Poor decisions can have painful and even dangerous consequences. In the case of Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, two poor decisions could cost her the White House. The former Secretary of State rashly chose to use a private email address to conduct sensitive government business. Ms. Clinton also acted improperly when she chose to serve as Secretary of State while her husband’s foundation accepted substantial monetary gifts from foreign entities. Regrettably, the former Secretary of State’s public transgressions are almost matched by the immature, hurtful, and inappropriate comments made by her main rival, Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has taught generations of future politicians what not to do. Don’t brag too much, don’t call people names, don’t act vindictively, and don’t treat women like disposable toys.
Yet these dissatisfying facts don’t get us any closer to knowing who the next occupant of the Oval Office will be. So let us begin with the basics. Presidential elections are decided by the Electoral College, not the popular vote. There are 538 electoral votes, and a bare majority – 270 – is needed to win. Washington DC and 48 of the 50 states give all of their electoral votes to the candidate who receives the largest percentage of the votes cast in that state. In most cases modest research yields information that makes it easy to predict which candidate will acquire a given state’s electoral votes.
Here is what will happen tonight.
Hillary Clinton can be expected to excel in Delaware, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and densely populated Washington DC. Donald Trump will triumph in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and lonely Wyoming.
The former Secretary of State’s baseline haul will be 263 electoral votes, while Mr. Trump’s initial tally will be 190 electoral votes. As a result, six swing states – Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio – will decide the outcome of the election. Hillary Clinton only needs to win one of these swing states to attain victory. Unfortunately for Donald Trump, Florida, Colorado, and Nevada will be in Ms. Clinton’s victory column by the end of the night. Mr. Trump’s consolation prizes will consist of one electoral vote from Maine, and victories in Ohio, North Carolina, and Iowa. Final score: 302 to 236.
Under normal circumstances a Trump loss in Florida, North Carolina, or Ohio would bring the election night fun to an early end. However, the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offers Americans an opportunity to compare this year’s alpha politicians to their predecessors. The most jarring statistical reference point will be the victor’s stunning lack of popularity. With only three exceptions since the Civil War (1912, 1968, and 1992), the winning presidential candidate has reached the 45% threshold. By this evening’s end two members of the Clinton family could appear on that list.
Similarly, if Donald Trump fails to corral the support of 43% of American voters, he will become one of the least popular Republican nominees since Lincoln. Even within this remarkable group Mr. Trump fails to measure up: four of the five men faced either an exceptionally strong third-party challenger (William H. Taft and George H.W. Bush), or the political winds associated with the Great Depression (Herbert Hoover and Alfred Landon). The fifth man, Barry Goldwater, was also unlike Mr. Trump – he honorably refused to exploit social tensions for political gain.
Recently economist and author Thomas Sowell observed that “each political party has picked a loser this year. Unfortunately, one of them is going to win, and then the whole country can lose, big time.” He is right. And it seems many Democrats don’t particularly care about a candidate’s lack of honesty, while a substantial number of Republicans are unmoved by a candidate’s severe character flaws. If this is truly the case, America future will grow dimmer with every election.