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Hillary and the Nones

Despite something like 20 Republicans in the race and several Democrats (including Hillary Clinton announcing), I haven't officially written anything in-depth about the 2016 Presidential contest yet. Consider this political geek post #1. Although what prompted me to write it was less the current political landscape and more the cultural landscape. This week, Pew released a fascinating new religious identity poll that's being argued over in a variety of circles. The short version is that the Nones and non-Christians are up and there are fewer Christians.

As I wrote about on the blog during the oral arguments for gay marriage at the Supreme Court, the shifts in American ideology over my lifetime are amazing. As a person in my 30's who grew up during the Clinton years, the growth of liberalism to counter the conservative movement has been a welcome surprise. The first Presidential election I could vote in was Bush v. Gore, quickly followed by 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq...I've written before about the patriotic/conservative/Christian cultural peak during those years. Just a decade ago during the re-election of George W. Bush, I doubt you'd have had many takers on the idea that gay marriage, marijuana, national healthcare, etc. would take off.

The 2006-2008 elections changed a lot though. Congress went blue. But the major shift happened when America elected a progressive, black Chicagoan with overwhelming popular support--twice. There's a lot going on in there to unpack...participation in the electoral process by the young, minorities, etc...the rejection of 1990's-2000's conservative culture, agenda, and politics...and the sense that America's center-left culture can (at least occasionally) get the legs to match America's center-right political/economic forces. In that context, the 2010 Tea Party backlash is not at all surprising. Conservative (white?) power won't go quietly and the undercurrent of racism about a black man in the White House became a convenient rallying point.

The story of American politics from 2010-present is largely the story of popular liberal culture versus entrenched conservative political power. The US certainly has the demographic support to overwhelm Republican candidates on the national level due to urban progressive population centers. Large rural landscapes are deeply conservative still despite being less populated. And the suburbs are swing territory where red and blue America clash. The political districts on the local, regional level more easily go Republican when turnout is a factor. Democrats have greater numbers but are less reliable as voters being younger, non-white, and less politically engaged. America may be a more liberal place culturally, but that doesn't necessarily translate into liberals in government. As we saw in 2014, Democrats have trouble in non-national elections without a President (or national issue like the Iraq War in 2006) at the top of the ballot.

What all this translates into for 2016, however, is a huge advantage for Hillary Clinton. First, let's get the "primary" issue out of the way. She's well-liked and 2008 was not a rejection of her personally. Rather, 2008 was love for Barack Obama. It was less about disliking Hillary and more about having a first choice that better suited the times. Which is not to say that she cannot be completely embraced and "for the times" by Democrats now. The reason she faces no in-party competition is that she's a mainstream Democrat likely to win the national election and there is no better-liked alternative to even examine. Hillary is well-known, has decent approval ratings (the only 2016 candidate NOT underwater as I write this), and has the benefit of an electoral map that strongly favors Democrats. Plus, she would be the second straight historic first by being the first woman in the Oval Office. It makes it a very tough road for a Republican to beat her. In fact, the map strongly favors Democrats taking back the Senate as well.

This week also featured Nate Silver's analysis that there is no "blue wall" and what I've said in the above paragraph is optics, not reality on the ground. Democrats have done well in the Electoral College lately, but that is no promise of future success. I understand his point...states are not static and capable of moving. However, I'm a moderate on this issue. I don't buy the initial battleground maps that put Georgia or Arizona seriously in play for Democrats. But I also am not as unconvinced as Nate that it's "50-50" for Hillary. (There is some debate about whether Wisconsin is in-play. Every cycle someone insists Minnesota or even Pennsylvania could go red. I consider all 3 of these states firmly blue.) Being realistic about Republican chances in Wisconsin, the electoral map for 2016 really has only...8 states?...more like 7 or 6...as true tossups.

And in that situation, the starting Electoral College map for Democrats is 247-191. It puts them in the enviable spot of only needing Florida to win the White House. They have 18 possible winning combinations to 11 for Republicans. That's a huge advantage. Republicans have to essentially run the table in 7 states where Democrats can lose Ohio, Florida, and Colorado and still have a path to victory with likely-blue states like Virginia, Nevada and either New Hampshire or Iowa.

As you watch the next 543 days, much of the drama is thus going to be manufactured. Most observers would rather be Hillary than anybody else in this race. For good reason. Contrary to Nate Silver--awesome as he is--I'd put Hillary's chances at far greater than 50-50. I'd go as high as 75% maybe? In short, I'd say Hillary is likely to have over 300 EV by the time all is said and done in November of 2016. (I'd very conservatively predict 319, but can also see 347 when playing with the map.) There are few Republicans I'm worried about as a Democrat. None of them currently lead over her. The wind is at her back.

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