COMMENTARY: Factors to consider in 2016 presidential campaign

Now that the respective party conventions have completed their work, the general election campaign for president begins. There are several important factors to consider when evaluating the candidates and predicting the winner of the 2016 presidential election. These are discussed below:

GENERAL CONTEXT

The 2016 election is between two challengers, making it an open-seat election. In nine previous open-seat contests since 1900, Republicans have been victorious in seven. The general election follows a nomination sequence in which both parties were pulled to their poles.

DEBATES

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

In September 2015, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the schedule for debates during the 2016 general election campaign, including three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate.

The last debate is slated for Wednesday, Oct. 19, just short of three weeks before the Nov. 8 election. The number and format of the debates seems to highly favor Democrat Hillary Clinton, whose knowledge of issues and experience will be hard for Republican Donald Trump to overcome.

Trump would have been better off with a single debate close to the election, like that between incumbent Jimmy Carter and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan in 1980. Overall, presidential debates have not tended to favor a particular party, but did have a major impact in presidential elections of 1960, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 2012.

MEDIA ENDORSEMENTS

There was a time when endorsements of candidates by media outlets meant something electorally. However, changes in the delivery of information and the demise of print media have lessened the impact of endorsements. In any case, such actions usually coincide with the outlet’s political leaning. Historically, rural-based newspapers are more likely to endorse the GOP candidate for president.

DOMESTIC ECONOMY

Although there are many individual indicators of economic performance, the Obama White House’s aggressive moves to counter the 2008 economic meltdown stand as greater than the sum of their parts. While the Affordable Care Act’s rollout was weak, the law has fulfilled its objective of decreasing health costs.

The unemployment rate hovers around 5 percent and inflation is in check. The annual budget deficit for Fiscal 2016 will likely be around $600 billion, meaning that there will be an increase in the national debt. The projected annual economic growth of 2.2 percent is steady but putrid. Still, the advantage in this area goes to the incumbent party controlling the White House, the Democrats.

FOREIGN POLICY

The theme of the Donald Trump campaign, “Make America Great Again,” plays best in this area, including issues associated with immigration, trade agreements, and fighting against terrorism.

Trump’s proposal to build a wall at the border may not be feasible, and his plan to ban an entire religious group is morally repugnant and legally unconstitutional. However, these ideas constituted initiatives and conveyed leadership.

Although her experience as Secretary of State cannot be ignored, Hillary Clinton is seen as continuing the Obama administration’s policies, which have been inconsistent at best. With the specter of additional terrorist acts on the horizon before November, the public’s yearning for change gives Trump the nod here.

RESIDUAL ALLEGATIONS OF SCANDAL

There is a reason that the two 2016 [major] party nominees for president have the lowest favorability ratings in modern history. Donald Trump’s tendency to be spontaneous may be refreshing, but leads to daily drama over controversial words or tweets. Trump’s failure to release his tax returns has led to doubts about his honesty.

Hillary Clinton’s email travesty continues, with the possibility of pilfered messages being released before the election. As there is equal distrust of Clinton and Trump, neither candidate’s recent problems seem capable of hurting them any further.

HISTORICAL PATTERNS

From 1856 to the present, there have been eight presidential elections occurring in years ending in 6. Of those elections, Democrats have won four and Republicans have won four.

In the nine open-seat elections since 1900, there is a consistent link between the party winning the presidency and the league winning professional baseball’s World Series. With one exception, the American League won the World Series in years where a Republican became president, while the National League won the World Series in both cases where Democrats won open-seat races.

OTHER FACTORS

The contribution of the party conventions to the general election campaign has generally been a positive but temporary bounce. Despite a shaky first day, the Democrats ran a much better convention than the Republicans in terms of logistics and quality of speakers.

Accordingly, the Democrats should receive a more substantial boost than Republicans from their event. The Republicans are also left with a serious split between factions of the Republican Party which was not healed by the convention.

The last time that such a schism occurred was 1976, when incumbent Gerald Ford beat back the challenge from conservative Ronald Reagan. Before that, it was 1964, when conservative Barry Goldwater overcame Nelson Rockefeller and other moderate GOP candidates. Both Goldwater and Ford lost in their respective elections.

Finally, the Clinton campaign has trounced the Trump forces in fundraising from non-SuperPAC sources and has already used resources effectively in areas such as television commercials.

CONCLUSION

With two months before the first presidential debate and 100 days before the Nov. 8 presidential election, the current general election period will be the longest since 1960. The campaign will likely be highlighted by negative commercials, thereby driving down both candidates’ favorable ratings even further. There is a strong chance that the party winning the presidency will also control the U.S. Senate.

For the Trump campaign to reverse recent election trends and accumulate a majority of electoral votes, it will have to hold states won by Republicans in 2012 and win four of five key states won by Democrats — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin. Should Hillary Clinton be triumphant, her popular vote total will likely exceed that of her husband in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies Director at Delaware State University. He has been an independent candidate for U.S. president in every election since 1988. Dr. Hoff has taught and published extensively on the American presidency.

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