This tawdry campaign has little to recommend it; The Economist’s October 15th cover, The debasing of American politics, summed up just how far we’ve sunk. As I write this, there are still ten wretched days in which the most disgraceful American political figure since Aaron Burr will continue to defecate upon our culture and democracy. November 9 will be a day for a long, hot bath to wash off the stench of Trump.
However, even in the darkest, foulest cloud there is a silver lining. We’re going to find out just how much a ground game is worth. Traditional campaigns invest heavily in get-out-the-vote efforts, but Mr. Trump has spent very little on this effort. The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee employ three times as many staffers across the 15 battleground states (Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Maine, Nebraska, and Georgia) as does the Trump campaign and the RNC, according to The Hill. Further, Secretary Clinton has continued President Obama’s heavily analytics-driven micro-targeting operation. In contrast, Trump has nothing. All of this appears to be working: Secretary Clinton is ahead of where President Obama was in early voting, according to Bloomberg.
How much is this worth? The answer is no one really knows. President Obama led Governor Romney by 0.7% in the final 2012 Real Clear Politics polling average. His victory margin was 4%, indicating that a next-generation ground game was a 3% or so advantage over the standard, professional ground game. Presumably it would have been even greater over the nonexistent get-out-the vote operation that Trump has. In fact, the Trump campaign has been called a glorified concert tour.
Since no candidate has been as foolhardy as Trump in the past, we have no good data on how much a ground game really matters. The National Review estimated it as worth between 2% and 4% nationwide; if that’s the case, the 5%-7% lead Secretary Clinton has in national polls is more like 7%-11% on Election Day. True to his tawdry, pull-everything-down style, Trump’s strategy to combat this is voter suppression.
To quantify all of this, I downloaded FiveThirtyEight‘s complete polling data on October 20, and used their weights to compute polling averages for each state and nationally, and then normalized each state and the entire country so that the four leading candidates (Clinton, Trump, Johnson, and McMullin) received more than 98% of the vote in each jurisdiction, awarding undecideds pro rata. The baseline result was a 49.4%-42.6% popular vote victory for Secretary Clinton, and a 351-187 Electoral College victory. The electoral vote, with any state won by < 5% of the vote considered a tossup, is Clinton 272, Trump 164, Tossups 102.
Now let’s add the ground game effect. I gave Secretary Clinton a 3% bump in each state, taking from the other candidates in proportion to their share of the vote. The result was a 52.4%-39.9% victory for Secretary Clinton, with Johnson at 5.7%. In the Electoral College, Clinton now wins 387-151; Alaska (3) Georgia (16), Iowa (6), Maine CD-2 (1), and Missouri (10) shift to Clinton. With tossups included, the Electoral Vote is 357-80 Clinton, with 101 tossups. From a Trump perspective, the map is ugly; even Texas is a tossup!
3% is a pretty small ground game effect; suppose it’s 5%? At this point we’re talking a 1988-class landslide: Clinton wins 54.4%-38.2%, with Johnson still hanging in at 5.5% of the vote. The Electoral Vote is 458-80 with no tossups; Indiana (11), Kansas(!) (6), Nebraska CD-2 (1), South Carolina (9), Texas (38), and Utah (6) all shift to Clinton.
With tossups, it’s 374-47 Clinton, with 117 tossups. The map is here:
Of course, Secretary Clinton has intelligently focussed her get out the vote efforts on the 15 battleground states (counting Maine-2 and Nebraska-2 as battlegrounds). If we assume the ground effect is only seen there, the result is a comfortable 396-142 victory for Secretary Clinton. With tossups, the count is Clinton 374, Trump 133, and tossups 31 (Missouri, Nebraska-2, Utah, Alaska, Indiana). This is perhaps the most compelling map of all, because it indicates just how effective targeting is: Trump’s total gettable EV is 164.
In sum, on November 8 Secretary Clinton will win the largest electoral vote victory in a generation, the greatest since her husband’s 379-159 triumph over Bob Dole in 1996; she has an outside shot at matching George H. W. Bush’s 426-111 victory over Michael Dukakis in 1988. She will also very likely win a popular vote majority; this will mean the Democrats will have won the popular vote in three straight elections, for the first time since Franklin Roosevelt won the popular vote in four straight elections from 1932-1944.