Trump Quake Election 2016

Hillary Clinton should have won the election. The pollsters and most media agreed. Based on Map 1, Democrats would take states in the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast, leaving Republicans with not enough votes in the West and South. Of course, I was wrong, and Donald Trump won on November 8. Election night results were compelling and sublimely surreal as media maps turned increasingly Republican red, causing a geopolitical earthquake—or Trump Quake.

Election Prediction as of May 2016
Map 1: Election Prediction as of May 2016

A Brexit Feeling

On November 7, 2016, Trump referred to Election Day at a large rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, by saying, “it’s going to be a very historic day… I think it’s going to be Brexit, plus, plus, plus.” He was right! Like Brexit, this was a rejection election, where the power of the political elites was rejected, and expert media analysis was proved wrong. The election highlighted anti-globalization and anti-immigration feelings, and reflected a surge of right-wing nationalism.

The Midwest Turns to Trump

The U.S. Midwest formed the nation’s industrial core. Pent-up resentment became evident in old and declining manufacturing cities. Trump’s raucous rallies tapped into a deep animosity felt by millions of American workers who felt they were losing their jobs and economic security to globalization and immigration. Ever the consummate showman, Donald Trump and his “Make America Great Again” campaign captured the hopes and needs of these disaffected people.

Map 2: Trump takes the Midwest and Florida.
Map 2: Trump takes the Midwest and Florida.

Map 2 shows the fruits of Trump’s Midwest appeal. A Republican presidential candidate had not taken Pennsylvania (Pa.) and Michigan (Mich.) since 1988, nor Wisconsin (Wis.) since 1984. Trump garnered enough votes in these states, along with the swing states of Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa, to win the election. Why did Clinton lose? Was it due to Alt-Media, Russians, the FBI, Obamacare, Bernie Sanders, or Jill Stein? Maybe, but essentially 2016 became a change election, and Trump became the change candidate.

  • National vote. Trump won the official electoral vote (304 to 227), but Hillary Clinton got the popular vote (65.8 million to 62.9 million). This is only the second time since 1888 that the popular vote winner was defeated.
  • Wisconsin. Trump won this state by 22,748 votes, with Trump receiving 1.4 million votes versus 1.38 for Clinton. Lower voter turnout in Democratic Milwaukee County alone cost Clinton some 39,000 votes, based on Obama’s 2012 vote. Historically low voter turnout in Wisconsin was blamed on a new voter-ID law and lack of enthusiasm for Clinton’s candidacy.

Obviously, Trump used electoral geography to his advantage, winning the election by converting Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin with a total of 77,744 votes out of 136.6 million votes cast nationwide and getting 46 electoral votes from these 3 states. Both campaigns faced adversity, but troubles lingered for Clinton, whereas Trump dispatched controversies quickly, often with intense media bashing. It appears that many Democratic voters became disillusioned in the final weeks and did not vote for president.

Trump’s election is part of a predictable cycle where an “outsider” from the opposite party wins the White House. Outsider Democrat Bill Clinton defeated Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1992; next, outsider Republican George W. Bush bested Democratic Vice President Al Gore in 2000; then first term Democratic Senator Barack Obama won against veteran Republican Senator John McCain in 2008. American voters often choose change and those who are largely unseasoned and untested in the ways of Washington, DC.

The Midwest: Key to Senate Control in 2014

Many people focus on the South when talking about Senate control in the November 4, 2014 elections. Republican campaigns and PACs have spent tens of millions of dollars on Senate races in the South: Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina. However, it is the Midwest region that may be key to the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, with 5 key elections in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and South Dakota (shown in brown and green on the map below).

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Republican Senate Plans & Assumptions

First, let’s take a quick look at Republican strategy for Senate control in 2014, which has largely been parroted by the media and pundits, such as The Washington Post and Virginia’s vintage political prognosticator Larry Sabato. According to their plans, the GOP could take Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, and West Virginia, while holding all their existing seats for a gain of 8 seats.

The 8-seat gain is based on pretty simple math. Of course, Senate elections are far more complex. As of early October, North Carolina looks like a lost cause for Republicans, South Dakota has a vulnerable Republican candidate, and Republicans incumbents could lose in Kansas and Kentucky. Suddenly, Republicans could gain just 6 Democratic seats and maybe lose 2 seats for a net gain of only 4 seats (Republicans need 6 seats to take control of the Senate).

At times, Republicans even arrogantly claimed that Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Virginia would fall to them, but Democratic candidates in these states are considered reasonably safe as of early October. The Republican brand has seen growing difficulty in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions (other than West Virginia).

Republicans are also assuming lower voter turnout for an off-year election. Some 130 million voters cast their ballots in 2008 and 2012, but only about 90 million voted in 2010. Republicans gained 6 Senate seats in 2010, but lost 8 seats in 2008 and 2 seats in 2012. It is generally considered that lower voter turnout favors Republicans, and that is why Republican-controlled states have passed voter-ID laws, which often discourage minorities and college students from voting.

Finally, Republicans hold the advantage in that they are defending only 15 Senate seats compared to 21 for Democrats. However, Republicans are expected to defend 24 seats in 2016, versus only 10 for Democrats. In other words, Republicans will have little hope of taking the Senate in 2016, if they fall short in 2014.

The Midwest Upsets Republican Plans: Starting in Kansas

The three-way race for Kansas’s Senate seat felt a geopolitical quake in early September, when Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out of the race, leaving incumbent Senator Pat Roberts (R) facing Independent candidate Greg Orman. Non-partisan polls indicate that Republicans will likely lose this seat. Orman intends to caucus with the majority party, but Republican attack ads may spoil any future relationship.

The map (above) show a series of toss-up Midwestern states (brown) swirling around Kansas:

South Dakota. Republicans took neighboring North Dakota for granted in 2012 and lost the Senate seat to Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Currently, there is a three-way race to succeed Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, who is retiring. Mike Rounds, the Republican, leads with only 35% of the vote, while Democrat Rick Weiland and Independent candidate Larry Pressler continue to gain. Like Pat Roberts in Kansas, polls show Mike Rounds to be unpopular, and this race could become quite close. Should Pressler win, along with Orman in Kansas, the number of Independents in the Senate would double to 4 — a storybook outcome at a time when voters are unhappy with both political parties.

Iowa. U.S. Representative Bruce Braley (D) is running against state Senator Joni Ernst (R) to succeed retiring Senator Tom Harkin (D). Braley’s base in northeast Iowa exhibits urban and rural constituencies; Ernst is from rural, conservative southwestern Iowa. Des Moines, in Polk County at the center of the state, is the electoral prize for both candidates. Geographically, eastern Iowa will favor Braley and western Iowa will go for Ernst. This will likely be a nail-biter election, but I give a slight edge to Braley.

Kentucky. Polls show that incumbent Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is struggling in his race against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell is unpopular in polls, and tea party support is gone or unenthusiastic. Mitch McConnell has a host of geopolitical vulnerabilities, which I covered in June. Kentucky is usually one of the first states to report election results, but November 4 could be a long night.

Colorado. Senator Mark Udall is purportedly on the ropes, according to conservative commentators, but the state that legalized recreational marijuana last year is not likely to go conservative in a statewide election. Udall should pull in enough votes from Denver, Boulder, and central Colorado to win. Republican Cory Gardner, in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011, will sweep his rural district in eastern Colorado and will do well in the far western counties, but this will likely not be enough to win the election.

The Independent Midwest and Senate Control 

If Republicans win in all 4 of the toss-up Midwest elections (in brown on the map), then they will gain 7 seats; however, if the GOP loses all four then they will only gain 3 seats. Assuming that Republicans win in other regions of the country and that Kansas goes to Independent candidate Greg Orman, Republicans need to take 3 of the 4 Midwestern Senate seats to win the Senate (a tall order). Also, there will be Senate uncertainty, pending any general runoff election in Louisiana (December 6, 2014) and Georgia (January 6, 2015).

In the end, it appears that Republicans will not take the Senate outright and that control of the Senate may not be determined until 2015, depending on runoff elections and negotiations with Independents in the Senate.