Presidential elections boil down to mores, money, and math. The mores – or values – change less often than candidates wish, since challengers push “change,” and people do not always want change. Money is the modern evil. But election math is key. It will be in 2020. Here is why.
Already we know President Trump is gathering enormous rally crowds. They dwarf his challengers. In New Hampshire, Trump filled a 12,000-person venue, with mass overflow. In Florida, Ohio, New Mexico, North Carolina, and even Iowa, thousands to tens of thousands have turned up.
By contrast, Democratic candidates turn out crowds from dozens to hundreds, occasionally thousands. The largest Democrat crowd was 7,000 for Bernie Sanders, the night before New Hampshire’s primary. Joe Biden no longer discusses crowds.
Second, national math reveals important trends. Not surprisingly, the economy matters to most voters. A 2019 Pew survey showed 70 percent put it top of the list. Republicans follow with counterterrorism, Democrats with healthcare. Notably, while 79 percent of Republicans name the economy as a top issue, so do 64 percent of Democrats.
And how is that going? Swimmingly, in fact. The economic fortunes of every American demographic, old and young, majority and minority, blue and white-collar, union and non-union, rural and urban, retired, and freshly employed are all showing record employment in record growth.
The overlap between “top issue” and Trump’s performance cannot be ignored. This may be one reason Trump is turning record support from the Black and Hispanic communities. What is more, as Americans calibrate their personal wellbeing – job security to wage growth, 401k to 529 plans – numbers just keep getting better. Over the past decade, with a shock pop in the past three years, 401k growth went up 466 percent, as stock market growth surged 255 percent. Those are astounding numbers.
Now add geopolitical realities. The US is the largest economy in the world. It is also resilient to global shocks, with Trump growing and diversifying energy sources and rebalancing trade. While China reels from mismanaging the coronavirus, the US economy is thriving. This augurs for Trump, even if nothing can be taken for granted.
Real election math is also worth considering. Discounting an “insider coup” or Bloomberg/Clinton ticket, Bernie Sanders is on his way to the nomination. We will see if that holds, but he claims victories in Iowa and New Hampshire – seems to be leading the pack.
Many Republicans hope he stays in front, an arch-leftist, not much good with “tax and spend math.” Seasoned Democratic observers, including strategist James Carville, are meantime worried. They think Sanders is dragging the party into a new wilderness – to be devoured by Trump. They could be right.
If Sanders-and-Anyone become Mondale-Ferraro in 1984 or McGovern-Shriver in 1972, the Democratic Party is in for crushing defeat. Reagan-Bush trounced Mondale-Ferraro in a 49-state landslide, missing only Minnesota and DC; Nixon-Agnew crushed McGovern-Shriver with a 49-state rout, losing only Massachusetts and DC.
That said, other futures are possible. Consider the math. Even with a self-styled Democratic “moderate,” such as a Biden or Bloomberg, winning may be hard. Sanders’ voters are not likely to salute smartly.
In truth, Sanders’ voters are more Trumpian than Biden- or Bloomberg-like. In fact, both of those “moderate” Democrats represent big government, big money, big interests – the windmills against which Sanders and Warren tilt. In short, nothing about the “moderates” – really leftists who are just not left enough – is likely to turn out Bernie Sanders’ voters. If they stay home, the Democrat loses.
Let’s get even more serious. Sanders voters know they were robbed in 2016; it sticks in the craw. If they did not vote for the Democrat then, why now?
Objectively, math again makes clear Sanders’ support will not necessarily flow to any of his Democrat competitors. In 2016, 12 percent of those who voted for Sanders in primaries – voted Trump in general.
In truth, Sanders’ voters are key. Back in 2016, eight percent of Sanders’ primary voters in Michigan voted for Trump in the general. On the numbers, 47,915 Sanders primary voters went to Trump in the general – while Trump’s margin of victory in that state was just 10,704 votes.
Look at Pennsylvania, crucial for Trump. In 2016, 16 percent or 117,100 of Sander’s primary voters crossed over and voted for Trump in the general, doubling what he needed. His margin? 44,202 votes.
Last, look at Wisconsin. In that state, nine percent of Sanders’ 2016 primary voters said forget the Democrats and voted for Trump. That was a switch of 51,317 to Trump – former Sanders voters. Trump’s margin of victory was 22,748. Sanders’ voters gave Trump twice what he needed.
On the other hand, if “moderate” Democrats are faced with voting for Sanders – many will just stay home, probably more than would have crossed over from Sanders’ pool to vote for a moderate.The result? Trump again wins key electoral states.
All this is to say; presidential races are hard to predict. They boil down to mores, money, and math. On the mores – or national values – heartland America does not absorb radical change easily, if ever. They are not followers of the enclave crowd or socialist tendencies afoot in the Democratic party. They would rather stay home than vote for a fringe option.
On money, the reality is always murky. Trump did put away $46 million 4th Quarter 2019, compared to Sanders’ $34 million – and Trump has reportedly banked $100 million. Ironically, the Democrats’ grand and inglorious impeachment gambit may have helped Trump – not hurt him.
Most important, however, is electoral math. If Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee, one is hard-pressed to see most Democrats voting for him, as he threatens party identity, national solvency, security, and sensibilities. If a “moderate” is forced on sanders voters, they will likely revolt. In short, Democrats appear to have painted themselves into a corner – if not on mores and money, then on electoral math.