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2016 President

Sabato's Crystal Ball

The “Big Sort” Continues, with Trump as a Driving Force

Dear Readers: UVA Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato recently interviewed Jonathan Karl of ABC News and Rep. Ro Khanna (D, CA-17) about, respectively, their new books Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show and Dignity in a Digital Age: Making Tech Work for All of Us. If you missed either of these interviews, you can watch them on YouTube (the Karl interview is here, and the Khanna interview is here.) In today’s Crystal Ball, Senior Columnist Rhodes Cook looks at the striking growth of counties with “blowout” presidential results. — The Editors KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE — More than 20% of the nation’s counties gave 80% or more of its 2-party presidential votes to either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. — Trump won the vast majority of these counties, but because Biden’s blowout counties are much more populous, he got many more votes out of his “super landslide” counties than Trump got out of his. — Trump’s blowouts were concentrated in white, rural counties in the Greater South, Interior West, and Great Plains, while Biden’s were in a smattering of big cities, college towns, and smaller counties with large percentages of heavily Democratic nonwhite voters. The

Rhodes Cook

Do Campaign Visits Pay Off? Evidence from the 2016 Presidential Election

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE — Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa over the weekend was a reminder of how much his campaign values well-attended rallies. — Trump campaigned more times in more states than Hillary Clinton in 2016. — However, a regression analysis of the 2016 results does not show rallies having a significant impact on that election’s results. — Campaigns may derive indirect benefits from rallies, though, such as voter contacts, press coverage, and donations. But there’s not much evidence to show that the number of rallies in a given state had an impact on the results. Do campaign rallies matter? Last Saturday, after a lengthy hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump held his first live campaign rally in Tulsa, OK. Holding a live campaign event with thousands of supporters gathered in an indoor arena in a safe Republican state in the midst of a pandemic was a controversial move. So was holding the event one day after the Juneteenth celebration of the liberation of Black slaves during the Civil War in a city in which many Black residents were killed in a white race riot in 1921. As it turned out, attendance at the rally was

Alan I. Abramowitz

Take Two: Can Sanders Broaden His Base?

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE — Unlike in 2016, Bernie Sanders has a real chance to win the Democratic presidential nomination. — However, he likely will have to broaden his base of support to do so. — Namely, better showings in big urban and suburban areas are important, particularly as the field narrows. Sanders 2016: A look back Bernie Sanders begins his second bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in possession of something he never attained in 2016: A competitive chance of winning. Sanders’ first try four years ago was respectable. Facing a top-heavy favorite in Hillary Rodham Clinton, he won 22 states — 12 caucuses and 10 primaries, among them the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin. He drew 43% of the nationwide Democratic primary vote, which represented more than 13 million voters. As a result, he posted the highest primary vote total in the nation’s history for any candidate not named Obama, Clinton, or Trump. Yet in 2016, Sanders never had a realistic chance of winning the party’s nomination. Two basic stumbling blocks stood in his way: superdelegates and the South. The former, which comprised 15% of the convention delegates, went virtually en masse for Clinton, as she

Rhodes Cook

Did Russian Interference Affect the 2016 Election Results?

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE — Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent testimony was a reminder that Russia attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 election and very well may try to do so again in 2020. — This begs the question: Is there any evidence that Russian interference may have impacted the results, particularly in key states? — The following analysis suggests that the 2016 results can be explained almost entirely based on the political and demographic characteristics of those states. So from that standpoint, the answer seems to be no. What explains the 2016 results? Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, and the Mueller Report itself, make it very clear that the Russian government made a major effort to help Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. presidential election. What the Mueller Report did not determine, however, was whether that effort was successful. In this article, I try to answer that question by examining whether there are any indications from the 2016 results that Russian interference efforts may have played a clear role in the outcome. One such indication would be if Trump did better in key swing states than a range

Alan I. Abramowitz

Donald Trump’s Short Congressional Coattails

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE — Although Donald Trump is remaking the Republican Party in his image, he had among the shortest coattails of any presidential winner going back to Dwight Eisenhower. In 2016, Trump ran ahead of just 24 of 241 Republican House winners and only five of 22 Republican Senate winners. — While more Republican House members are from the South than any other region, Trump’s coattails were longest in the Midwest, where he ran ahead of nine Republican House winners. Trump ran ahead of eight victorious GOP House candidates in the South, and a combined total of seven in the two Democratic bailiwicks, the Northeast and the West. — The length of presidential coattails over the years has been closely related to the winner’s share of the popular vote. Landslide victories (say, with 55% or more) tend to produce much longer coattails than those of “minority” winners such as Trump. But in the eight presidential elections from 1988 to 2016, there has been nary a landslide and the length of presidential coattails has shrunk. Measuring Donald Trump’s coattails It is one of the ironies of modern American politics that congressional Republicans have bound themselves virtually en masse

Rhodes Cook

Did Bernie Sanders Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency?

After months out of the limelight, Hillary Clinton edged back into view recently with two fits of activity. The first was an announcement that her voters should read Verrit, a website managed by a former Clinton digital strategist that purports to post verified facts for the 65.8 million people who voted for her. One of the site’s first such facts was that Bernie Sanders helped put Donald Trump in the White House. Later on, an excerpt from Clinton’s new book leaked, in which she blames Sanders for hobbling her in the general election, though she seems far more circumspect about why she lost in general. Still, this all begs the question, did Bernie Sanders really put Donald Trump in the White House? To answer that question, first we need to acknowledge the limitations of such an inquiry. Individual presidential elections have an n of 1; there’s no control group in which there’s an election in which Clinton glides through a primary unscathed. Accordingly, one cannot definitively say “but for one event, another outcome would have occurred.” Especially one that’s so hard to quantify. The Comey Effect can at least be measured to some degree because it occurred when the race

Robert Wheel

Just How Many Obama 2012-Trump 2016 Voters Were There?

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, many observers understandably focused on the numerous places that swung from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. Because many of these areas congregated in swing states within the Rust Belt and Midwest, they played a pivotal role in Trump’s victory, as shown by the movement toward the GOP in Map 1 below. But how many total voters really switched from Obama to Trump in 2016? Different data sources tell a different story, but the answer is certainly in the millions. Map 1: Change in Republican margin by county or county-equivalent, 2016 versus 2012 Note: Alaska’s results are displayed by state senate districts. Click to enlarge. Sources: Election data from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections and Daily Kos Elections for Alaska’s state senate districts; map shape files from the U.S. Census Bureau. We looked at three sources to try to gauge the raw number of voters who backed Obama in 2012 but then voted for Trump in 2016. Unfortunately, the 2016 exit poll did not ask respondents about their 2012 vote, having last done so in 2008. While exit polls are imperfect, it at least would have served as another data

Geoffrey Skelley


  Dear Readers: Our new book on 2016’s remarkable election, Trumped, is now available. Trumped features some of the nation’s sharpest political reporters and analysts breaking down an election that truly broke all the rules. The following is taken from Chapter 10 of the book, authored by Ariel Edwards-Levy and Natalie Jackson of Huffington Post, and Janie Velencia, formerly of Huffington Post. The authors write about political polling in the 2016 cycle and the challenges facing the industry. In this excerpt, they argue that the issue and approval polls that we see on an almost daily basis are still good barometers of public opinion. Crystal Ball subscribers can get a special discount on Trumped: The 2016 Election That Broke All the Rules from publisher Rowman and Littlefield. Use code 4S17SBTOCB at checkout to get the paperback at 30% off the retail price at Rowman’s website. — The Editors   The debate over what factors caused pollsters to err in 2016 is likely to continue for some time, as is the argument as to what extent the miss represents either a critical failure for the industry or simply a demonstration of overcertainty by pundits and forecasters. But regardless of the magnitude

UVA Center for Politics

Another Look Back at 2016

On election night in November, exit polls provided the first insight into how different demographic groups voted. But months later, other richer data sets are being released, and they provide researchers with new information about the election and the voters that participated in it. One such tool is the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which is a large-sample national survey. The preliminary 2016 post-election version of the CCES study came out in early March, and it provides a treasure trove of information. One way of looking at the data is to compare the findings of the CCES to the national exit poll to see how they differ and what they say about the makeup of the 2016 electorate. This is not to say one is more right than the other; if anything, the truth may lie somewhere in between. There are also differences between the two data sets that make comparing them an imperfect exercise. Besides methodological differences in how the surveys were conducted, variations in how questions were asked and possible answers also complicate things. For instance, the 2016 CCES included more racial categories for respondents to choose from, such as “Middle Eastern,” that the exit poll did not use.

Geoffrey Skelley

The 2016 Presidential Vote: A Look Down in the Weeds

If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency — and she took the popular vote by nearly 3 million — the narrative of the 2016 election would be far different. Rather than the storyline being Donald’s Trump triumph in the heartland, with its beleaguered blue-collar workers, the emphasis now would be on the Democrats’ ongoing success in metro America, with its large share of the nation’s growing minority population. The conventional wisdom would surely be that the Democrats were likely to control the White House for years to come. That still might happen, and the 2016 presidential election may ultimately be viewed as an aberration that will be difficult for the Republicans to replicate. As it was, the election was a split decision — Clinton taking the popular vote, Trump the all-important electoral vote. In the process, both candidates played to their party’s strengths, with an important caveat or two that made the 2016 election both different and noteworthy. Clinton rolled up the vote in traditional Democratic bastions: major urban centers, high-tech areas, academic communities, minority strongholds (African American and Hispanic, in particular), and state capitals with their sizable government workforces. But she also extended the Democrats’ recent success in the

Rhodes Cook

Partisan Geographic Sorting

Speaking at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama, then a candidate for the U.S. Senate, famously declared that “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.” Obama then went on to decry political pundits who “like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states.” The implication of Obama’s speech was that the perception of geographic sorting of the country into reliably Democratic and Republican areas was not based in fact, but was instead a false narrative imposed by the media. Obama’s rhetoric of unity and homogeneity across party lines notwithstanding, there is substantial evidence that cultural and lifestyle preferences are strongly related to political tastes. Political scientists have demonstrated that political ideology and party identification are predictive of choices in areas as varied as mate selection, media consumption, cleanliness, office décor, music tastes, and housing decisions. If such relationships between political and lifestyle preferences are strong enough, and individuals are sufficiently willing and able to “vote with their feet” and move to areas that are a better match for their tastes, the implication is clear: We should expect to see the emergence over time of a geographically divided

Steven Webster

The states that vote most often for presidents

Ohio has retained its title as the state that has most often voted with the presidential winner over the last 120 years, even though it took a strong turn toward the Republicans this year. The Buckeye State voted for the winner for the 29th time in 31 elections this year, the best record of any state since 1896 (I explored the state’s presidential voting history in my book, The Bellwether). The full results from the states over that time period are shown in Map 1 and Table 1. Map 1 and Table 1: State records of voting with presidential winner, 1896-2016 We chose 1896 as the year to begin this analysis because that election is often cited as a key realigning campaign where Republicans broke open a streak of highly competitive elections and became a majority party for most of the following three decades. If one started in 1916, looking at just the last 100 years of elections, Ohio and Nevada would be tied at 24/26, with Missouri and New Mexico at 23/26 (and Florida, the most competitive of the nation’s mega-states, at 22/26). Notice that of the 10 states that have voted with the winners more than 80% of

Kyle Kondik

In 2016’s game of musical chairs, the music stopped at the wrong time for Clinton

After the Bay of Pigs debacle, when U.S.-backed forces tried and spectacularly failed to topple Fidel Castro’s nascent communist regime in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy held a press conference and took blame for the failure. Speaking on April 21, 1961 — just a few months into his presidency — JFK memorably declared, “There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan,” meaning that when something goes right, many will want to take credit for it, but when something goes wrong, no one wants to take the blame. We were thinking about the quote over the weekend after Castro’s death, particularly in relation to how it might be used to describe the 2016 election. That’s not just a reference to Trump advisers taking credit or Hillary Clinton’s campaigners shirking blame. Rather, we were thinking about how in a very close race, there can be many different factors that made the difference between one candidate’s victory and the other’s defeat. A tight election outcome might be said to have “100 fathers,” all of which may or may not have been decisive. Indeed, the 2016 election was highly competitive. Trump won 306 electoral votes in an

Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley

Watch Today’s American Democracy Conference

The Crystal Ball is coming out a day early this week because we wanted to invite our readers to watch the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ 18th annual American Democracy Conference, which is going on today from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in Washington D.C. Registration is full but members of the media interested in covering the conference are welcome to attend, and we will be streaming the conference live throughout the day at Our featured speakers are Kellyanne Conway, who managed Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign, at 9 a.m., and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) at 12:30 p.m. Additionally, Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato will interview Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, at 1:30 p.m. There will also be three panels discussing various aspects of the 2016 campaign. Here’s the full program:   9:00 a.m. Welcoming Remarks by Larry J. Sabato, Director, UVA Center for Politics   9:05 a.m. Keynote Speaker: Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for President-elect Donald J. Trump’s campaign   9:45 a.m. – 11 a.m. Panel I – Politics and the Fourth Estate Moderator: Geoffrey Skelley, Associate Editor

UVA Center for Politics

16 For ’16

Editor’s Note: The Crystal Ball is taking the week off for Thanksgiving next week, but we’ll be back with another edition on Thursday, Dec. 1. Now that we’ve had a week to digest the results of the 2016 election, here are some observations about what happened and what the results might tell us about the future: 1. Electoral map tilts to the GOP In close elections, the Electoral College will probably continue to tilt to the GOP. Twice in 16 years, we’ve had a “misfire,” where the popular vote went to one major-party candidate while the other candidate secured a majority of the electoral vote. This is because Democrats secure large, sometimes enormous, majorities in mega-states such as California, New York, and Illinois, while Republicans have just Texas, where Donald Trump’s margin of victory was nearly 450,000 votes fewer than Mitt Romney’s. (You should never join “just” with Texas, but we trust you’ll see what we mean.) Other sizable states, such as Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, are closely divided and add only small pluralities to the candidate that wins them. While the cumulative popular vote means nothing under the Constitution, it is not a good thing for a president

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley