Who will win the 2016 US presidential election? (update)

On the one hand, there’s been quite a lot of public hand-wringing lately about the narrowing of the polling gap between HRC and Mr. Trump[1][2]. On the other hand, the GJ consensus has been been 2-to-1 in favor of HRC (or the D of your choice) for more than a month. What to think? Is the GJ consensus out of alignment with the changing reality of the 2016 campaign for president? Or is the world of media overreacting?

Well, the unweighted average of polls for May still has HRC up by 3 points. Of those 20 national polls this month, HRC has won 16, Mr. Trump has won 3, and there has been 1 tie. Yet if we stick with polls that were initiated since May 15 the results are a bit different. HRC wins by an average of about 1.6 points, and she actually wins 4, losses 2, and ties once[3]. If you just look at the those who say they will vote for HRC/Mr. Trump and ignore those who are either undecided or prefer another candidate, then there are 2 percentage points between the candidates with a standard deviation of slightly less than 2 points. That…makes HRC about a 2-to-1 favorite. Well, it would if those numbers had a lot of predictive value, and they probably don’t since we’re still too far away from the election, and some claim that May polls are especially unreliable[4]. At any rate, the betting market has similar numbers[5]. So, no, my limey friends, it’s “not time to panic” just yet, if you have some hopes for HRC, the survival of western civilization, or – what the hell? – both.

A few things have gotten missed in the rush to put on sackcloth and smear our faces with ashes: First, this isn’t the first time that HRC and Mr. Trump’s numbers have converged. They were even closer (HRC>Mr. Trump by 1.2%) on September 12 of last year. They were even closer than that on December 3, 2015. None of that stopped HRC from recovering to lead by more than 11% recently. So we might be seeing something cyclical, rather than some inexorable trend toward parity (or worse) for the Clinton campaign. So that takes the a bit of the edge off the most recent changes in the polls: small advantage HRC.


Second, the nice people at vox.com point out that if you look beyond the who-will-you-vote-for polling, you begin to see data that is much friendlier to HRC. For instance, “A majority of voters (59-33) think Clinton has a better personality and temperament to serve as president”[7]. I guess the idea is that, over time, voters will change their mind about whom they will vote for, so as to align themselves with their beliefs about job qualifications, etc. “But wait,” I can hear someone say, “why not think that voters will change their minds about job qualifications, etc., to align themselves with their beliefs about who they’re going to vote for?” Good question, someone. I don’t know the answer, but it’s worth noting that HRC comes out as favorable to Mr. Trump in no less than all 10 of the questions that the Vox piece mentions. If you’re in a Quinean mood[8], you might think that economy of belief revision favors changing one belief over changing many, though of course it matters rather a lot how close those beliefs are to the center of the web: very small advantage HRC.

Third, there’s an increasing likelihood that that some Republicans will see voting for the Libertarian Party’s candidate as a viable option[9]. Gary Johnson isn’t going to move into the White House next year (unless he marries either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton). But Republicans who are justly appalled[10] by Mr. Trump’s demagogic lunacy yet don’t want to vote for a third Clinton term (or a third Obama term, slice and dice this one as you will) are likely to find some common ground on economic policy with the Libertarians. Might Democrats (or those who would otherwise vote for the Democratic Party candidate) also vote Libertarian? Some have thought so[11], but I’m blowed if I can see it. Sanders, in my opinion, is a socialist first and foremost. People of my extreme age sometimes use “socialism” as a term of abuse. Cold (War) habits die hard, I guess. But I mean this only as a descriptive term. If you’re a Democratish voter who’s attracted to Bernie because of his economic populism, you’re going to have a very rude awakening when you get a load of this little gem from the 2012 Libertarian Party platform:

A free and competitive market allocates resources in the most efficient manner. Each person has the right to offer goods and services to others on the free market. The only proper role of government in the economic realm is to protect property rights, adjudicate disputes, and provide a legal framework in which voluntary trade is protected. All efforts by government to redistribute wealth, or to control or manage trade, are improper in a free society.[12]

Now, no one is going to confuse HRC with Eugene Debs (especially since Mr. Debs died in 1926), and soaring passages in praise of HRC will not figure in Woody Guthrie’s songs (Since he died in the 60s; hell, I’m just dating myself badly), but I think Sen. Sanders’ supporters[13] can tell a hawk from a handsaw. Bernie bros and Bernie babes[14] are not going to be able to make peace with this unholy love child of Bob Nozick and Eugen Böhm von Bawerk. I conclude that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Trump are essentially playing a zero-sum game: small advantage HRC, which could become fairly large if Mr. Johnson catches on with the anti-Trump Republicans[15].

And that gets me back to more or less where I was when I started to rethink this question: A little more than a 2-to-1 advantage for HRC, though there’s a lot of room for change in the next few months. The media has (so far) been over-reacting to the latest polls.


[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/25/us/politics/trump-electoral-map.html

[3] Data taken from http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/2016-general-election-trump-vs-clinton

[4] http://election.princeton.edu/2016/05/22/february-national-polls-are-the-best-you-get-until-august/#more-15718

[5] https://www.betfair.com/exchange/plus/#/politics/market/1.107373419


[7] http://www.vox.com/2016/5/24/11747294/donald-trump-ahead-poll

[8] http://www.ditext.com/quine/quine.html

[9] http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/pay-attention-to-libertarian-gary-johnson-hes-pulling-10-vs-trump-and-clinton/ – Mary Matalin seemed like an early adopter (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/05/mary-matalin-registered-independent-222882) but has since tumbled down from the moral high ground because she, I guess, thinks it’s okay to have a presidential candidate who advocates torture (http://www.thenation.com/article/exactly-what-kind-of-torture-does-donald-trump-want-to-use/) and killing children (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-reiterates-desire-to-murder-terrorists-families-a6912496.html), and who thinks that global warming is a “hoax” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/24/donald-trump-calls-global-warming-a-hoax-until-it-threatens-his-golf-course/) as long as he has”attitude” and “strategic chutzpah.” Thanks a lot, Mary. You’re an early contender for the Heinrich Brüning award.

[10] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html

[11] https://alibertarianfuture.com/2016-election/five-reasons-bernie-sanders-fans-should-support-gary-johnson/

[12] https://www.lp.org/files/LP%20Platform%202012.pdf

[13] http://www.thenation.com/article/bernie-sanders-will-make-the-economy-great-again/

[14] https://www.instagram.com/babesforbernie/?hl=en

[15] I’m assuming Mr. Johnson will be the Libertarian Party nominee, but there’s a small chance it’ll be someone else.


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