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The 2016 presidential election includes at least these three storylines:
1) Democratic Win. Based on four factors: (a) Republicans have carried the popular vote only once in the last six presidential contests (Bush 2004); (b) the GOP could be in for an unwieldy nominating process — and maybe a nominee who doesn’t excite the base; (c) Democrats start the contest with 332 electoral votes in hand — well, “only” 303 if you put razor-thin Florida back in the red column; (d) assuming that nominee is Hillary Clinton, it’s as simple as widening the same gap that saved Barack Obama’s hide in 2012 (a record 20-point divide — +12 for Obama among women; +8 for Romney among men).
2) Republican Win. This is based on the following three factors: (a) with the exceptions of 1988 and 1928, a retiring president results in a new party taking over the White House; (b) in order to win, the Democratic nominee has to cobble together an Obama coalition (professional women, millennials; minorities) that so far has worked for candidates only named . . . Obama; (c) again, if the nominee is Mrs. Clinton, how does someone with nearly a quarter of a century of over-familiarity on the national stage credibly rebrand herself as an agent of change?
3) Flip A Coin. Let’s go through recent open-seat presidential elections. Obama won, by a landslide, in 2008. Bush 43 lost the popular vote, yet eked out a narrow electoral win (271-266 — with one of D.C.’s three Gore electors abstaining). Bush 41 won by a landslide in 1988, as did Reagan in 1980. Nixon won by less than 1% in 1968 (the Electoral College was a less dramatic 301-191 (George Wallace getting the other 46)). You know how 1960 turned out. As you can see, no real discernible pattern. Call it in the air: heads or tails.
Meanwhile, there’s this handy article from The National Journal explaining a difference of opinion between the chattering class inside the Beltway (believers in the first scenario — Hillary wins) and political scientists beyond the beltway who think she might be in for a struggle.
How could that be?
1) At present, she’d lose if Alan Abromowitz’s “Time for Change” model holds true. He’s an Emory University political scientist who cooked up the following formula: the incumbent’s approval rating, economic growth in the second quarter of the election year; the number of terms the candidate’s party has held the White House. Using present-day data (that means second-quarter GDP of 2.4% a year from now), Hillary gets just 48.7% of the vote. Here’s more on 2016 from Dr. Abramowitz . . .
2) Helmut Norpoth of Stony Brook University bases his model entirely on White House incumbency. As such, he gives the GOP a 65% chance of winning (word of caution: as the forecast is done a year in advance, it doesn’t take into account election-year x-factors like market downturns or acts of terrorism).
3) The Obama Coalition Giveth . . . and Taketh. Some academicians point to a possible tradeoff in Mrs. Clinton’s vote-gathering. She could gain more support among women (at least one pro-Hillary group says she bumped the women’s vote in 2014). However, she’ll be hard-pressed to maintain the same enthusiasm among minorities that worked wonders for Democrats in 2008 and 2012 — a not-so-trivial matter if, as polls have suggested, she’s already struggling with white voters.