20% Chance of President Trump Is Too Damn Close

There are many reasons to be excited about 2016 as a Presidential election year, but the non-zero chance of a President Trump scares the hell out of me. The statistic above comes from electoral odds-maker Nate Silver, who is known for his skill at balancing polls with other indicators to come up with more accurate prediction. Silver became famous for spotting the rise of Barack Obama sooner than most other pundits. Part of what makes him good is that he acknowledges uncertainty, including the chance that a candidate will beat the odds.

This year, he and his team at the Fivethirtyeight blog have had to eat some crow for being slow to accept that Donald Trump had a real chance of winning the Republican nomination (he kept waiting for the Republican establishment to fight back in a coherent way, which hasn’t even started to happen until recently). These statistics wonks also failed to predict the Bernie Sanders upset in Michigan. Still, they’re right a lot more often than they’re wrong.

I went looking for Silver’s latest summary of the odds of who the next president will be after seeing a Facebook post being passed around claiming that “polls prove” Trump would beat Hillary Clinton and therefore Democrats would be stupid to nominate her and must instead nominate Bernie Sanders. True, Sanders can point to some polls that show him with a better shot of defeating Trump than Clinton (although polls based on hypothetical match-ups are not particularly reliable). Regardless, I was pretty sure a fact check would confirm both Democratic candidates were heavily favored to beat Trump in a one-on-one match up.

While Sanders has beaten all expectations up to this point — and I don’t agree those who say he has to drop out of the race now — I do believe it’s time for his supporters to think ahead to how they can be part of victory in November, even if their chosen candidate is not the nominee.

Here is how Silver sums up the odds, from the post Republicans Could Do A Lot Worse Than Merrick Garland Under President Clinton — Or President Trump:

If you combine the view of betting markets with a bit of back-of-the-envelope math, it suggests that Republicans face these rough probabilities:

  • A 40 percent chance of President Clinton with a Democratic Senate.
  • A 30 percent chance of Clinton with a Republican Senate.
  • A 20 percent chance of President Trump (probably with a Republican Senate).
  • A 10 percent chance of Cruz, John Kasich or some other Republican.

You can quibble with those odds, obviously, and particularly with how much of a shot Trump would have against Clinton. Prudence would suggest that Trump’s chances are not zero: There could be an economic collapse, a terrorist attack or a Clinton scandal that could swing the election to Trump — or even if not, he could continue to rewrite the political rulebook and make fools out of political prognosticators. I wouldn’t take Trump at even money, though. For now, we’ll stick with the betting markets’ view, which imply that he’d be something like a 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 underdog.

Set of roleplaying dice

A 70% chance of a Clinton win sounds pretty good, a Democratic Senate sounds even better, and there may even be a chance of winning the House, which was long considered out of reach.

But a 20% chance of President Trump? How often have you read a weather report that gave a 20% chance of rain, and then you got caught in a thunderstorm? Happens all the time. Also, by the time Silver finishes juggling numbers, he acknowledges the chances might be a little worse, like one in three of a Trump win. Whether you look to the bookmakers or the polls for guidance, a lot could change between now and November.

The only good thing is that, political outcomes are more easily influenced by human action than the weather is. Active Democrats have the opportunity to make sure they bend the odds in the right direction.

As a political calculation, maybe we should celebrate that Trump will likely be the Republican nominee. As Americans, though, we have to be appalled that he would be the choice of a major political party. (Yes, I know — as if Cruz was any better).

While the Republican party is tearing itself apart, it’s our responsibility to stick together. If Clinton is the nominee, Bernie Sanders has left no doubt that he will support her. I hope he can do it wholeheartedly and bring as many of his supporters as possible along. I’d like to see big rallies where Sanders and Clinton share the stage. I think/hope the ones who are posting to social media that they will never vote for Hillary Clinton, let alone work for her election — I hope those people are outliers. I do worry about the people who will stay home or decide to support some third party candidate (like the people who voted for Ralph Nader instead of Al Gore in 2000, helping to elect George W. Bush).

If you believe in Bernie Sanders and his political revolution, work to build it into a movement that outlasts this election cycle. Take satisfaction in having pushed Hillary to vote for more progressive policies than she would have otherwise. I also was slow to embrace her candidacy and still need to work up more enthusiasm for it. We’re all much more motivated and work and vote for something, rather than against the alternative. But the alternative is pretty darn scary. Save your protest vote for some other year because your country needs you to stand up against bigotry and hatred in 2016.

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