As the Republican primaries draw to a close and the general election season looms, it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture. Which man will ultimately claim the title of President of the United States? To answer that question, we’ll have to delve back into history and take a long hard look at the political trends of the last century. And perhaps that’s the most accurate way to approach the subject. Because while we certainly have a good idea of how the 2016 presidential election will play out, we can’t yet say exactly what conditions will prevail at the end of this historic election journey. For that, we have to look back at the last 100 years and the trends that have shaped our world during this time period.
To do so, we’ll need look no further than Nate Silver’s seminal work, The Innovative Voter. In it, he details a way to evaluate and predict the outcome of the presidential election based on the historic voting preferences of Americans over the course of the 20th century. As he shows in the figure below, starting in about 1900, voter preferences began to trend upwards, away from the political status quo and toward the ideals of Republicanism.
So, if you’re looking to determine Trump’s odds of winning the presidency, just look at the history of American voting over the past century and bear in mind, Trump is a product of the modern day. He’s not a traditional Republican and he’s not a Democrat. He’s something new. And while some people are quite certain what that new thing is, the nation as a whole is struggling to find its place in this new political era.
What is the Innovative Voter?
Nate Silver is quite simply the most influential political analyst in the country today. He began his career as a statistician and political scientist, but he quickly ascended to prominence as a mathematical wizard, turning complex issues into easily understood charts and graphs.
To tackle the issue of predicting the presidency, Silver looked at the history of American presidential elections and noticed something interesting about the voters. As the figure above shows, historically, new ideas and types of voters have elected American presidents.
Prior to 1900, American voters were relatively accepting of the two-party system. But as soon as the 20th century began, the established political parties began to lose credibility, especially with the growing voting bloc of progressives. This is best demonstrated by the fact that the Democrats went from being the party of Lincoln to being the party of Roosevelt.
So what did Roosevelt do to earn the respect of voters? He did what no one had done before. He appealed directly to the American people and asked them to trust him. Rather than having a distant elite decide America’s fate, Roosevelt put himself in the position to decide. And the American people responded favorably to his message of trust. After all, he was a leader who knew the problems they were facing. And he was offering a solution.
This is one of the key takeaways from The Innovative Voter. As Silver so astutely points out, trends, preferences, and voting behavior is a better predictor of the future than any one factor. In other words, looking at how people voted in the past is not a reliable indication of how they will vote in the future. It’s always better to look at the trends, especially when those trends are in the same direction.
Why does this approach matter?
The main reason this approach matters is because, well, we don’t know what will happen in the next four years. Trump is a product of his time, and he appeals to a lot of people because he espouses the right values and offers a solution to the problems that matter most to Americans. This is what made him successful in business, and it’s enabled him to do the same sort of thing in politics.
However, it’s important to keep in mind the limitations of this approach. For starters, it doesn’t tell us much about the motivations of the American people or how they will behave under normal circumstances. It also doesn’t take into account the fact that people can and do change their minds. Especially when presented with new and compelling arguments.
These are all things to keep in mind as we try to figure out Trump’s chances of winning the presidency. Because, as we’ve established, predicting the future is quite difficult. Especially when there are so many unknowns. So instead of trying to determine what will happen, perhaps it’s better to look at what has happened in the past.
What has happened in the past?
As we’ve established, trends and preferences matter in understanding this election. So let’s take a quick look back at the past to see what can be inferred about the present, and vice versa. As the figure above shows, from 1900 to 1968, voter preferences continually trended upward. This was especially true among progressives and young people. In other words, as the 20th century drew to a close, the American people were becoming more and more progressive, more and more receptive to new ideas.
And that is precisely what the Republican Party was built upon. It began as a splinter group of the Democratic Party and was initially created to appeal to the upwardly mobile classes. Specifically, the working class, farmers, and minorities. But over time, it evolved and began to attract more and more people from the middle class. The modern-day Republicans have largely benefited from this trend, especially since 1968. That’s when the party began to split over the issue of Vietnam and the number of social programs the government should support. This conflict led to the creation of the modern-day Democratic Party, which is still around and fighting for survival today.
So with that brief history lesson behind us, let’s get back to the topic at hand. As noted, Trump is a product of his time. And as we’ve established, this is a good thing. The Republican Party has been waiting for someone like Trump to emerge for decades. Finally, in 2016, they got their wish. And now, they may just have to wait until he goes away.
So what are his chances of winning? Based on Silver’s analysis, Trump has an excellent chance of winning. In fact, according to The Innovative Voter, Trump’s odds of becoming president are roughly the same as those of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. Or, for those keeping track, that’s about 61% of the vote. Silver also projects that Trump’s margin of victory will be close to the highest of any president in the last century.
Not bad for someone who has never held political office and who does not really fit the mold of a traditional politician. And while the mainstream media has tried its best to discredit Trump, this simply hasn’t been done to the degree it should be. At least not yet.
What is the effect of all this on future elections?
It’s hard to say, specifically, how all this will affect future elections. But it certainly won’t help. At least not in the near future.
In 2000, there was a similar rise in third-party candidates who did not meet the requirements to be on the ballot in many states. For example, Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party nominee in 2000, got over 6% of the vote nationwide. In a few states, he got as much as 7% or 8%. At the time, this was seen as a fluke, an anomaly caused by technicalities and the vagaries of human nature. A sign that this election was different and that the two-party system was at greater risk than it had been in decades.
But as we’ve established, this is not a fluke. This is the future. Or, rather, it’s the future that’s been steadily and patiently evolving for decades. The American people are finally ready for a change. And that’s precisely what Trump and the Republicans have given them. A change they believe in, that will ultimately lead to a better America. And they have the voting records to prove it.