Why you should care
Here’s the thing about anyone who tells you they definitely know how the election is going to play out in November: Anything could still happen before then. There could be a major economic meltdown à la ’08, which redirected both nominees during that presidential race. Or maybe we’ll see a last-minute surprise even more devastating than in 2000, when Dubya’s drunk-driving citation resurfaced from 24 years earlier — just a week before the polls opened.
It’s fair game to speculate on how close the race will be, who will turn out to vote and so many other good, debatable points. But, with all the humility in the world, I have four bold predictions for how this year’s election race could unfold in surprising ways.
The Ballots Will Add Up
There are rumblings that many GOP loyalists might stay at home on Election Day, which would mean a low turnout. I’m not so sure about that. I vote that by the time we have spent $6 billion in ads on this campaign, we could see the first American election with more than 150 million voters. To put that in perspective, the most recent elections have seen more than 122 million but fewer than 132 million voters. Plus, with a slew of new voter laws for early and easy voting as well as automatic voter registration in a handful of states, you can forget about low turnout — and stay tuned for some serious surges, I suspect, in states like Oregon and California.
If I’m right, there will also be a side effect: Many of the conventional polls will be wrong. So while you’re reading Nate Silver, please maintain a bit of informed skepticism that his underlying assumptions may be too conservative— similar to the Mitt Romney polling models in 2012, which assumed modest Black/brown turnout. Silver (an OZY friend, to be sure) and the rest may get it wrong.
One Unexpected Group Will Punch Above Its Weight
Much has been made about how Trump’s candidacy will shift voters: Some lifelong Democrats will swing over to the GOP aisle and vice versa, and there is potential for record Latino voter registration and voting. One study suggests that Latinos could become a decisive voting bloc in a narrow race in as many as nine states this fall.
Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Congress’ first Muslim member, argues that it’s high time Muslims did the same and organized into a voting bloc. To be sure, the number of Muslim voters is relatively small — Muslims make up just one percent of the population. Yet they tilt by a margin of 2-1 toward Democrats, according to a February survey of nearly 2,000 Muslim voters, and have higher-than-average populations in two key states: Michigan and New Jersey (1.2 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively). Even if Trump wins over a meaningful number of Reagan Democrats in those states, he could still narrowly lose if Muslims turn out. This will be something to watch.
It’ll Be Closer Than You Might Think
By now, the polls that predicted a Clinton blowout just a few months ago show that her lead has evaporated. I think that if Trump’s going to win, it will be because of his knack for going on the offensive. The billionaire has demonstrated he can make an argument or spout an epithet — just ask “low-energy” Jeb, “little” Marco and “lyin’” Ted — and his name-calling seems to help him move the poll numbers. Notwithstanding “crooked” Hillary attacks, and assaults on her gender, I think Trump has not yet begun to fight.
If Crooked Hillary Clinton can’t close the deal on Crazy Bernie, how is she going to take on China, Russia, ISIS and all of the others?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 14, 2016
So when all is said and done, I could just as easily see a 51-49 or even a 52-48 race. If it’s really close, we’d see the most interesting scenario of all — an undecided election that goes to Paul Ryan and the House of Representatives. That’s not unprecedented: Two presidential elections have been decided in the House. Four others, including the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, have come within 30,000 votes of requiring a decision by the House. Now that would be the most gripping political theater in modern times — perhaps most akin to the Andrew Johnson impeachment in 1867, which was settled by one deciding vote. Most intriguing of all: If we do find ourselves with a vote in the House, we could see voting blocs use their leverage to impose their platforms on otherwise-uninterested candidates.
Keep an Eye on the Media
Candidates, the voters and key operatives determine presidential races, right? But every four years at least one journalist seems to have an outsize impact. In the 1980 election, it was Roger Mudd, when he made Ted Kennedy look unprepared with the simplest question: “Why do you want to be president?” In 1988, it was Bernard Shaw. In 1992, it was Larry King. In 2004, it was Dan Rather, who lost his job over an inaccurate 60 Minutes report.
Even more recently, in 2008, Katie Couric’s interview of Sarah Palin fundamentally reshaped that race — and prolonged Couric’s career as an evening news anchor. Certainly Candy Crowley had an unexpected impact on the 2012 race when she weighed in during the second debate in President Obama’s favor.
So who could be the journalist to tip — or at least meaningfully influence — this year’s race? My money is on the lawyer who tangled with Trump once before, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. She rather quietly took her lumps from Trump, but something tells me that in a close race, with questions of Trump’s fairness toward women at stake, she could be an unexpectedly influential voice. This might take the form of a statement, an interview showdown or a debate moderation. A Fox News anchor helping to swing the election for Hillary Clinton? That’d be juicy.