The 2016 election might be remembered for the victor having the worst image among voters. But it could also be remembered for mirroring a prior election. The 2000 election.
A quick refresher on the 2000 election seems in order. Al Gore won the popular vote by about 500,000 ballots but lost the crucial swing states of Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire. Bush won the election by virtue of his narrow 537 vote advantage in Florida and hanging chads.
Could a similar situation occur in a few months? You bet. The reasons why are fairly similar to 2000. Back in the Bush-Gore election, states like Oregon and Wisconsin had yet to fully move into their partisan blue column. This meant fewer extra votes for one side. This election, a similar dynamic is emerging for Trump with ruby red states like Utah, Kansas and Idaho likely to support Trump but by much smaller margins than past Republican candidates.
The traditional left-right paradigm has been completely scrambled this cycle. Trump’s opposition to trade has alienated him to many suburban Republicans. But, Clinton has also alienated herself to many blue-collar Democrats to a degree never seen before. Trump could win narrowly the Rust-belt states he needs to win the Electoral College but get utterly destroyed in diverse states like Colorado and Virginia.
There is a third reason this could happen and it simply has to do with the volatility of the race. There is simply no way to know whether the economy will turn south, how the partisans on the left and the right will ultimately react to their nominees and who will turn out.
Republicans are banking on Trump’s strong turnout in rural areas with depressed economic conditions to help carry the day. Democrats are banking on Clinton’s appeal among Obama’s Coalition to help them dominate the suburbs and college towns.
Yet, there is another wild-card in this race. Both Clinton and Trump have horrible images among voters of all creeds. This has led some polls to show Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein to be polling in the double-digits (combined). These candidates could actually play spoiler in swing states like Florida and Ohio (just ask Democrats about Ralph Nader in Florida).
Trump obviously realizes this and has been trying to drive turnout among young liberals to Green. Clinton has been doing the same among young conservatives in regards to Johnson.
There is evidence in the polling data that 2016 could be a repeat of 2000. Clinton is dominating in formerly red states like Virginia and Colorado but struggling in the blue-collar states of Pennsylvania and Michigan. If Trump peels off Michigan the race is all but over.
This a risky strategy for the Trump camp. Their victory relies on flipping deep and long-time blue states. But, it is certainly possible this could happen. Clinton has spent millions trying to define Trump and yet in Ohio, PA and FL the race is deadlocked. Trump’s campaign, lacking the cash of the Clinton machine, has to spend its resources on the states it can most likely win (the big three).
Let’s also keep in mind it might only take a flipping of 50,000 votes to undo a popular vote lead of a couple million. Bush won the 2004 election by virtue of his 118,00 vote edge in Ohio. Flip a mere 59,000 votes and John Kerry could have lost by 3 million votes and still be President.
Obviously, this occurrence is more likely for Trump than Clinton. His electoral map is narrower, he is struggling more in red states and his message is less appealing than Clinton’s to growing segments of the electorate. But there is a reason we have the Electoral College. So that big states like California don’t determine the election based on their popular vote alone. Come November, Trump might be thanking the designers of our electoral system and a few swing voters in the few, very crucial states, he won.