Election 2020: Installment 2

It will be a while before there is some reliable polling about the presidential race. In the meantime, I’ll post about relevant issues, such as Trump’s popularity, the state of the economy, and the status of the COVID-19 outbreak.

POLLING

At this stage, it’s best to compare Trump’s standing against Obama’s when Obama was seeking reelection eight years ago. Trump’s relative standing has declined sharply in the past year, though it may (or may not) be on the rebound:


Derived from Rasmussen Reports Daily Presidential Tracking polls for Obama and Trump.

Voters’ perceptions of the state of the union is important, too. That perception has gone south with the rise of COVID-19 and domestic unrest. It may be irrational to blame an incumbent for matters beyond his control, but that’s what a lot of voters do. And Obama, by contrast, went into the election of 2012 with a rising tide to good feeling to buoy him.


Derived from Rasmussen Reports Right Direction/Wrong Track poll.

Trump’s numbers, by election day, will depend in large part on the perceived state of the economy. A robust turnaround will help him. A weak turnaround or new dip will hurt him.

STATE OF THE ECONOMY

The employment numbers are still bad, despite a sharp turnaround. The following graph shows the real vs. nominal unemployment rate (method explained here):

Uncertainty about COVID-19 and the state of the union has put a damper on investor’s resurgent optimism about the future of the economy:

COVID-19

Much attention is being give to the resurgence of confirmed COVID-19 cases; less is being given to the continued decline in the rate at which COVID-19 is producing deaths nationwide. Inasmuch as the response to COVID-19 has become politicized, the effect of the contagion on the outcome of election 2020 will depend, in part, on which piece of news takes center stage. Generally overlooked factors are the relative rarity of COVID-19 and the greater rarity of deaths caused by it. The following graphs sum it up:



Based on statistics recorded here. The projection of deaths is based on the rate at which deaths have declined since the peak rate on April 21, 2020.

Election 2020: Installment 1

I was right about Election 2016. Now I’ll start posting regularly about Election 2020. It will be a while before there is some reliable polling about the presidential race. In the meantime, I’ll post about relevant issues, such as Trump’s popularity, the state of the economy, and the retreat of the COVID-19 outbreak.

There’s good news and bad news in this post. Whether the good news is good and the bad news is bad depends on whether you prefer Trump to Biden (or his replacement).

One piece of good news for Trump is the decided drop in the rate at which COVID-19 cases and deaths are occurring (if you believe the official numbers). Here are my tallies, averaged over 7 days to smooth over delays in reporting:

It’s too soon to know whether the curves will ascend again (or ascend significantly, if they do) as a result of “reopening”, which began in earnest over the Memorial Day weekend. Stay tuned.

Two pieces of very bad news for Trump are the sharp declines in (a) his popularity (as measured by an unbiased pollster, Rasmussen Reports) and (b) Americans’ view of the state of the nation (also as measured by Rasmussen).

This is worrying (or not) because it reflects sharply declining poll numbers for Trump, as against rising poll numbers for Obama at this stage 8 years ago:

And this is worrying (or not) because voters’ assessment of the state of the nation is well below where it was when Obama was reelected:

A piece of provisional good news is the possibility (to which I subscribe) of a quick turnaround in the economy. But don’t take my word for it. Consider this:

In early April, Jason Furman, a top economist in the Obama administration and now a professor at Harvard, was speaking via Zoom to a large bipartisan group of top officials from both parties. The economy had just been shut down, unemployment was spiking and some policymakers were predicting an era worse than the Great Depression. The economic carnage seemed likely to doom President Donald Trump’s chances at reelection.

Furman, tapped to give the opening presentation, looked into his screen of poorly lit boxes of frightened wonks and made a startling claim.

“We are about to see the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country,” he said….

“Everyone looked puzzled and thought I had misspoken,” Furman said in an interview. Instead of forecasting a prolonged Depression-level economic catastrophe, Furman laid out a detailed case for why the months preceding the November election could offer Trump the chance to brag — truthfully — about the most explosive monthly employment numbers and gross domestic product growth ever.

Since the Zoom call, Furman has been making the same case to anyone who will listen, especially the close-knit network of Democratic wonks who have traversed the Clinton and Obama administrations together, including top members of the Biden campaign.

Furman’s counterintuitive pitch has caused some Democrats, especially Obama alumni, around Washington to panic. “This is my big worry,” said a former Obama White House official who is still close to the former president. Asked about the level of concern among top party officials, he said, “It’s high — high, high, high, high.”…

Furman’s case begins with the premise that the 2020 pandemic-triggered economic collapse is categorically different than the Great Depression or the Great Recession, which both had slow, grinding recoveries.

Instead, he believes, the way to think about the current economic drop-off, at least in the first two phases, is more like what happens to a thriving economy during and after a natural disaster: a quick and steep decline in economic activity followed by a quick and steep rebound….

Furman’s argument is not that different from the one made by White House economic advisers and Trump, who have predicted an explosive third quarter, and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who said in late April that “the hope is that by July the country’s really rocking again.” White House officials were thrilled to hear that some of their views have been endorsed by prominent Democrats.

“I totally agree,” Larry Kudlow, head of the White House National Economic Council, replied in a text message when asked about Furman’s analysis. “Q3 may be the single best GDP quarter since regular data. 2nd half super big growth, transitioning to 4% or more in 2021.” He called Furman, whom he said he knows well, “usually a straight shooter. Hats off to him.”

“I have been saying that on TV as well,” said Kevin Hassett, a top Trump economic adviser, who pointed to a Congressional Budget Office analysis predicting a 21.5 percent annualized growth rate in the third quarter. “If CBO is correct we will see the strongest quarter in history after the weakest in Q2.”

Peter Navarro, a Trump trade and manufacturing adviser who’s a Harvard-educated economist, called the high unemployment America is currently facing “manufactured unemployment, which is to say that Americans are out of work not because of any underlying economic weaknesses but to save American lives. It is this observation that gives us the best chance and hope for a relatively rapid recovery as the economy reopens.”…

[A] former Obama White House official said, “Even today when we are at over 20 million unemployed Trump gets high marks on the economy, so I can’t imagine what it looks like when things go in the other direction. I don’t think this is a challenge for the Biden campaign. This is the challenge for the Biden campaign. If they can’t figure this out they should all just go home.”…

Between now and Election Day, there will be five monthly jobs reports, which are released on the first Friday of every month. The June report, covering May, is likely to show another increase in unemployment. But after that, Furman predicts, if reopening continues apace, the next four reports could be blockbusters. “You could easily have 1 to 2 million jobs created a month in those four reports before November,” he said.

He added, “And then toward the end of October, we will get GDP growth for the third quarter, at an annualized rate, and it could be double-digit positive economic growth. So these will be the best jobs and growth numbers ever.”…

Furman is an economist, but he had some strategic advice for the Biden campaign. “Don’t make predictions that could be falsified. There are enough terrible things to say you don’t need to make exaggerated predictions,” he said. “The argument that we are in another Great Depression will look like it was overstated. Trump can say, ‘Two million deaths didn’t happen, Great Depression didn’t happen, we are making a lot of progress.’”

The stock market reflects Furman’s (and my) assessment:

Give them jobs and their hearts, minds, and votes will follow.


Related posts:

Is a Perfect Electoral Storm Brewing?
“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

Is a Perfect Electoral Storm Brewing?

The storm that I have in mind is one that sweeps the board for the GOP in November. What might its ingredients be? Here’s my non-exhaustive list:

THE ECONOMY

An economic recovery that is largely limited to States governed by Republicans, while States controlled by Democrats continue to flounder.

OR

A quick, nationwide economic recovery, including a stock-market rally and the rehiring of millions of workers.

DEMOCRAT POLITICS

Solid evidence supporting Tara Reade’s claims about Joe Biden.

AND/OR

A rancorous Democrat convention which, at least, leaves Biden badly damaged and results in the abstention of Bernie supporters in November, and which saddles Biden with a VP candidate who will drive away independent voters (e.g., Stacey Abrams).

OR

A pre-convention deal that allows Biden to withdraw gracefully (though not without shame) and substitutes a more dynamic and less tainted candidate who has his own baggage (e.g., Cuomo and his failure to protect nursing homes from COVID-19).

SPYGATE (A.K.A. RUSSIAGATE)

The indictment of senior officials (e.g., John Brennan, Susan Rice, James Comey) of the Obama administration on charges related to Spygate (e.g., obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, filing false claims with the FISA court, perjury).

AND A CLINCHER

The inclusion of a thinly disguised Barack Obama as an “unnamed” conspirator in the indictment.

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

The collapse of Iran’s regime.

AND/OR

An attempt by Iran’s regime to disrupt the flow of oil from the Middle East that is met with prompt, devastating, and decisive action by the U.S.

AND/OR

The death or overthrow of Kim.

AND/OR

Conclusive evidence of China’s malfeasance in the COVID-19 pandemic.

There must be a lot more, but that will do for a start.

 

Trump’s Polling and Re-election Watch

The bottom line of this post is an an assessment of the prospects for Trump’s re-election, which have declined markedly since coronavirus began to do real damage to the economy.

To reach that assessment, I review Trump’s poll numbers and the economic outlook as reflected in the stock market. I derive the poll numbers from a reliable source: Rasmussen Reports:

Polling

Trump’s approval ratings have dropped steadily in the past 8 weeks:

FIGURE 1

Derived from Rasmussen Reports approval ratings for Trump.

Trump’s standing, relative to Obama’s, has slipped considerably:

FIGURE 2

Derived from Rasmussen Reports approval ratings for Obama and Trump.

Trump’s slippage is also obvious in a straightforward comparison of strong-approval ratings, averaged over 7 days. It is now almost as low as Obama’s was at this stage 8 years ago, when Obama’s was holding steady before a sharp pre-election rise:

FIGURE 3

Source: Same as figure 2.

I also compute an enthusiasm ratio, which is the 7-day average of the following ratio: the fraction of likely voters expressing strong approval divided by the fraction of likely voters responding. The same pattern is evident in that ratio:

FIGURE 4

Source: Same as figure 2.

Every week since the first inauguration of Obama, Rasmussen Reports has asked 2,500 likely voters whether they see the country as going in the right direction or being on the wrong track. Figure 5 shows the ratios of right direction/wrong track for Trump and Obama. Here, again, the mood of the voters has turned starkly gloomy, a bad sign for Trump:

FIGURE 5

Source: Rasmussen Reports, “Right Direction or Wrong Track“.

Economic Outlook

Meanwhile, despite the largest quarter-to-quarter decline in real GDP (-4.8 percent) since the crash of 2008, the stock market has begun a tentative recovery from a steep decline:

FIGURE 6

Re-election Watch

Minuses:

Trump’s popularity, relative to Obama’s 8 years ago, is in decline. (See figure 2.)

Trump’s hard-core support is also declining. (See figures 3 and 4.)

Voters currently have a much gloomier view of the state of the nation than they did when Obama was re-elected. (See figure 5.)

Potential pluses:

The tentative stock-market recovery (Figure 6) may signal an economic recovery, which could lead to a recovery in Trump’s popularity.

The possibility that U.S. Attorney John Durham’s criminal investigation of the origins of Spygate will yield revelations damaging to Democrats.

Stay tuned.

The Impeachment Effect: A Final(?) Report

The following graph depicts Trump’s approval ratings, according to Rasmussen Reports, since the onset of the failed effort to remove Trump from office by impeachment and trial:

Rasmussen’s polling method covers all respondents (a sample of likely voters) over a span of three days. The gaps represent weekends, when Rasmussen doesn’t publish the results of the presidential approval poll.

The Washington Post broke the story on September 20 about Trump’s July 25 phone conversation with the president of Ukraine. Thus the results for September 16 through September 20 didn’t reflect the effects of the story on the views of Rasmussen’s respondents. Trump’s approval ratings continued to rise after September 20, and peaked on September 24, the day on which the House officially initiated an impeachment inquiry. Trump’s approval ratings bottomed on October 25 but since then — despite much sound and fury, culminating in articles of impeachment and acquittal by the Senate —  they have returned to where they were on September 16, given the range of error advertised by Rasmussen (±2.5 percentage points with a 95-percent level of confidence.).

If the impeachment effort had any effect, it was to strengthen allegiance to Trump among the kind of voter who put him in office in the first place — the person who sees the Democrat party as the enemy of real people. It is far too soon to say that Trump’s re-election is assured. But it isn’t too soon to say that the impeachment effort made it more likely.

2020 Vision (II)

I made a bold prediction in “2020 Vision“:

  • Trump holds Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
  • He adds Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Hampshire.
  • Of the usually Red States that are sliding toward the Blue column — Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas — he loses only Arizona.

Bottom line, 318 electoral votes, and possibly even a majority of the fictitious “national” popular vote.

I will now temper that prediction by pointing out (unnecessarily) that the GOP candidate (probably Trump) will have a higher hill to climb than the Democrat candidate.

Here’s how the 2020 electoral vote looks to me, at the moment: solid Democrat, 235; solid Republican, 132; in play, 171. I am still confident that Trump (or his successor) can win in 2020 — the “Blue Wall” is a myth. But victory won’t come as easily as my earlier post implied.

The States in play in 2020 (and the number of electoral votes for each) are:

Florida (29)
Georgia (16)
Maine (4)
Michigan (16)
Minnesota (10)
Nevada (6)
New Hampshire (4)
Ohio (18)
Pennsylvania (20)
Texas (38)
Wisconsin (10)

Visually (with blue for Republican, red for Democrat, and purple for in play):


Adapted from the electoral map for 2016 at Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Leip uses blue for Republican and red for Democrat.

2020 Vision

Trump confounded most expectations in 2016 by taking Florida, Iowa, and Ohio — all Blue since 2004 — and nudging two long-time Blue States — Michigan and Pennsylvania — into the Red column.

What about 2020? A lot of water will flow under the bridge and over the dam in the next two years, but at the moment I see it this way:

  • Trump holds Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
  • He adds Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Hampshire.
  • Of the usually Red States that are sliding toward the Blue column — Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas — he loses only Arizona.

Bottom line, 318 electoral votes, and possibly even a majority of the fictitious “national” popular vote.

What Blue Wave?

Are Democrat spinmeisters or the mainstream media (pardon the redundancy) correct in believing that Roy Moore’s loss in Alabama means that 2018 will see a “Blue Wave”, in which Democrats retake one or both houses of Congress? Wasn’t Moore’s loss a continuation of the Dems’ “stunning” sweep of statewide offices in Virginia? Doesn’t all of that portend a repudiation of Trump in 2020?

The answers are “no”, “no”, and “no”. Moore’s loss was a one-off event that had everything to do with Roy Moore and nothing to do with the political leanings of Alabamans. It is ludicrous to believe that Alabama has suddenly become a Purple State when Trump’s 64-percent share of the two-party vote surpassed the share received by any GOP candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972.

It is similarly ludicrous to believe anything about the elections in Virginia other than their consistency with that State’s burgeoning blueness. Bush II, for example, took 54 percent of Virginia’s two-party vote in 2000 and 2004, but McCain, Romney, and Trump won only 47-48 percent in 2008-2016. The Old Dominion is increasingly dominated by the rapidly growing cities and counties of Northern Virginia that are political appendages to Washington DC. (The same is true of Maryland and its rapidly growing appendages to DC.)

The 2018 elections will hinge manly on how voters feel about what the GOP-controlled Congress has done for them. And by election day 2018, most of them will be feeling a lot better because the government is taking a lot less from their paychecks. Continued revival of the economy will also help to buoy voters’ spirits. Unless something very bad happens between now and election day, a pro-incumbent mood will sweep most of the land. There will be exceptions, of course, as this or that Representative or Senator is exposed as a philanderer, swindler, or something else unseemly. But those exceptions tend to affect Democrats just as much as Republicans.

What is actually happening, in the grand scheme of things?

A naive forecast of the 2016 presidential election, based on State-by-State trends between 2008 and 2012, produces 245 electoral votes for Trump. The naive forecast doesn’t predict a Trump win in any State that he lost. Moreover, it under-predicts the extent of the pro-GOP movement in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — States that Trump won, and the electoral votes of which put Trump over the top.

A naive forecast of the 2020 outcome,  based on State-by-State trends from 2008 through 2016, produces 329 electoral votes for the GOP candidate. Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania will be joined by Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Hampshire as Red States.

As an old saying (of mine) goes, trends are made to be broken. But the betting here is that the 2018 and 2020 elections are the Republicans’ to lose.

Speaking of trends, here are some relevant graphs:

The first graph covers 10 States that were Red in 2000 and have led the way in becoming Redder since then. Note that all 10 have rebounded from the Obama effect in 2008, which was the occasion of temporary insanity among many voters who usually pull the lever for GOP candidates.

The second graph covers the 10 States that have led the way in turning Blue or Bluer since 2000. You will note that even among some of these States Obama-mania shows signs of wearing off. Only California and DC seem determined to plunge deeper into political madness.

California, by the way, more than accounts for Clinton’s popular-vote “victory” over Trump. (Clinton won California by 4.3 million votes, as against her meaningless nationwide margin of 2.9 million votes.) This is further proof, if proof were needed, of the Framers’ wisdom in creating the Electoral College. It is also a big point in favor of my fearless forecast for 2020.


Related posts:
“Blue Wall” Hype
Polarization and De-facto Partition
The Midwest Is a State of Mind

How to Forecast the National Elections in 2020

UPDATED 11/20/16 (to incorporate latest results of Election 2016)

My algorithms, adjusted for the results of 2016’s general elections, are given in the following graphs. The gray lines mark the upper and lower bounds of the 95-percent confidence intervals around each of the regression lines.

election-algorithms-electoral-votes

Before this year’s election, there was a slight Republican advantage; that is, a GOP candidate could expect to win slightly more than 50 percent of the electoral vote with slightly less than 50 percent of the popular vote. That edge was due mainly to George W. Bush’s narrow win in 2000 (a bare majority of electoral votes based on 49.7 percent of the two-party popular vote). Trump’s victory — 57 percent of electoral votes with 48.9 percent of the two-party popular popular vote — pushed the regression line upward and to the left.

Next, the House of Representatives:

election-algorithms-house-seats

In the graph above, the unlabeled point just below the point for 2000 is the result for 2016. (Excel refused to add the label — perhaps reflecting the politics of Microsoft.) The fairly wide range of uncertainty around the regression line (plus or minus 7 percent) supports the old saw that all politics are local.

The graph below shows a similar range of uncertainty about the results of Senate races, which — if anything — are more idiosyncratic than House races.

election-algorithms-senate-seats

All of the algorithms are cast in terms of Republican shares of electoral votes and changes in the numbers of seats held by Republicans. If you’re interested in Democrats, just estimate the numbers for Republicans and then do the appropriate conversions. Here are some examples:

  • If you estimate or guess that the Republican candidate will win 55 percent of the two-party popular vote, it’s a good bet that he will win somewhere around 78 percent of electoral votes (from the equation in the first graph).  That’s 420 electoral votes (0.78 x 538) for the Republican, leaving 118 for the Democrat (538 – 420).
  • If the Republican candidate gets 55 percent of the two-party popular vote, the GOP will add about 2.3 percent to the number of House seats that it holds (from the equation in the second graph). If the GOP starts with 240 seats, that number will rise by 5 (after rounding) to 245, leaving 190 for the Democrats (435 – 245).
  • A Republican gain of 2.3 percent in the House means approximately no gain in the Senate (from the equation in the third graph). If the GOP starts with 52 of the 100 Senate seats, it keeps that number, leaving 48 for Democrats (including “independents” who caucus with Democrats).

Those are baseline estimates, around which there’s some degree of uncertainty, which you can estimate by referring to the gray lines that delineate the 95-percent confidence intervals.

The biggest hurdle is coming up with a reasonable estimate of the GOP candidate’s share of the two-party popular vote, that is, the GOP share divided by the GOP share plus the Democrat share. (It is this share, rather than share of total popular vote, which yields the best estimate of electoral-vote share.)

You can pull a number out of the air. You can go with your favorite poll. Or you can go with an aggregation of polls, such as the aggregations at FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics. I did it with several polls and aggregations of polls this year. Here’s my method for using FiveThirtyEight:

Start tracking the polling results around August 1, or after the major-party conventions and related “bounces.” In the case of FiveThirtyEight, follow the link and scroll down to “How the forecast has changed” and select “Popular vote.” By hovering your cursor over the graphic, you’ll get daily estimates of the popular-vote shares of the Republican and Democrat candidates and the leading third-party candidate, if there is one. This year, FiveThiryEight kept tabs on Gary Johnson’s poll numbers.

Set up an Excel spreadsheet and keep a daily tally of the numbers posted for each candidate. While you’re at it, also keep track of “other” by finding the difference between the totals for the named candidates and 100 percent. This year, that meant subtracting the Clinton, Trump, and Johnson shares from 100 percent.

Also compute the daily spread between the Democrat and Republican candidate. For the sake of this illustration, I’ll use a Republican minus Democrat (R-D) spread.

When you have enough observations — 15 or 20, say — run an Excel regression with R-D as the dependent variable. The explanatory variable(s) is (are) the shares going to candidate(s) other than the Democrat or Republican. This yields an estimate of how the R-D spread changes as voter shift away or toward from other choices. It’s a way of finding “shy” voters who don’t want to admit that they favor one of the major candidates, and it’s a way of detecting which major candidate stands to gain (or lose) the most as undecided voters make up their minds.

This year, I was able to use two explanatory variables: Johnson’s share (as reported by FiveThirtyEight) and the share for “other” (computed by subtracting the Clinton, Trump, and Johnson shares from 100 percent). If there’s no major third-party candidate, the only explanatory variable will be the share going to “other.”

How do you know what values to enter for the shares of the third-party and/or other candidates? Create a graph of the daily share(s) and add trend line(s) to it, projecting them out to election day. You can then choose the projected value(s) on election day, the most recent value(s), or your best guess(es).

The regression yields an estimate of the R-D spread, as a function of the explanatory variable(s). Divide the resulting estimate of the R-D spread by 2 and add the result to 50 percent (or subtract it from 50 percent if it’s negative), which gives the Republican candidate’s projected share of the two-party vote.

Keep updating the poll numbers, running the regressions, and plugging in your estimates of the values of the explanatory variable(s) until you’re confident of your results. I wasn’t confident until the day before election day because of the late shifts in polling results due to the FBI’s on-again, off-again investigation of Clinton’s e-mails.

In the end, because there’s statistical uncertainty about the relationships, you’ll have to make some judgment calls based on your knowledge of particular aspects of the election; for example:

  • whether the incumbents in some key Senate races are especially vulnerable
  • whether a popular presidential candidate is likely to have “coattails” that will help to swing a lot of House races
  • whether a presidential candidate is likely to do worse than normal because she (I’m thinking of Clinton) is generally viewed unfavorably.

Got it? If not, leave a comment or e-mail me (instructions in the sidebar), and I try to make it clearer.