Saturday, February 27, 2016

Election 2016: Compromised Immunity

Voting has begun in the 2016 election cycle at long last. And we see once again why I should stay out of the prediction business, because I was sure Trump's campaign would run aground once actual votes had to hit the bottom of a ballot box. Although to be sure, his electoral performance does slightly underperform his polling ... small comfort for the campaigns that have gone under to the Trump juggernaut. The GOP still has a chance to reclaim the candidacy from the insurgency, but they'll have to act quickly and decisively in order to do so.

It's kind of like the situation they had in 2008, when Huckabee surprised everyone with strong showings in early states. The antibodies in the Republican bloodstream came out in force, then. They found someone to rally around who had a somewhat troubled relationship with the Establishment, but could nonetheless manage to work with them most of the time.

But the antibodies are much, much weaker this year. The capital-E establishment candidate has already folded his tent. Rubio is probably their best bet at this point ... but Rubio may not be able to gather a first-ballot majority at the convention. No one may be able to.

I've said before that contested conventions are like bunch sprints in pro cycling. They're great fun to watch, but they generally happen because someone screwed up. In this case, the establishment has lost control of the nomination process, allowing a complete outsider to mount a so-far successful insurgency. Can they claw it back before there's an all-out floor brawl at  the convention?

Time will tell.

And now, the numbers. I draw my polling data from Pollster, and I've begun to use the prediction-market aggregator Predictwise to see how the betting markets are doing.

The Democrats

Clinton: 48.2% poll, 93% prediction
Sanders: 42.5% poll, 7% prediction

The polling indicates a tightening race, but the betting markets have Clinton as a heavy favorite. There's a definite undercurrent of discontent on both sides in this election cycle. Pollster has a "right track/wrong track" poll on its front page, and that poll has been underwater for quite some time now. "Wrong track" is down from its financial-crisis peak, but it's still running about three-to-two in favor of people not being happy about how things are going. This is why Sanders is giving Clinton a run for her money. I'd be frankly astonished if Clinton managed to lose the nomination, but there's a non-trivial possibility that could happen. But Clinton will have to juke left to out-Bernie Bernie, and then juke back to the center for the general election. Doable, but there's danger for her in that the Sanders camp will do the GOP's oppo research for them. But on the other hand, Clinton has been around long enough that there's really nothing new to turn up. Unless you've been living in an isolated cabin for the last twenty years, you know who Hillary Clinton is, and you probably have already formed an opinion about her. Opposition research will be of scant use to the GOP if she does win the candidacy.

The Republicans

Trump: 38.0% poll, 79% prediction
Cruz: 18.5% poll, 1% prediction
Rubio: 17.1% poll, 18% prediction
Carson: 8.5% poll, 0% prediction
Kaisch: 8.5% poll, 2% prediction

The clown car has winnowed down to a five-man race at this point, which is actually a two- or three-man race, depending on how you parse the numbers. I think Carson's basically out. And while Kaisch is the adult in the room at this point, he's also basically out. Come Tuesday, I think one or both of them might pull the striped handle and punch out. At that point, the GOP establishment has a choice to make, and it's not an especially palatable one. I think that to some extent they've made peace with a Trump candidacy. They think he's someone they can cut deals with. Which may well be true: cutting deals is just about the man's only skill of measurable worth. So in the sorting algorithm, they'd rather have Trump than Cruz. Of course, the establishment would rather have a case of genital warts than Cruz, but that's beside the point. They'd really rather have Kaisch, because he performs best against Clinton in the polls. He even wins most of them. Rubio would be their second choice. He still loses most of them, but he's not the down-ticket calamity that Cruz might well be. What the establishment needs if they're going to get someone who's not Trump is for the race to down-select, hard, as soon as possible. The not-Trump vote is spread too wide, and if it stays that way, Trump carries a fat slab of delegates to Cleveland. Maybe not enough to win outright, but enough to force a scrum on the convention floor ... and enough support to threaten a third-party candidacy which would well and truly screw the GOP. So, they're either going to have to throw their support behind a preferred non-Trump guy now, or decide they can live with Der Donald. But they have to pick soon. Time's not on their side.

The General Election

Generic Democrat: 61% prediction
Generic Republican: 39% prediction

Like I mentioned earlier, if you look at Pollster's head-to-head general election polls, the only Republican that has a clear chance is John Kaisch. But the GOP does not appear to be willing to nominate a candidate who can win. They'd rather bask in the purity of their righteousness than have an actual chance to effect policy. It's not the choice I'd make, but ...

The most interesting match-up from a statistical point of view would be Rubio vs. Clinton, since the error bars basically overlap. That looks like a true toss-up. The least interesting ... well, I really can't pick just one. Basically, any of the match-ups where the error bars don't touch. A clear decision is a clear decision.

Anyway, if you're looking to put money down, I'd take 3-2 odds on Clinton taking the oath of office next January. Not sure I'm especially happy about that -- but it's looking like that's the way it's liable to shake out.

Depending on where you live, it's too late to vote early, but it's never too late to vote often. Either way, get out and vote!