Sunday, November 6, 2016

Election Predictions and Implications for the Arts

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................"

The long national nightmare that is the 2016 Election is almost over.  But not really.  Tuesday will only mark the close of Phase I.

The pollsters and pundits have conflicting data, but there is some unanimity that the odds favor Hillary to gain the necessary 270 electoral votes, and she will be elected President.  But it is entirely possible the predictions are wrong, and Trump may yet be victorious.  It's close.

Here's what to look for as the results coming pouring in on Tuesday night:

1.  There are three critical early state results that will tell you which way the wind is blowing:  Florida, North Carolina, and New Hampshire.  If Clinton wins two of them, then very likely the curtain falls on Trump and it's all over (and it is probably enough if she just wins Florida).  But it's entirely possible that Trump will win both Florida and North Carolina, making it then critically important for Clinton to win New Hampshire.  If she loses all three states, she may well be in trouble.  And if Clinton loses Pennsylvania, it may be curtain time for her as well.

2.  The next wave of results is not likely to produce any big surprises or game changers - unless Clinton loses in Michigan (or Minnesota, or Wisconsin), or Trump loses in Ohio.  None of that is likely to happen, though a victory by Trump in Michigan is possible, and a potential game changer in his favor.  But unlikely.

3.  Then watch what Colorado and New Mexico do (both should be in Clinton's camp), and most importantly, Nevada - which may be the final victory needed by both Clinton and Trump to put them over the top.

4.  Right now (Sunday night) Clinton is about a 2 to 1 odds on favorite to win - both the popular vote and the electoral college vote.  And she wins the electoral vote by winning either New Hampshire or Nevada.  But her national popularity margin projection is slim - 2 1/2 to 3 percentage points.  If she loses the popular vote she will likely lose the election.  It's possible Trump can lose the popular vote and still win the electoral vote.

Note:  The FBI Director's clearance today of Clinton on the email charges, is likely to have at least some positive impact for her, and might now be enough to clinch the election for her.  

Confused?  Bottom line is that Clinton has several possible ways to get to the 270 electoral vote threshold, while Trump has fewer routes.

There are several variables that the polls and pundits can't know in this election.  The biggest determinant will likely be voter turnout.  If Clinton is successful in turning out African American, Latino and Millennial voters in really big numbers, her odds go up, and the bigger the turnout, the bigger her victory is likely to be.  And she has the far superior ground game designed to turn out supporters.  But the opposite is also true:  smaller Democratic turnout, and bigger Republican (white male and female voters without a college education) and the scale tips to Trump.  If Clinton loses, and people look to assign blame, the logical place will be those communities that didn't turn out to vote.  Which is more likely - massive Clinton or massive Trump turnout?  That's the big unknown, though here again, Clinton is favored.

The other missing variable is the voter mindset.  How many voters are there who identify with Trump's outsider message, who feel he represents some of their interests, who want to vote for him (or against the establishment), but just can't do it because of all the negatives associated with him, including women?  If there are a substantial number of people who, once in the voting booth, just can't bring themselves to vote for him, then even if they vote for a third party candidate, and not Clinton, the Clinton victory could be a borderline landslide.  Yet, the other side of that coin is also true.  If there is a substantial number of voters who secretly identify with Trump, or who think maybe a vote for him would be an ok protest because he probably won't win, and they end up voting for him - then he just may pull off the victory.  There is no way to accurately poll and gauge that sentiment.

There is also the horrible possibility that the electoral vote will end in a dead even tie (269 electoral votes each) and the race would then be sent to the House to vote on the winner.  Republican House = Trump victory.

My Prediction:  Clinton wins both Nevada and New Hampshire (she theoretically only needs one) and keeps her firewall states from Pennsylvania to Michigan and beyond and wins.  I suspect it will be more in her favor than the polls might indicate, and it may well be, if not a landslide, then a significant victory.

Senate:  For some time, the Democrats looked in good shape to recapture the Senate by picking up enough seats (four to five) to either give them a one vote majority or a tie, allowing for Vice-President elect Tim Kaine to cast the tie-breaking vote on every vote that came up on party lines.  (That scenario assuming, of course, a Clinton / Kaine victory).  Current predictions have the race for Senate control a virtual tossup.

The bigger a Clinton national victory, the better the chance the Democrats have for recapturing control of the Senate.  A closer popularity vote will favor the Republicans.

House:  While the Democrats are expected to pick up as many as 17 seats, virtually no one gives them much of a chance at this point to regain control of the House.

My Prediction:  The Senate will end up either 51 / 49 in the Democrats favor, or a 50 / 50 tie, giving the Democrats control by virtue of the Kaine vote tie-breaker.  The other possibility is that it stays in Republican hands 51 /49, but I'll stay with the prediction that the Democrats regain control on the tie.  The House stays Republican, but with a narrower margin.

The reason this is important - and why control of the Senate is so important to the Democrats is threefold: First, control gives the victor the power to assign Committee Chairs and control the agenda  and timetable of the chamber; 2) it makes it easier to confirm judicial and other appointments; and 3) it makes impeachment of Clinton a non-starter (though that won't discourage the extreme members of the House and you can expect to see attempts at impeachment and maybe success.  Note:  The House votes to impeach, the Senate to convict.)

Phase II of the Nightmare:
Unfortunately, whoever wins, this nasty contest won't be over.  No matter who wins, there are likely to be very close contests in any number of states, and so charges of voter tampering, rigged results and counter charges of voter suppression are to be expected.  Recounts will be demanded.  Some of those challenges may end up in court and throw some results into doubt.  That is possible in the Presidential race, and in Congressional races too. And you can almost count on some report, from somewhere, of hacking into the system - whether that turns out to be true or not. And whichever side loses, you can expect a percentage of the core of that side to simply refuse to accept the results.  How that refusal will manifest itself is potentially scary.

Phase III - The Next Four Years:
Even after the election is over, and the winners in office, this nasty episode is likely to continue.  If Clinton wins, there will very likely be four years of an obstructionist Republican Congress opposed to virtually everything her administration might propose, and certainly every judicial appointment, and many other appointments too.  Very likely the email investigation will linger on and result in impeachment proceedings against her, and cries for special prosecutors to go after the Clinton Foundation at the least.

Moreover, Trump's core may well harbor deep seated ideas that the election was rigged.  And whether he wins or loses, the Republican Party as we knew it prior to this election cycle is likely never to again re-emerge as it was.  What a new Republican party might look like were he to win, or to lose, is mere conjecture at this point.  The Republican leadership is likely to remain at odds with the Trump rank and file.

If Trump wins, and the Democrats are not in control of either the House or Senate, they will still have enough sway and juice to box him in on a number of fronts and keep him from wrecking too much havoc, and they will play the obstructionist role (note that both sides have core factions that believe obstruction is warranted and to be applauded).  And if they control the Senate, he will have a difficult time on most major pieces of legislation and his court nominations. Much of what he has promised has zero chance to become reality.  A percentage of his supporters may well find that unacceptable and react in ways that are hard to predict - blaming not him, but either the Democrats, the traditional Republicans or the system - or perhaps all three.

One thing is virtually certain, the divide in the country will be more pronounced, more divisive, more entrenched than at any time in memory. - at least in the short run.  No matter who wins, we are facing a period where we will not be a united people, but a nation at odds with itself.  It only portends to get worse, perhaps much worse, in the short run.  Where will the real patriots and statesmen to bind the nation come from?  And if they even exist today, will anyone listen to them?  Or are we inexorably headed towards divisions so pronounced that the country is headed to some kind of realignment and breakup?

One of the hallmarks of American Democracy that sets this country apart from so many others in the world is the long history of a peaceful transition of power from one election to the next. One hopes and prays that transition, as a cornerstone of how we govern ourselves, is not reversed, not trampled on.  Ultimately, as Al Gore concluded, the country is more important than almost any one event.  How this will play out for America this time around, remains open.  There is a lot at stake.  But the country is strong enough to weather the storm - provided there is enough good will to allow for reconciliation.

And the world - how will they react?  I suspect not much will change if Clinton wins, because she represents pretty much maintenance of the status quo. Trump is a different bird - Wall Street and the financial markets don't like instability, and a Trump victory represents a level of, if not instability, then uncertainty -  at least initially.  Then too, a Trump defeat and the reaction of his followers may likewise create instability and the markets in both cases, at least short term, are likely to react negatively.  A Trump victory would likely bring a muted response from the international community, which would wait to see what unfolded -- as would much of America I think.  But there would very likely be suspicion and concern among allies and enemies alike.  And perhaps the dawn of a radically new foreign policy to which the world would at some point react - and we would simply have to wait to see how that all unfolded.

Impact on the Arts:
And what does any of this mean for us in the arts?  As mentioned above, if Clinton wins, the net impact won't be much.

If Trump wins, then the impact is, I believe, unknown.  I suspect he would consider federal funding of the arts something for Congress to determine.  There is virtually no evidence to suggest any position he might take on the arts.  We have seen early signs of his propensity to push off a host of decisions by declaring them to be the decision of the states, or local government, or Congress.  And I would guess the House would be under pressure from the far right to finally make a public statement by cutting, or defunding, the NEA.  It wouldn't be surprising for the far right to call for the elimination of the Endowment under the banner that support of the arts is a private sector matter - not an area for government involvement.  I'm pretty sure Trump's core base is not the percentage of the populace that believes in the value of the arts and certainly not its public funding.  That core would likely applaud a decision to step away from funding the Endowment or any arts.

On our side, with such a tectonic change in leadership, it's entirely possible that the arts just aren't important enough to warrant the time, and so might continue to skate by with tepid support and essentially the same budget as the past decade.  The arts might just fly under the radar.   The bigger impact for the arts of a Trump victory might very well be the sending of a message to the states that they can decide arts support on their own, by themselves.  That may, or may not, be good for the arts.

While in the past, the sector was able to marshall support from people who had access to, and some sway with, the then current administration, irrespective of the party in power, that is less likely in a Trump Administration.  His inner team doesn't look anything like a traditional party apparatus.  And who would you turn to for support that might have Trump's ear - his children?  Chris Christie?  Rudy Giuliani?  Who?

At least Phase I will end Tuesday night, and hopefully, there will be some measure of a break from what is tearing the country apart.  I think everyone is sick of it.  But the nightmare is likely far from over.


Don't Quit