Campaigning Smart: Would Hillary Really Have Won If Election Was Based on Popular Vote?
Had the rules been different, Trump would have campaigned differently.
Salil Mehta at Statistical Ideas explores that question in Popular Vote Besotted.
No one complained in early October about the Electoral College rules, no one complained that Russian President Putin was hacking our election system, no one complained that the results would be illegitimate if too many Whites versus Blacks come out to vote, and no one complained that Americans were going to have a negative view of Hillary’s e-mails (from servers, to leaks). When asked at the 2nd presidential debate whether the election outcome would be accepted, it was Clinton to had to call Trump’s response “horrifying” and a “taking down of our democracy”. Why not; it was game over after that Access Hollywood gift, and it’s time to plan expensive fireworks over the Hudson River on election night. Those fireworks never happened.
Who campaigned more prudently?
We have been hearing Donald Trump’s side claim that he was simply more ingenious in picking the “key” states to campaign in, and if the traditional rules were to win the popular vote then he would have changed his overall strategy to win that way.
Since Kellyanne Conway emerged as Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, more than a couple months prior to election, we have a record of all the major campaign appearances for both candidates in order to see who took advantage of the vote decision-making time better. Hillary Clinton simply went to 2/3 as many appearances, and each time to smaller audiences, versus her rival. But she did appear from time to time at some music concerts, confidently assuming that was enough (it wasn’t and outside of millennials, she lost the popular vote in the rest of the age spectrum).
We also know that there were 6 economically worse-off states that flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. She campaigned with less appearances in each of these 6 states. No that’s bad and indefensible. As a portion of all of her appearances, her relative efforts were competitive in five of these 6 states and very strong in Ohio. Yet even in for Ohio’s growing population, her total votes fell ruinously, and her popular vote margin was even more disastrous: from (Obama +3%), to (Clinton -8.1%).
Hillary Clinton wasted nearly 7% of her campaigning in two blue states [California and New York], only to increase her popular vote margin by a total of 1m! But for no good reason as the popular vote margin % was already in the low-20s% in her favor. So this is just another example of unwise campaign strategy.
What if the original rules were the popular vote, then what likely changes would have happened among these two tough contenders? What if Donald Trump spent less time in the 6 states noted above, and instead campaigned harder in states such as California (he never did), and Texas (only one appearance). This would be sufficient to wipe out the current lead Hillary Clinton has in the popular vote, simply by blunting the margin difference between elections (seen in map below). Not enough to suggest Mr. Trump would have had an easy advantage however.
So this is where we need to take an additional leap, from probability theory to game theory. We would have to assume the magical change for 2016 would have spurred up additional voter turnout in these otherwise disparate large states, as they did in the manufacturing, Rust Belt states. The messaging would have therefore have needed to be altered, and there is every reason to believe Donald Trump would have been able to be at least enough effective in that to be successful on the popular vote metric. Whether this means 70% chance, or 55% chance, it is still an effective consideration.
Excellent Analysis once again by Salil Mehta. Nate Silver totally blew this election from start to finish.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock.