Over the weekend, I had a conversation with a long-time friend, who shares many of my political beliefs, but was far less optimistic than I am about the potential outcome of the presidential election. So, I thought I’d elaborate on the metric I use to assess my ‘comfort level’.
I visit several polling-aggregation sites, and ask the question: “How wrong would they have to be in order for Donald Trump to win?” I’ll walk through the process for RealClearPolitics, a site whose editorial slant is right-of-center, but which does a good job of amassing polling data and being transparent about how they’re using it.
RealClearPolitics publishes an electoral college map in which they’ve assigned each state as a “Clinton” state, a “Trump” state, or a “Tossup” state, but for every state, including the tossup states, there is a link where you can see how they see the race in that state. For example, as of today (August 4), RCP has 158 electoral votes in the Tossup category, including my home state of Virginia. But if you click on the link for Virginia, you’ll see that they have Hillary Clinton ahead in that state by 5.3 points.
Of the tossup states, Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Virginia are all Clinton +5.3 or better, and total 46 electoral votes, which when added to the 226 electoral votes RCP already has assigned to Clinton, would be enough to put her over the top. In other words, the country could shift rightward by 5.3 points between now (or, technically, what RCP sees as “now”) and November and Donald Trump would still lose the election. Compare this to the 2012 election results, which were 2.4 points to the left of RCP’s assessment, and I’m feeling pretty good about the presidential race.
It’s also one reason why I have little tolerance for the wailing and gnashing of teeth over third-party “spoilers”, and phony shibboleths like “A vote for Stein is a vote for Trump”. Of the four states I listed above, Jill Stein has qualified for only three ballots, and is extraordinarily unlikely to siphon away 5.3 points from any candidate in any of those three states.