October 22, 2016
Predicting the election has long been a key aspect of election season — statisticians and political scientists alike seem to pull out their calculators and computers in unison and begin madly punching numbers for the public to consume. This year’s candidates are fairly unique, but for one of the most common prediction models, the candidates’ personal characteristics do not matter at all.
For these so-called “fundamentals-based” models, the only factors in consideration are economic growth and the current president’s popularity and party. Given those conditions, the model assumes that which specific candidate is running for each party doesn’t matter. Some claim this makes it possible to predict the outcome of an election well in advance.
While this does sound nice in theory, different organizations have had mixed results when applying this model. For instance, the Los Angeles Times found that Donald Trump was slightly more likely to win based purely on the fundamentals. On the other hand, FiveThirtyEight calculated that the fundamentals are tied or favor Hillary Clinton.
There is something, however, that this model does not take into account: Trump and Clinton are far from your typical candidates.
Trump’s strong views on immigration, trade and refugees as well as his aggressive personal style have made him one of the most polarizing modern politicians. His distinct personality makes it difficult for political analysts to make solid predictions on how the election might play out.
Clinton is a far more conventional candidate and has had more success with traditional Democratic voter blocs, but her current low favorability ratings make it hard to tell how many voters will turn out on her behalf.
The fundamentals-based models are ambiguous for this election, but the current polls disagree with these findings. As of October 12, Clinton had an 86.9 percent chance of winning based on polls alone, according to FiveThirtyEight. While poll numbers are not a guaranteed way of predicting the outcome of the election, they do offer some insight as to the public opinion on the candidates.
Analysts utilizing a variety of prediction models agree that this is one of the most volatile and unpredictable elections in recent political history. Both candidates are dogged by uncertainty thanks to very high percentages of undecided and third-party voters who are expected to make a decision before Election Day.
The United States is standing at a fork in the road, with two starkly different paths to choose between. On November 8, we will finally have to decide between the two, and the outcome might not be what anyone has predicted.