Something very strange is happening on the road to the White House; the 2016 presidential election is starting to look a lot like the 2012 contest.
On May 22, 2016, Real Clear Politics’ average of poll numbers found probable Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, beating likely Republican candidate Donald Trump by three points. In the 2012 General Election; Democratic incumbent Barrack Obama beat Republican challenger Mitt Romney by 3.9 points. With all respects to Yogi Berra; this looks like Déjà vu all over again.
Instead of the surprisingly different election we were promised; it’s starting to look like the last two contests, with Democrats having a comfortable statistical edge over Republicans. Nor does Donald Trump look like a new kind of Republican – instead his numbers are almost identical to those of Romney.
Trump is the New Romney
These numbers show us that average Americans are not buying the media hype of Donald Trump being an exciting new kind of Republican. Instead they seem to view the Donald as the same old Republican; they did not vote for in 2008 and 2012.
This view has some merit; when stripped of his controversy, racism and reality TV pizzazz Trump is a lot like Mitt Romney. Trump is a wealthy, Ivy League-educated (Harvard), white man from the Northeast. Like Romney; Trump is a second generation rich kid, and a centrist whose politics lean left. The biggest difference between the two is that Romney is a socially conservative Mormon; while Trump appears to have no real religious faith.
These figures show us the biggest problem that the Republican Party faces; it cannot seem to move beyond its white, male and increasingly aging upper class base. Even Trump’s rowdy base seems to hail from that demographic. Census Bureau and exit poll data indicate that the average Trump GOP primary voter’s income was around $72,000 a year, FiveThrityEight’s Nick Silver pointed out. The average American’s income is $56,000 a year.
Trump appeals to some upper-class whites; because they too have been hard hit by the economic changes of the past two decades. The Pew Research Center found that the average upper household’s annual income fell from $186,424 in 1999 to $173,207 in 2014 – a loss of $13,217 a year.
Is Trump all Media Hype?
The poll numbers certainly call the media hype about the election into question. Some recent headlines claimed that polls put Trump ahead slightly but they were based upon just five polls take between May 13 and May 19, 2016. To make matters worse numbers in those polls varied widely; the Ramussen Reports survey gave Trump a five point lead, while the CBS News/New York Times tally showed Hillary with a six point margin of victory.
A major problem here could be wishful thinking by the media. The desire of reporters, producers, editors and media executives to have an exciting close election that will attract lots of viewers, hits to websites, newspaper readers, and generate lots of advertising revenue.
Another is placing too much faith in polls, in 2012 the Real Clear Politics poll average predicted that President Obama would win the election by .7 points, he actually won by 3.9%. That gives the polls a 3.2% margin of error; which we should take into account when looking at such data.
The Generation Gap and the Media
Another problem is that polls (and online media) are all about data while the legacy media is all about emotion.
This partially explains why the legacy media (newspapers, TV networks etc.) pays so much attention to Trump; he’s a master of appealing to emotions and manipulating them. It also shows us why the old media has ignored data-focused candidates like Hillary; and her rival US Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), and Trump’s former rival US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The data vs. emotion divide also points to an interesting new generation gap. Trump’s major appeal is to the over 50 generation; the Baby Boomers, who are emotionally motivated. The Boomers; and their older brothers and sisters the over-70 Silent Generation, get their news from emotionally driven outlets like television, talk radio and newspapers.
Hillary; and Bernie’s appeal, (and Ted’s) is to those under 50 (Generation X and the under 35 Millennials). These people get their news from data-driven sources such as the internet and social media.
This might explain the widely divergent views of Trump among the generations, and all the grey hair at Donald’s rallies. The generations are viewing Trump through very different lenses.
The legacy media; especially TV networks, has often portrayed Trump in a favorable, even flattering light. CBS News recently showed an interview in which Ivanka Trump praised her father, and repeated Trump’s absurd claims about his income verbatim. Yet when one goes online a very different view of Donald emerges; because digital news sources are more likely to have stories about Trump’s questionable finances, or shady business dealings than a flattering profile. There are also many more stories about Trump’s racism and sexism online. This might explain why only 19% of people under 35 said they would choose Trump over Hillary in an electoral contest, in a March USA Today poll.
The Generation Gap Shows us Why Trump is Doomed
These figures should scare Republicans to death because; as I noted two weeks ago Millennials, now outnumber Baby Boomers in the US population. There were 74.9 million boomers and 75.4 million Millennials in America in 2015 according to the US Census Bureau.
Boomers and the Silent Generation get heavily outnumbered when Generation X (those 35 to 50) is added to the mix. There were 66 million members of Generation X and 28 million members of the Silent Generation in 2015, according to the Census Bureau. Add the numbers up and you get 102.9 million older voters inclined to Trump and 141.9 younger voters who lean to Hillary.
Such numbers might also explain the discrepancy between the polls and election results in 2012. Traditional polling using telephone surveys is more likely to reach older voters; who are more likely to use landlines, than younger people that rely on mobile devices. Another problem is that older people are more likely to be retired; and at home to answer the phone, while younger people are more likely to be at work.
Another interesting aspect of this is Bernie Sanders who; despite being 75 years old, can safely be called the first Millennial presidential candidate. Millennials love Bernie because he’s one of them; a data-driven policy wonk who is rarely without his Apple iPad. Sanders’ speeches are dry recitations of data; filled with long numbers that bore Boomers to death, fire up young crowds.
The geeky Sanders’ popularity should scare Republicans; because polls show he would beat Trump by larger margins than Clinton in a general election race. A Real Clear Politics average from May 6 through 19, showed Bernie beating Donald by 10.8 points. The latest poll that surveyed Trump vs Sanders; the NBC News/Wall Street Journal tally, found that the Senator from Vermont would beat Trump by 15 points in a general election.
The numbers indicate that the presidential election will not be as close or as dramatic as the media wants us to believe. Barring some sort of truly dramatic Black Swan development; such as a scandal, 2016 might turn out to be a pretty boring election year.