One week to the US Presidential election and almost all forecasts I have seen give a very high probability to the victory of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. According to FiveThirtyEight, the odds are as high as 78%. I am quite skeptical and not because I like to play the sport of hitting at pollsters, so popular after the Brexit vote in the UK. My concern is related to two factors: shame and strategic voting.
A recent piece from Politico is exactly about the shame factor: there are many Republicans out there that intend to vote for Donald Trump but they won’t say it openly. Trump is generally regarded as an outcast, even within the Republican community. He is an outsider that tried to make his way up to the Presidential position through a smart mix of disrespectful attacks and a victim complex. Over time he intentionally put himself in a corner and under criticisms from all fronts, from war veterans to TV journalists. As a result, his supporters might be perceived as very negatively in some parts of the American society.
A similar shame factor has definitely played a role in the Brexit referendum. My experience with Italian politics suggests that right-wing and other populist parties often outperform polls because people are afraid to declare vote intentions they think will be received as socially unacceptable.
The second factor is strategic voting. On both fronts the support for the candidate seems quite tepid. As this recent pool from Texas shows, the share of people voting against the opposing candidate is quite high. Only half of Trump voters actually claim they “want Trump”, whereas the others “don’t want Clinton”. On the Hillary Clinton’s side the share is 60 to 40 percent. Still, the pool of voters that can potentially turn to strategic voting is vast. At the moment, around 6% of votes are going to other candidates, such as Gary Johnson. By definition, such voting is wasted in the American electoral system. These people might give up eventually on their ideological approach and instead vote against the candidate they think is a menace to their country. Some other people might have instead decided not to vote so far, and turn to strategic voting at the last moment.
The shame factor will definitely give a bonus to Donald Trump. Instead, it is hard to predict how large strategic voting will be and who it will benefit. We are starting from a lead position of Clinton. At the moment she suffers a vote drain from the Bernie Sanders’ side, and many of those are leftist voters that dislike her but they are also afraid of Donald Trump. Despite Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton, some of them will not vote for the Democratic candidate unless they feel the risk of a Trump presidency is real. On the opposite side, given we expect Mrs Clinton to win, I suspect the strategic voting is already accounted for in the polls.
Narrowing the gap in the last week could be beneficial for Hillary Clinton.Claudio Baccianti