Teaching the 2016 Election: Closing Arguments

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

We’ll conclude our extensive coverage of teaching the 2016 election with two final posts. Today’s will provide a late stage analysis of races up and down the ballot six days from Election Day. Monday’s post will address where we go from here as a country and as educators with our students.

Despite the topsy-turvy nature of the presidential contest, it has remained remarkably stable from a polling perspective. Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite to prevail next Tuesday, but recent revelations related to her email server and leaked exchanges of top campaign officials have narrowed her lead. Her projected 3.7% margin over Donald Trump according to FiveThirtyEight.com mirrors that of President Obama over Mitt Romney four years ago.

Moreover, Clinton has multiple paths to the 270 electoral votes necessary to prevail, while Trump needs to thread the needle. According to FiveThirtyEight.com’s state-by-state projections, Clinton would win 323 electoral votes to Trump’s 215. The GOP nominee is within striking distance in Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada, but even then, Clinton wins 273 to 265.

Image taken from FiveThirtyEight.com

Trump’s best chance of picking up an additional state to prevail is in Colorado where Clinton is a favorite to win with 75.5% probability. The Trump campaign is also focused on Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but Clinton is favored in each state with 78% probability or more.

Polling errors are a legitimate issue and the race is close enough for Trump to retain a three-in-ten chance in prevailing. Remember that most polls have a three point or so margin of error, meaning we may subtract three points from the leader’s margin and add three points to the underdog, so Trump could conceivably be leading 48% to Clinton’s 45.8%.

Turning to the Senate, Democrats have nearly a two-thirds chance of regaining control. They need to net five seats (or four if Clinton wins), with probable pick-ups in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and narrower leads in New Hampshire, Indiana, and Missouri. Democrats are defending retiring Minority Leader Harry Reid’s open seat, but Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto is ahead and seeking to become the first female Latino U.S. Senator.

On the House side, Republicans are highly likely to retain control, the only question being by how large of margin. The GOP enters with 200 of the 218 seats necessary for a majority considered safe, and another 25 leaning or likely in their column (this includes the 12th District in Southern Illinois). Thus, Democrats would have to win all of the true toss-ups (26, including the Dold-Schneider rematch in Chicago’s northern suburbs), the six seats considered likely/ lean Democratic, and eight of the aforementioned likely/ lean Republican.

Down-ballot in Illinois, the Munger-Mendoza proxy war has turned into a multi-million dollar mudslinging slugfest for the right to pay the state’s delinquent bills, while a handful of contested suburban and downstate legislative contests will determine whether or not Speaker Madigan retains a supermajority of Democrats vis a vis the Springfield Stalemate. Finally, the Safe Roads Amendment polls incredibly well, but good government organizations across the spectrum have questioned its wisdom (Better Government Association, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, and Civic Federation, among others).

Taken together, this teachable moment that is the 2016 Election has been one for the history books. As campaigns prepare for their final 72-hour push to the polls, its verdict lies in the hands of voters, including first time participants that we ably equipped to make informed decisions.

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