President Donald Trump has a low approval rating. He is engaging in bitter Twitter wars and facing metastasizing investigations.
But if the election were held today, he’d likely ride to a second term in a huge landslide, according to multiple economic models with strong track records of picking presidential winners and losses.
Credit a strong U.S. economy featuring low unemployment, rising wages and low gas prices — along with the historic advantage held by incumbent presidents.
We can't dismiss the possibility -- maybe even the likelihood -- of a Trump win. Nine of the last twelve elected presidents who ran for reelection won.
But some of the numbers these prognosticators are slinging around strain credulity.
Yale economist Ray Fair, who pioneered this kind of modeling, ... shows Trump winning by a fair margin in 2020 based on the economy and the advantage of incumbency.
“Even if you have a mediocre but not great economy — and that’s more or less consensus for between now and the election — that has a Trump victory and by a not-trivial margin,” winning 54 percent of the popular vote to 46 for the Democrat, he said.
No one has won the popular vote in a presidential election by 8 points since 1988, and Fair is predicting this for a president who lost the popular vote last time and who can't get his approval numbers above the low 40s.
Fair’s model also predicted a Trump win in 2016 though it missed on Trump’s share of the popular vote.
That's putting it mildly -- as Fair wrote in December 2016,
The final ex ante prediction below was for the Democrats to receive 44.0 percent of the two-party vote. It looks like Clinton will receive 51.1 percent of the two-party vote, so the error is 7.1 percentage points.
That's quite a miss.
Here's an even wilder prediction:
“The economy is just so damn strong right now and by all historic precedent the incumbent should run away with it,” said Donald Luskin, chief investment officer of TrendMacrolytics, a research firm whose model correctly predicted Trump’s 2016 win when most opinion polls did not. “I just don’t see how the blue wall could resist all that.”
... Luskin’s current model — which looks at GDP growth, gas prices, inflation, disposable income, tax burden and payrolls — has Trump winning by a blowout margin of 294 electoral votes.
In case you're confused, Luskin makes clear in this video that he means Trump will get 294 more electoral votes than the Democrat -- a 416-122 electoral vote margin, in other words.
Again, no candidate has been blown out that decisively in the Electoral College since 1988.
Let me explain what would have to happen for this prediction to come true. I'm looking at a list of the most and least Republican states in the 2016 presidential election. Reading off the list starting with the least Republican states, you get D.C. (not a state, of course, but it has three electoral votes), then Hawaii, Vermont, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, and Washington State.
If the Democrat wins only those states, he or she will exceed 122 electoral votes -- and even if that's close enough for Luskin to claim his model was right, the model assumes the Democrat won't win three states in which Trump got less than 40% of the vote in 2016: Rhode Island, Illinois, and Oregon. Luskin's model also assumes that the Democrat will lose New Mexico, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Colorado, Virginia, and Minnesota, all of which gave Trump less than 45% of the vote.
Sorry, that won't happen.
These guys put a lot of faith in the notion that the standard measures of the economy reflect how ordinary people feel about economic trends. The numbers were great going into 2018, but Republicans lost many seats in the House, as well as in governors' mansions and state legislatures. That's because ordinary Americans aren't really sharing in the boom times.
The economy still might be good enough to carry Trump to victory, along with the power of incumbency, gas prices, and other factors these analysts measure. But unless Democrats pick a godawful candidate, or Howard Schultz takes even more votes from the Democrats than polls now suggest (while taking next to none from Trump), the president won't win in a blowout.
Nevertheless, he really might win.
By the way, Luskin in 2016 was all over the map: His model predicted a Trump win, but at the last minute he predicted that his own model was wrong and there was a 51% likelihood that Clinton would win, albeit with a plurality of the popular vote.
If Trump wins, it will be with a majority of the popular vote (75% certainty).
So he made three predictions and one was right. I'm not going to put too much stock in what he's saying now.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog