Why bother to read news about the 2016 presidential election?

The media seems to be gearing up to get excited about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Pew Research, however, shows that 48 percent of Americans are Democrats and just 39 percent Republican. If we assume that those who aren’t affiliated are roughly equally likely to vote for either party, we should be able to predict the result of the 2016 election: 54 percent Democrat; 45 percent Republican; 1 percent Other. (For comparison, the 2012 election was 51/47/2.)

Learning about Republican candidates would seem to be completely pointless. If there were some serious primary challenger to Hillary Clinton perhaps that would be worth studying, but after the primaries the election should be essentially over.

If the above analysis is correct why do people bother watching TV or reading news articles on this subject?

20 thoughts on “Why bother to read news about the 2016 presidential election?

  1. This is a really strange post. You do realize there is a sizeable percentage of people who are registered Democratic but consistently vote Republican in presidential elections? They are often older people who registered when the parties aligned somewhat differently and didn’t bother to change their registration, or people who live in areas where the Democrats still monopolize local offices, and it makes sense to keep the registration and the ability to vote in the primaries.

    There were more of these people in the past, but then they had a bigger impact. The Republicans won five out of the six Presidential elections between 1968 and 1988, when the Democratic partisan advantage in these polls was much greater. Two of these presidential victories were landslide. Before the Democratic landslide presidential win in 1964, one election was essentially a tie in the popular vote, and the previous two were also Republican wins, one also by a landslide.

    Since the Cold War ended, presidential voting patterns, partisan identification, and down-ballot races have tended to converge as the conservative Democrats have been dying off, so the Democrats are more competitive in presidential elections and much less in down-ballot races. But the end result is a small Republican advantage in any given election.

  2. The above analysis is not correct for at least three reasons:

    “If we assume that those who aren’t affiliated are roughly equally likely to vote for either party,”
    (1) On election day, non-affiliated independents tend to break as a clear majority for one way or the other. Independents rarely split 50/50. In some elections, they’ve leaned heavily to one side or the other.

    (2) The analysis also incorrectly assumes that those who IDENTIFY as Democrats and Republicans VOTE in equal numbers. In 2004, GW Bush won in large part because Republican turnout was considerably higher than Democratic turnout. It depends largely on who is motivated more that year.

    (3) The analysis further incorrectly assumes that all Democrats vote as Democrats. Although their numbers have fallen, there are still many rural and southern “Democrats” who vote Republican in national elections.

    More important than party identification per se, are socio-demographic shifts. Voters under 30 overall are very socially liberal. Latinos turned-off by the Republican’s anti-immigrant rhetoric have broken heavily for Democratic presidential candidates, too. ( Older white male voters are now heavily Republican, but they are also a shrinking demographic).

    These were both traditionally “independent” voters, who provided Obama with the winning margin. It’s no mistake that Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are consciously trying to “moderate” for these groups.

  3. Democrat registrations have exceeded Republican ones for a long time, and yet the only Democrat presidential candidates to win popular majorities before Obama in my lifetime were LBJ and Carter.

    A lot of people have been disappointed with the Obama administration for a lot of different reasons. That Hope and Change stuff might not work so well in 2016.

  4. The Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, so I think Philip is right. However not all votes have the same value. It could be that because of geographic differences Republican votes count more. And there is always Florida… As Stalin once said: “It is not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes.”

  5. The Democrats did not win a majority of the popular vote in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004. Clinton won on 3-way vote splits. Maybe increases in the welfare class have made elections more difficult for Republicans now, but there are a lot of people who dislike Hillary Clinton.

  6. Phil,

    Great post. It seems like you struck a nerve with your left leaning readers.
    As long as the federal government rewards sloth with more and more “assistance”
    programs, we will continue to see our society to decline (IMO) into one of Xbox playing, welfare-drawing folk whose major goal is being declared disabled and eligible for free everything.
    Inertia defined.

  7. PS
    Our ridiculous electoral rules are example A-1 of what’s wrong with presidential elections in the U.S.
    Ninty percent of the geographical U.S. wants one guy but the opponent gets elected.

  8. To add on to what George said, since World War 2 in presidential elections, Republican candidates have won popular vote majorities seven times, Democratic candidates four times. Democrats have won four popular vote pluralities to the Republicans two. But throughout this period, there has been a big Democratic registration advantage that has tended to decline over time. It had some effect on downballot elections, which has pretty much vanished, but never on the presidential vote that most people pay more attention to.

    In terms of holding actual offices, other than the presidency, Republicans have achieved a dominance that they haven’t had since the 1920s.

  9. Folks: The Pew Research article that I linked to has a chart showing party affiliations going back to 1992. It is not the case that the Democrats had this big edge prior to 2007 or so. So I don’t think that elections prior to the 2008 Presidential election are predictive except perhaps for the differential voter turnout percentages and lopsided independent votes that Easy E mentions.

    A lot of the comments above are persuasive but the Pew graph since 1992 seems even more persuasive. Wake me up when it is over!

  10. @otlanzero: That page shows that the Democrats only got 48.4% of the popular vote in 2000. And they would have won the election with another 1000 votes in Florida.

    It is commonly argued that shifts in demographics and in government dependency favor the Democrats. We will see.

  11. Republicans have majorities in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. So voter registration may not be a good predictor of the outcome of a given election. I’m a registered Democrat for only one reason, in my district the only election that matters is the Democratic primary (I was a registered Republican before moving to my current address). Elections are decided by the “undecided.”

  12. The registration figures you give are really proxies for changes in America’s demographic composition. If America in 2012 was as white as America in 1980, Romney would be the President now. Non-white voters don’t bother showing up for non-Presidential elections so Republicans still do well in off years, but in Presidential years they turn out (at least for a candidate that excites them such as Obama) in even greater % than whites. They have disproportionate impact because whites are fairly evenly split between the parties but non-whites are heavily Democrat so every Democrat candidate starts out with a head start (which is mirrored in the registration stats that you give) – the election is his (or hers) to lose. Doesn’t mean that it can’t be done (see Kerry) but the guy really has to try.

  13. Pew also says: “Based on 2014 data, 39% identify as independents, 32% as Democrats and 23% as Republicans. This is the highest percentage of independents in more than 75 years of public opinion polling.” So either party can win by getting the independent vote.

  14. George: Many of them are apparently “independent” in the same way that hipsters who all dress, act, shop, and talk the same are “independent.” More interesting are the “When the partisan leanings of independents are taken into account…” numbers (what I gave in the original posting). Note the section “in many respects, partisan leaners have attitudes that are similar to those of partisans – they just prefer not to identify with a party.”

  15. It’s not the majority that wins, it’s the majority of the electoral college.

  16. Comment 18: So ration democracy is a mirage? It all perceived group interests and feeling of belonging to a group (feeling ‘cool’). No other rational interest or moral value affect independent vote? Is US one large CA now? What happened in 4 years with demographics between George Bush || relatively large margin re-election and 2008 election? Did not check relevant stats, who knows? Or are we being prepped for ‘korrect’ election results?

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