Nate Silver released a piece yesterday titled "Clinton Begins The 2016 Race, And It’s A Toss-up" focusing on what we don't know about the presidential race. Many variables won't be clear until even a few months before November 2016, if not even on election day itself. In order of importance, this list includes:
- What will the economy be like? Will it continue to grow?
- Who will the Republican candidate be? Will they be well-liked?
- Will black and minority voters continue to show up to vote for a white Democrat?
- What will Obama's approval be at the end of his term? Will there be a major scandal?
A certain combination of a big-tent opposition candidate with an unpopular president leaving office during a recession could derail any chance that Hillary will have to win the White House after taking the nomination. This is the perfect storm that John McCain ran into in 2008, Bill Clinton rode the wave in 1992, and it doomed Carter in 1980. It could happen again. And it doesn't necessarily take long to form. Only a few months. Plenty of time.
That said, in this era of hyper partisanship, there is currently not much reason to believe that the fundamentals of the 2016 election will be any different than the 2012 election - a non-wave election - until it does change. The economy will most likely continue to stagger forward at barely above 2 percent, below the historical average but not low enough that voters punish the party in power. None of the current crop of candidates are particularly well liked by the general public, while a couple of them are particularly disliked. The demographic coalitions and their geographic locations will generally be the same, though turnout could vary. And Obama's approval rating has been stubbornly in the mid 40s - very average - throughout his presidency, with only occasional and temporary movement up or down.
All factors as it stands today are not guaranteed to be the same way 18 months from now. I'd be surprised if they all do stay the same. The future is notoriously unpredictable.
To start thinking about the 2016 race, I go back to another piece Nate Silver wrote 2 years ago "As Nation and Parties Change, Republicans Are at an Electoral College Disadvantage." Here Silver goes in depth about how his "tipping point" analysis worked in 2012 and, by doing so, shows how the electoral college is really all that matters. If you get 270, you win. The popular vote does not matter.
In 2012, like 2008, the "tipping state" was Colorado. It was the state that pushed Obama over the 270 necessary to win. It was also one of only five states (out of 50) that was within 5 percentage points in either direction. It is possible that a state greater than 5 points away will go the other way, but without a wave election (the perfect storm as mentioned above) it is highly unlikely. The 2016 election will be fighting over these same 5 states, and the map will look like this:
With the starting point for this race is Democrats 263 and Republicans 191 and Hillary Clinton as the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary only needs to win one of these five states. The Republicans need to win all five. The map is in her favor. On top of that, current polls (which mean a little, not much) in OH, FL, and VA are clearly in her favor. NC and CO are tossups. That's why she is Likely to be the next President. But there is still a lot of time.