Thursday, April 2, 2020

Polarizing in the Polls - Can OHIO lose?

Turning away from the Corona Virus Pandemic in our country for a moment, we still are in the middle of a Democratic Primary campaign, and a Presidential Election year.  Over the past month, polls have (not surprisingly) moved.

President Bill Clinton famously quipped "It's the economy, stupid" about presidential elections.  In good economies, incumbents win.  In bad economies, outsiders win.  Is it that simple?

Since the beginning of March, most of the large states with urban populations, except for Florida, moved quickly to social distancing protocols. Now, in early April, almost all states have moved there.  The economic impact is well known. In the last two weeks, 10 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, and economists are predicting double digit unemployment by the end of the month.  Investment portfolios have shrunk, as the stock market initially lost 25% of its value, moving most people's IRA's back 3 years in time.  The stimulus package has bolstered some confidence, and Americans seem to be adjusting to the new normal for now.  What will these numbers look like in 3 months? No one really knows.

News stations are doing what they do.  Two nights ago I randomized a time of night and watched exactly 10 minutes of Fox and 10 minutes of CNN simultaneously.  CNN was reporting about death numbers, hospital shortages and two human interest stories of people afraid or affected by the pandemic. Fox ran a segment on China's "wet markets," civil rights, and how China has not moved to change the circumstances that existed there prior to the outbreak.  As I have often noted, news is not objective these days.

So, with people increasingly concerned (either about who to blame or what to do), increasingly strapped financially (unemployment, lost of savings, and soon failures of businesses and loans), polar reactions are occuring in a divided country.

For the previous year prior to March, for example, has consistently agreggated presidential polls showing the Florida, Colorado, Ohio and Minnesota were "up for grabs." Colorado and Minnesota have tended bluish, while Ohio and Florida have tended reddish.  Now, those states are beyond the margin of error in each direction.  Florida (a must win for Trump to get to 270 electoral college votes) now trends solidly Republican. But what is really interesting is that New Mexico, Virginia and Colorado - formerly safe Republican states no so long ago, are all in the Democratic column.

Even more interesting is Ohio, which went twice for Obama, and twice for Bill Clinton, and is safely Trump's these days. No president since JFK in 1960 has won the Presidency while losing Ohio, and only FDR in 1944 managed it otherwise in the last 110 years.  The general wisdom is, you must win Ohio to win - as Trump did 4 years ago and looks to do again. But can Ohio be on the losing side?

The polarization of America is showing in the polls, and the old wisdom may not hold.  As of today, there are only 3.5 states "up for grabs:" North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and part of Nebraska.  Look at this interactive map to play with the scenarios. As of today, the polls would say that the Republicans must win all of those to win the election.  The Democrats have to win just one of the whole states. Here are the most recent polls in those states:

Wisconsin (April 1):           Biden 48%,   Trump 45%,     Undecided 7%  (+/- 4.2%)
North Carolina (March 1): Biden 48%,    Trump 46%,     Undecided 6%  (+/- 2.9%)
Arizona (March 16):          Biden 47%,    Trump 46%,     Undecided 7%  (+/- 2.7%)

So, if the 3 states are each a coin flip statistically, it is like flipping three times: 3 Heads, the Republicans win. Anything else, the Democrats win.  Odds of flipping Three Heads in three flips are: 1/2*1/2*1/2 = 1 out of 8, or 12.5%

Very rough numbers, because - as we learned in the Hillary meltdown/Trump victory - the undecideds will not split evenly.  Someone is going to win them, and probably not until election day.  And, presuming NC and AZ go typically Republican, it still comes down to Wisconsin... and within Wisconsin it is the 3rd district that will decide it, as I have already written in an earlier blog post.

Yes, the picture is polarizing. But it is also clarifying.  And yes, for only the 3rd time in the last 110+ years, the winner of Ohio could very well lose.