General Election Diary: The Cushion


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.

General Election Diary: Party vs. Ideology


So, I’m going to be posting a LOT of political stuff over the next few days.  Be forewarned, unfriend me now, whatever you have to do.

I’ve never registered with any political party (Virginia doesn’t have party registration), but my leanings are left of center — in some cases, far to the left.  As a voter, I’m a partisan for legislative races, and an ideologue for executive races.

Here’s the difference, using the House of Representatives as an example.  The bulk of the work done in a legislative body is done off the floor, in committee, where legislation is being marked up and amended.  The representative from my district serves on one of these committees (Energy and Commerce), but except for that, my vote has no direct say in the election of any of the other committee members.  I don’t get any direct say in whether Patrick Leahy or Chuck Grassley chairs the Judiciary Committee, for example.  These decisions are made on the first day of each session when each new Congress passes its organizing resolution, which is done strictly on party lines.

Accordingly, even if my district’s Congressional race pitted Republican Jesus vs. Democrat Satan (or any other extreme and offensive characterization you wish), I’d vote for Democrat Satan because in aggregate, having a vote for the organizing resolution that puts Democrats in charge of the various committees and Satan on one of those committees serves the country’s interests better than having Republicans in charge of all the committees and Jesus on just one of them.

Governors and Presidents have cabinets to advise them, but make decisions unilaterally. Since there’s no organizing resolution for these offices, I feel less bound to a single party when choosing these officers.  I’d consider a candidate of any party who closely represents my interests (but how often does that happen?)