trump candidacy would fade. Like so many others, I also thought that each subsequent gaffe would surely end his candidacy. Despite the overwhelming media attention, I was skeptical that Trump could turn the hypothetical support he enjoyed in poll after poll throughout the fall into real support from voters. But after losing the Iowa Caucuses to Ted Cruz, Trump did just that with victories in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and many subsequent states along the way to becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.

In defense of my profession, while political scientists like analyzing numbers, the credibility of polling in recent years has taken a beating. There are now more polls than ever before, but fewer reliable ones. Reliance on cell phones has made polling more difficult, more time consuming, and much more expensive, to achieve a true random sample through random digit dialing. The Federal Communications Commission forbids automatic dialing of cell phones, and as a result, response rates have fallen dramatically. National polls are also meaningless, despite the continual media coverage, since Americans do not elect presidents nor nominate presidential candidates nationally. Many of the state polls last fall that placed Trump and Ben Carson at the top of the GOP race had small sample sizes (around 400, as opposed to the more reliable sample size of 1,000) and would include “registered” or “lean Republican” voters as opposed to “likely” voters. The latter provides the most valid sample, though last fall was still too early to have an accurate read on who was likely to vote. Several polling organizations have gotten big political stories wrong of late, including the extent of the Republican victory in the 2014 midterm elections, recent elections in both Great Britain and Israel, as well as Gallup’s prediction on Election Day 2012 that had Mitt Romney winning the popular vote over Barack Obama 49-48 percent (while Obama won the actual popular vote 51-47 percent).

Presidency scholars like myself also like to rely on historical precedents when analyzing potential election outcomes. Dwight Eisenhower was the last political outsider to be elected president, though while he had never held nor ran for a political office, being a five-star general who served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II gave him tremendous credibility with voters in 1952. And while several “outsider” candidates have sought the presidency since then, the most notable success belongs to Texas businessman H. Ross Perot, whose independent campaign in 1992 garnered him 19 percent of the popular vote (though zero Electoral College votes).

To say that Trump has re-written many of the rules of presidential campaigns this past year would be an understatement. And now that Trump has proven so many of us wrong with his success in becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, the question is whether Trump can extend his winning streak to capture the White House in November. I recently told students in my Media and Politics course that I am officially out of the prediction business, but I offer this perspective as a political scientist on how Trump can win, and why many who say that Hillary Clinton (if she is, indeed, the Democratic nominee) will easily win in November might be wrong.

First, one of the most important tasks for Trump (or any nominee) is to unify the party before, during, and after the national convention. Despite the #NeverTrump movement, Trump’s bombastic style of campaigning, or the sometimes brutal way in which Trump went after his political opponents, one important fact remains—by early May, it was the Republican Party that had wrapped up its nomination contest. The Democrats, it seems, won’t have a final answer until June 7th, when California, New Jersey, and a handful of smaller states vote. One year ago, no one would have predicted this outcome, as Clinton was supposed to easily defeat Sanders and any other competitor for the Democratic nomination, and the large Republican field was supposed to battle it out until the last contest or even into the convention. Instead, Trump and the Republican Party have already shifted to focus on the general election, while Sanders keeps his slim hopes alive by continuing to beat Clinton in primary contests (like his win last week in Oregon, or the virtual tie in Kentucky due to the proportional allocation of delegates).

Second, as the momentum and enthusiasm for the Sanders campaign continues, so too does the overlap on key issues important to both Sanders and Trump supporters. Assuming Clinton will eventually win the Democratic nomination, the question remains, what will Sanders supporters do? Clinton has not generated enthusiasm among progressives, and Sanders’ anti-establishment message often hits the same points as Trump’s message: Creating better paying jobs, getting big money out of politics, ending corporate welfare and crony capitalism, and ending unfair trade deals. Whether Trump can co-opt any of this support remains to be seen, though the dissatisfaction with the Democratic establishment among Sanders supporters is palpable, as witnessed last Tuesday during a large Sanders rally in Southern California when the mere mention of the Democratic Party set off a loud round of boos from the crowd.

Third, Trump has promised to put new states in play this fall, shaking up the traditional red-blue divide of the Electoral College. Again, time will tell if that can happen. The so-called Rust Belt states will loom large, including Ohio and Pennsylvania. While Pennsylvania has not gone Republican since 1988, Nate Silver just last week identified it as the “tipping point state,” which means he predicts it to be “the state that provides the presidential winner his or her 270th electoral vote when all the states are rank-ordered by his or her highest to lowest margin of victory.” (See the article here: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/pennsylvania-could-be-an-electoral-tipping-point/). Much has already been made about Trump’s support among white, working-class men, and higher turnout among this demographic can help to offset the expected gender gap that Trump will face with women.

Finally, the most prominent theme of this campaign to date has been voter anger against the Washington establishment and political insiders. It is still too early to tell whether or not Trump can continue to turn that anger into votes come November. Yet, one of Clinton’s greatest weaknesses as a candidate is her Washington insider status as the former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, and Secretary of State. The narrative of electing the first woman president is often lost among any number of more interesting story lines that have emerged from this campaign. While Trump wants to “Make American Great Again!” and Clinton wants voters to proclaim “I’m With Her,” perhaps the best slogan to describe the presidential race in 2016 is simply, “Anything Can Happen.”