The Secret Weapon that Could Defeat Donald Trump


In almost every presidential campaign, the two candidates are roughly equally matched. Sometimes one side raises more money or has a slightly more technologically sophisticated campaign. But when it comes down to it, nominees of both parties will hire huge campaign staffs, mobilize thousands of volunteers and reach out to millions of potential voters.

The end result of all the time and money spent on campaigns roughly cancel each other out. When both sides are roughly equally matched there’s little opportunity to see the effect of these efforts.

In 2016, that might change.

Trump Doesn’t Have A Real Campaign-Clinton Does

In the beginning of September, Clinton had 51 field offices in Florida. Trump had just one. In Colorado, a 12 year old ran Trump’s campaign office for a time.

In terms of advertising, the Trump campaign and his allies have spent $83 million to Clinton’s $227 million, almost three times as much.

So what has the Trump campaign been spending money on? According to the Huffington Post, when Trump jacked up his campaign’s Trump Tower rent once the RNC started paying for it. He also flies back to Trump Tower almost every day, shunning the much cheaper option of sleeping on the road. In stark contrast, the Clinton campaign has gotten attention for its frugality, with many top advisors taking the bus between the campaign headquarters in Brooklyn and DC instead of the Acella.

The tough primary fight between Clinton and Sanders provoked fears that disappointed Sanders supporters would refuse to vote for Clinton in the general. After a few months of holdouts, those fears have dissipated and Sanders has campaigned aggressively for Clinton. The story on the other side has been different. After now infamous video of Trump surfaced recording him talking about sexual assault, a number of Republican elected officials un-endorsed him. The Republican National Committee has spent nothing on TV ads for Trump. In 2012, they spent $42 million supporting Mitt Romney.

Campaigns Matter

But will any of this matter on election day? Maybe Trump’s campaign disorganization is all insider baseball that won’t change any minds on election day. Since presidential campaigns of the past have been so evenly matched, it’s hard to prove that they do in fact make a difference. Responding to the Trump campaigns’ failure to open field offices, one Republican official speculated that, “Maybe the idea that you’re going to vote for Trump because someone knocked on your door is a little archaic.”

Lucky for the Clinton campaign, clever research has found that a campaigns on the ground organization does in fact matter–a lot.

Since opposing presidential campaigns largely cancel each other out, Political Scientists from Ryan D. Enos and Anthony Fowler instead compared the turnout of voters living in swing states to voters living in noncompetitive states. Voters in swing states receive a lot of effort from campaigns to get them to the polls. In uncompetitive states like New Jersey, there’s comparatively little activity.  

Comparing the difference in turnout of non-competitive states and competitive ones can demonstrate how much campaigns cause turnout to increase. They found that the effects are huge–about 4% for each campaign in 2012 for a total effect of 7-8 percentage points.

While a few percentage points doesn’t sound like much, it totals to millions of voters and is more than enough to make a difference. In 2012, Obama defeated Romney by quite a large margin–over 100 votes in the electoral college and 5 million individual votes. But if Obama didn’t run a much of a campaign and lost 4% of this votes while Romney retained his share it would’ve been more than enough to tip the election.

An astute reader might object that voters in swing states are more likely to turn out because their vote matters, not because a campaign knocked on their door. Luckily, the authors considered this possibility and found it doesn’t hold water. For one, a variety of polling an experimental evidence has found little to no effect of pivotality–how close the election is–on turnout. Secondly, the authors tested campaign effects using the same method before the advent of modern campaign targeting found and that they were basically nonexist. Therefore, they’re confident that campaigns are making the difference.

By November 9th, the Clinton campaign will have made millions of phone calls and door knocks. It seems certain that the Trump campaign will have put in far less effort. At this point, they might be be preparing to start riots and dispute the election results. In the end, campaign organization matters, and Clinton has a huge advantage that could make the difference.

Are Millennials Stupid Political Beliefs Going to Cause President Trump?

Millennials really don’t like Donald Trump. If only voters under the age of 34 voted, Trump would lose by almost 20%.

But millennials could also be responsible for handing the Presidency to Trump. Why? The 20% Clinton lead referred to earlier comes with an important caveat–it’s only true in a two way race between Trump and Clinton.

A whopping 44% of millennials opt for a third party candidate when given the option. And when they do, Clinton’s lead among that age group nosedives to just 5%. As you can see from the graph below, when 18-34 year olds are given the option to support a third party, those voters by and large draw from Clinton’s total.  

While American Democracy doesn’t restrict franchise to the young, millennials are an important part of the electorate that’s driving Clinton’s recent weakness in the polls. Among all voters, Clinton has a 5% lead in a two way race but just 2% when 3rd party candidates are included. Most of that discrepancy is driven by young voters disproportionate preferences for a 3rd party candidate.

Obviously if you’re a 3rd party voter, you’re unsatisfied with the main dishes on offer in 2016. But there’s also a pretty good chance (according to polls) you prefer a Clinton presidency to Trump when forced to chose between the two. If you vote for a 3rd party, you aren’t making that preference heard.

In fact, it’s not even a vote that’s neutral between the two major party nominees. It’s a vote that actually helps Trump. Since 3rd party voters mostly prefer Clinton in a two way race, choosing a 3rd party helps Trump by disproportionately taking votes from Clinton.

Third party votes do express dissatisfaction with the major party nominees. But their actual effect is to help Trump. If votes were purely expressive, why bother having elections at all? A dictator could hold an election where his subjects express dissatisfaction with his rule, but that wouldn’t affect who’s in power. A third party vote does the same thing, expressing dissatisfaction without changing who’s in power.

Furthermore,  progressives unsatisfied with Clinton have already expressed a lot of dissatisfaction in the primaries. Despite Clinton’s huge institutional advantages, Sanders came awfully close to winning the democratic nomination. And despite his loss, Clinton’s policies were pushed significantly leftward, culminating in “by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party,” according to Sanders himself.


There are a lot of ways to actually make change to America’s political system that are far superior to simply demonstrating anger. Our splintered political system means there are a huge amount of consequential elections outside the presidential race. Already, so called “Sanders Democrats” are challenging and winning against entrenched Democratic incumbents in primaries across the country. You can find local progressive challengers in your area on

If there’s no one in your local area to vote for, (and even if there is) volunteering can have much more impact than one measly vote. Research shows that presidential campaigns increase turnout by as much as 7%–a huge, election deciding effect. In local or state level elections turnout is lower and voters are more persuadable. That means the impact of a little more campaigning (phone calls, door to door canvassing), in these elections is much higher than the presidential level. Just a few hours of canvassing can easily turn out many more votes than your own meseley total of one.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of ways to make change ways to make change in a political system you’re unsatisfied with. Voting for a third party isn’t one of them.

I’ll leave you with Sanders’ own words on the merits of a third party vote this election:

“This is not the time for a protest vote, in terms of a presidential campaign. I ran as a third-party candidate. I’m the longest-serving independent in the history of the United States Congress. I know more about third-party politics than anyone else in the Congress, okay? And if people want to run as third-party candidates, God bless them! Run for Congress. Run for governor. Run for state legislature. When we’re talking about president of the United States, in my own personal view, this is not time for a protest vote. This is time to elect Hillary Clinton and then work after the election to mobilize millions of people to make sure she can be the most progressive president she can be.”


Can Nate Silver Move Markets?

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight general election model was released today. Depending on the model, he gives Hillary Clinton between 73% and 80% chance of winning in November.

I was curious to see if Silver had so much clout that his prediction would move betting markets. Despite all the attention, the answer is no:

Screenshot 2016-06-29 20.30.16


The lack of movement could be because the odds were already closely aligned with Silver’s predictions., where I drew the graphic from, puts Hillary Clinton at 74% chance to win to Trump’s 22%. That is between the probabilities of the two FiveThirtyEight models.

But even if Silver’s models didn’t add any new information for bettors, there’s still reason they could move the market. In a way, Silver’s prediction* is an event in and of itself. It’s extensively covered by the media, often with references to Silver’s near perfect record of forecasting the 2008 and 2012 elections. Rather than predicting who wins, the FiveThirtyEight model could actually change who people plan to vote for if it influences their perceptions of who could win.

Political Scientists have demonstrated in numerous experiments that voters’ perceptions of who they think will win influences thier choice. People like to belong to the winning team. Giving Clinton an 80% chance of winning in November could create a self fulfilling prophecy, unintentionally influencing undecided voters and tipping the election toward Hillary.

That being said, Silver’s predictions weren’t exactly a surprise. Bettors could be considering the “Silver effect,” but already priced it in.

At the very least it seems that Silver didn’t include this possibility in his model. Maybe I’ll email him.

*It’s not really a “prediction” which is binary, but a probability based model. But go tell that to all the third party news outlets covering it.


Young voters support Sanders and socialism–but do they even know what socialism means?

The age gap in 2016 Democratic primary is well documented. Here’s just one example from the latest Morning Consult Poll:

Screenshot 2016-05-24 22.45.51

The age gap is commonly attributed to older voters fear of a self proclaimed socialist. They lived though the cold war and were strongly socialized into a belief in free markets. Younger voters, who didn’t live through the Cold War, have no such bias.

There is a good amount of empirical support for these claims. Sanders’ socialism seems quite central to his brand–it’s the top unaided response to his name according to a Gallup poll. Secondly, there is a large age gap around opinion of socialism. Again using a Gallup poll, 55% of voters age 18-29 view socialism favorably compared to just 24% of Americans age 65 and older.

Young voters support of Sanders and socialism more generally this trend is interpreted as an ideological shift to the left. But the evidence for the shift comes from faulty seat of the pants reasoning. It goes as follows: Bernie Sanders is a crotchety old man. There’s no reason that young people should like him based on anything other than policy. Plus, there more supportive of socialism. Thus, millennials must be more liberal than their older counterparts.

While people writing on the internet may be very logical, the average voter isn’t. Complicated post hoc justifications for voter behavior based on ideology are almost always wrong.

For instance, increasing millennial support for socialism is much less indicative of leftist leanings then it would appear. When millennials are asked to choose between capitalism and socialism, capitalism wins by 10 points. But when asked to choose between a government managed economy and a free market economy, the free market wins by 32 points. A 2010 CBS/NYT poll found that “only 16 percent of millennials could define socialism as government ownership, or some variation thereof.”

Rather than an increasing liberal ideology, support for socialism and by extension Sanders comes more from confused ignorance.

Perhaps policy specific polling questions could prove an ideological rooting in Sanders’ supporters. But even then respondents commonly pick candidates then pick policy positions that match those of their preferred candidate. Other times, answers to policy specific polling questions are simply reflexive. Answers are not indicative of sustained thought, and quickly change in response to new information. For instance, when Sanders supporters were asked how much they’d be willing to pay for his proposals, their answers fell well short of what would be required.

The bottom line is that most voters are ill informed and fickle about matters of policy. Ideological movements aren’t formed overnight. While millennial voters overwhelmingly go for Sanders , you can’t extrapolate an ideological movement from one election with only one alternative candidate.

How to Interpret Polls


More polls have come in showing Trump close or even ahead of Hillary Clinton. Are they to be believed? Rather than breaking down each poll individually as in my last post, I thought I’d put together a rubric for judging all future presidential polls.

Minority Vote Share

The easiest way to spot a suspicious poll is to check the minority vote. Nate Cohn points out a particularly egregious example:

Rather conservatively, Hillary Clinton should be getting 90% of the black vote and 75% of the hispanic vote. Polls that show any more of the minority vote going to Trump are inflating his performance.  It’s not necessarily a sign of fraud, but more the difficulty of getting high quality samples of demographic subgroups, especially non-english speaking hispanics. 

Composition of the Electorate* (See Update for Corrections)

Polls generally don’t break down what portion of the electorate each demographic group makes up. However, you can infer it from the demographic breakdown from its topline results.

In 2012, President Obama lost white voters by 20 points but beat Mitt Romney by 4 points on the backs of a 82% of the nonwhite vote. It’s almost certain Trump would have to beat Romney’s margin among white voters significantly. While some may question the presumption that Clinton will motivate as many minority voters to turnout as the so called Obama coalition in 2012, there are a lot of factors in Clinton’s favor. For one, the share of the minority electorate grows by about 2% every four years due to higher population growth relative to whites. Secondly, there’s a good chance that hispanics will increase their democratic vote share compared to 2012 in response to the unique vulgarness of Trump’s call for mass deportations.

Here’s an example of a poll with a questionable racial composition, showing Trump with a 2 point advantage over Clinton despite a lower share of the white vote than Romney.

White Vote 2012 (Romper Center) R- 59 D- 39 Overall Result D+4
White Vote 2016 (NBC/WSJ Poll) R- 57 D- 33 Overall Result R+2

A polster might defend their racial composition of the electorate by claiming that Trump’s candidacy is so unique that the normal demographics of race don’t apply. Maybe Trump’s racial dog whistles will bring out racist whites who usually don’t vote, decreasing the minority percentage.

Luckily, the evidence so far points against that interpretation. Despite Trump’s claims to the contrary, he does not seem to be expanding the party. While turnout in the Republican primaries was much higher than in past years, almost all the new primary voters voted in past general elections. There’s also no relationship between primary turnout and general election results. Plus, if there’s to be an increased racist vote share minority turnout will likely go up in response as well.

The Center for American Progress’s report on the demographics of the 2012 election finds that undercounting the minority vote share is a consistent problem for pollsters:

“Prior to the election, many prominent national surveys were drawing likely voter samples that projected the minority share of voters to remain static or even decline relative to 2008. Gallup estimated minority voters around 22 percent, Washington Post/ABC around 23 percent, and the Pew Research Center around 24 percent. Virtually no pollsters had the minority share reaching the actual 28 percent.”

In 2016, it seems that many polling outfits haven’t learned thier lesson.

Another way of looking at the composition of the electorate is by party identification:

This is not appropriate. The composition of the electorate by party ID varies based on the candidates in the race and is not predictably fixed year to year like race. Given the pollster is acting in good faith, claiming a poll is biased by the Party ID structure is spurious. 

It’s also important to note demographic variables aren’t independent of one another. For instance, if assumed the racial component of the electorate seems wrong, this will also be reflected in Party ID. You cannot add multiple overlapping errors in a poll’s electorate composition.

Gender Gap

Gender will be particularly salient in 2016 since we have one female candidate and one in misogynist candidate. On one hand, it’s likely that a female presidential candidate will suffer at the polls due to sexism. On the other hand, it’s likely that Trump will suffer for comments like: “Women–you have to treat them like shit.”

How these countervailing factors will balance out largely depends on the respective strength of partisanship, sexism, and anti-sexism. Republicans will have to weigh their partisan loyalty with their desire to condemn sexism. Sexist democrats will have to weigh their partisan affiliation with their desire not to vote for a women. (This is not an election year that will make you feel good about American Politics.)

In 2012, Obama won 55% of women and 45% of men. Thus far, it appears that the partisan and misogynist forces may have a slight advantage over the anti-sexist forces. The latest Washington Post poll (Trump +2) gives Trump 57% of the male vote and 38% of the female vote, with 8.5% undecided.

Bernie Supporters

As the Democratic primary drags on, many Sanders supporters refuse to support Clinton in a general election. All the evidence from past divisive primaries suggests that Sanders voters will eventually line up behind Clinton. But that is not guaranteed, and there is some suggestive evidence to think this time is different.  

Tracking the opinions of Sanders’ supporters in future polls will be critical.

One way of tracking this would be to look at the portion of Democrats voting for Clinton. But Bernie’s unique electoral coalition makes that method wrong. Many Bernie supporters are independents, hence Sanders’ poor performance is closed primaries.

To properly assess how Sanders’s supporters are voting, the poll must specifically break down that group of voters. The write up of the latest NBC/WSJ poll illustrates the point:

While Democrats are backing Clinton by an 83 percent-to-9 percent clip, just 66 percent of Democratic primary voters preferring Sanders support Clinton in a matchup against Trump.”

As the Republican race has been over for a month now, Republicans have had time to unite around Trump. The continuing contentious Democratic primary will advantage Trump in the weeks to come.

Update 6/27 (Original 5/23)

Demographic Breakdowns Based on Exit Polls are Bad

Unfortunately, some evidence has come to light that renders some of my analysis here incorrect. Nate Cohn has written a long feature in the NYT demonstrating that the white vote in 2012 was larger than what was found in exit polls.

From the article:

New analysis by The Upshot shows that millions more white, older working-class voters went to the polls in 2012 than was found by exit polls on Election Day. This raises the prospect that Mr. Trump has a larger pool of potential voters than generally believed.

The wider path may help explain why Mr. Trump is competitive in early general election surveys against Hillary Clinton.

Exit polls are only one source of information about the racial composition of the electorate, and they are a relatively bad one. The census (which asks if you voted), government voter file data, and post election polls are better sources of information for finding out who voted.

Why are exit polls bad? They use a cluster sampling technique that emphasis partisan accuracy, not racial accuracy. Exit polls select precincts that are representative of a state based on party ID, attempting to get some precincts heavily democratic, heavily republican, and some that swing between the two. Nothing is done to ensure these precincts are also representative of the state’s racial composition.

Unfortunately, precincts tend to be very biased representations of the electorate. Since people tend to live with people who are of thier own race, (for reasons that occur both naturally, (check out the Schelling model) due to people’s race/classism, and from U.S government policy) voter precincts are very homogeneous. Getting an accurate sample would require targeting precincts on the basis of race or sampling a very large number of precincts. (Perhaps it can’t even be done by random sampling.) But the status quo of exit polls just tries to ensure the accuracy of partisanship.

The census, voter files, and post election polling come with thier own problems, but the NYT models show that exit polls almost certainly overstate the size of the minority electorate. Therefore, my analysis of the racial composition of the electorate is overstates the amount of possible bias for Clinton.

The difference isn’t huge but it is significant. Rather than 39% of whites voting for Democrats in 2012, the Upshot estimates that number at 41%. Furthermore, whites likely made up a larger portion of the electorate than the exit poll estimate of 72%, but the Upshot isn’t providing that number easily.

The bottom line is that the white portion of the electorate is likely higher numbers based off exit polls and 2016 general election polls are probably not showing the widespread bias that the Center for American Progress (and me) thought they were. Since all demographic information on the composition of the electorate comes with problems, it doesn’t seem appropriate to judge polls for bias on this compositional criteria. There’s just too much uncertainty.

Trump tries to adjust poll based on Party ID

What I wrote a month ago:

“The composition of the electorate by party ID varies based on the candidates in the race and is not predictably fixed year to year like race. Given the pollster is acting in good faith, claiming a poll is biased by the Party ID structure is spurious.”

On the other hand, Trump seems to believe the pollster did violate my assumption:

Draw your own conclusions.

Couldn’t help but notice that the second tweet speak of “poles.” I’m an absolutely atrocious speller and even I can do better than that.



Sanders has an ineffective and hypocritical plan to combat poverty

Bernie Sanders greets you with this image when you visit his website:
Screenshot 2016-05-21 14.11.03.png

It’s an appealing idea that the vast majority of Americans probably agree with. The problem is that it excludes the vast majority of people in poverty.

Sanders commonly talks about how it’s shameful that the United States has 46 million people living in poverty, a rate much higher than other developed countries. But according the the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, out of those 46 million, less than 5 million are full time workers, or less than 10% of the total poor population.

Part of the reason so few poor people are not full time workers is that they can’t find work. But even if you give a full time job to every poor person looking for one, it still leaves out more than 80% of poor people.*

Screenshot 2016-05-22 13.52.18.png

By saying “no one working 40 hours a week should live in poverty” Sanders at best ignores the plight of the non-working poor and at worse implies they deserve their fate. By only addressing the working poor, he excludes 38 of the 46 million people in poverty.


But worse than Sanders’ ineffective plans at combating poverty is his rank hypocrisy.

While he campaigns against President Clinton’s welfare reform in the 1990s, that law did a lot to help the working poor. The basis of criticism of welfare reform is that it helped the deserving (i.e working) poor but made things worse for those deemed undeserving.

While Sanders campaigns against the welfare reform law, he has no alternative welfare plan. Worse, his rhetoric emphasizing the “working poor” reinforces the division between the deserving and undeserving poor that was the basis of welfare reform in the first place.

The New York Times account of Sanders’ press conference on poverty illustrates the tension well:

“What welfare reform did, in my view, was to go after some of the weakest and most vulnerable people in this country…scapegoating people who were helpless, people who were very, very vulnerable…What we are going to do in this country if I have anything to say about it is to say if somebody works 40 hours a week, that person is not going to live in poverty,” Mr. Sanders said , adding that he would raise the federal minimum wage to $15.”

While rallying against Clinton for scapegoating the weakest and most vulnerable in society, he continues to reinforce the notion that only people who work full time deserve not to live in poverty.  

People who don’t work are not undeserving of aid. They are commonly students, caregivers, elderly, children, or disabled. To combat poverty and bring the U.S closer to other developed countries, you have to help everyone in poverty, not just those who work.


*Another problem for Sanders’ strategy on poverty is his plan,  (A $15 dollar minimum wage) could increase unemployment. While it certainly would raise a lot of incomes for those that can find jobs, it could make a of people too expensive to employ.

Princeton economist Alan Krueger pioneered the research showing that modest minimum wage increases has little effect on employment, but even he thinks $15 dollars is too much. While Dr. Kruger is a Hillary supporter, his view represents an emerging consensus among left wing policy analysts.

If Kruger isn’t left wing enough to trust, Matt Bruenig should be. He’s a socialist who just got fired from his job for his avid support of Sanders and the poor on Twitter. In his post on the minimum wage, he supports a formula that would set the minimum wage at 50% of the median wage in each minimum wage zone, indexed to inflation. Even in states with high median wages like California, this would come out to less than $15 dollars an hour. In states with low wages like Wisconsin, it’s comes out to less than $9 an hour.

While the minimum wage should be increased, it shouldn’t do all the work in helping the working poor because it would make it hard to find jobs. It instead should be used in conjunction with wage subsidies and a more robust welfare state. My point: even Sanders very limited plan to combat poverty is flawed.


Minor Point About Polls

If Sanders would be nominated, he’d have to swing all the superdelegates to him, overturning the popular vote and pledged delegate totals. The only argument he has is his superior electability.

Sanders electability argument hinges on his superior general election numbers.

From Vanity Fair, here’s the plan from the Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver.

“’If you can’t come to them and say, we won the popular vote, you have to honor the will of the people . . . how can you flip them after the primaries?’ he asked.
‘Well, because they are going to want to win in November,’ Weaver insisted, arguing that even if Sanders wasn’t a winning candidate among the Democrats, he would perform better against Trump in the general election.”

If you’re a Sanders supporter and want to help him get nominated, it follows that you should want to make Hillary Clinton’s general election poll numbers worse than Sanders. You do that by answering pollsters and telling them you’d vote for Sanders in the general but not Clinton. As a Sanders supporters, even if you really intend to vote for Clinton come November, claiming you won’t is the only way to help Sanders get nominated. This is one more dynamic that could be suppressing Hillary Clinton’s polling.