Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Trump's Uphill Battle Against Hillary

Nate Cohn’s assessment of a potential general election scenario between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton mostly utilizes poll numbers and miscellaneous data from surveys to outline its main points, falling somewhere within the quantitative/rigorous and empirical quadrant of Nate Silver’s Approaches to Journalism chart in its style of reporting. While indicating that Clinton is leading by about ten percentage points in general election surveys – at both the state and national levels – Cohn compares much of the currently polling data to the 2012 election to create what should appear to be a fairly predictable narrative: odds are, such a scenario will likely result in Clinton’s election this November. Even though Clinton is not incredibly favorable among some of Obama’s previous supporters (young, nonwhite, well-educated voters), she still trumps Trump in that area; nonwhite voters could end up comprising 30% of the electorate this year, and Clinton leads the younger (18-29) demographic by a larger margin than when Obama did in 2012. As Cohn draws on differences between both the Republican candidates from 2012 and today (Romney and Trump) and the Democrats (Obama and Clinton), he points out some additional, and easily observable, trends in the data. For example, Trump is currently doing worse than Romney was back in 2012, and Romney, of course, did not become the 44th President. And Trump is apparently having a difficult time gathering up some of the voters who had previously supported Romney: white women and white college-educated voters (both categories have reported less than a 30% favorable opinion of him). This, along with the fact that Trump is not even winning the states Romney had four years ago (e.g., Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), certainly seems to indicate the ten-point trail will not really change much in the coming months. And at this point during the election year, and given the public status of both individuals (i.e., they are not exactly strangers to most audiences and groups of voters), Cohn points out that it is not typical to see any big swings in the polls. However, that also assumes we are dealing with a typical sort of election year, too. In other words, Cohn summarizes his report by noting how atypical Trump is as a Republican candidate, which makes a comparative analysis between this year and 2012 a little more murky.

Even though the data used in Cohn’s report is noticeable quantifiable and gathered empirically, he does utilize it in a way similar to Silver when the latter addresses NHL player and game statistics: there are qualitative dimensions that Cohn sifts through in order to draw his conclusions; e.g., the fact that an unusual “big swing” might only come about if Trump gets people to stop being “scared” of his candidacy, that most Americans now seem to be relatively happy with the Obama administration, and that present economic conditions are now seemingly more favorable to the President’s party than they were in 2012. These aspects of the data and the numbers Cohn compares could certainly have been spun, however, to cast Trump as the likely-unlikely Republican nominee in the current political landscape, stressing his “underdog” status that did not really result in him being much of a Republican “underdog” after all. A comparison could have also been made between him and Bernie Sanders, whose views and positions on certain matters might make one wonder why only the political Right could elevate an unconventional candidate on the podium and not on the Left. In other words, rather than be a telling tale of Hillary’s likely success in a general election against Trump, the report could have focused on why the comparative figures and periods might not matter as much during this election than it would appear.

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