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Keynote Address: Nate Silver

Posted by Cheryl Jones on

16 Things About 2016: 


Nate Silver, founder of, outlined "Things We Know and Don’t Know About the Presidential Election" in 2016 for the Mackinac Policy Conference:


  1. Hillary Clinton is ahead by a gigantic margin in all polls, surveys and endorsements and is likely to be the Democratic nominee.  
  2. It may be too late for any other candidate to jump into the primary season.  Vice President Joe Biden isn’t popular.  Candidates from 2012 like John Edwards are not viable in 2016.  Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders are running, but could be interesting if it looks like Clinton is likely to lose to in the general election.
  3. Republicans are looking like Democrats, and Democrats are looking like Republicans.  Usually, Republicans have only one key candidate instead of a debate over how many candidates you can fit on a stage.   Only one key candidate for the Democrats who usually have a large field.   Republicans have a lot of different interest groups that they are trying to embrace and there is a real fight for space in a crowded field.
  4. In the past, Republican candidates have not been able to capture both Iowa and New Hampshire.  
  5. Silver is bearish on Chris Christie, saying it is hard to win the nomination when most voters in the party don’t like you.   He’s also bearish on Jeb Bush, because not very many people have rallied behind him, even though he’s considered the establishment candidate.   He thinks Scott Walker and Rubio are the actual top-tier candidates for the Republicans at this point in time.
  6. Lots of money will be wasted during the campaign, to boost one candidate or another, but Silver says it would be money better spent on a start-up in Detroit. 
  7. The fundamentals of the election point to a toss-up in November 2016.  Silver says the economy will continue to muddle along; at the same time, he says the record of President Obama will have an impact on the outcome. 
  8. It’s the economy, stupid, but we are too stupid to know about the economy yet.   In 2007, the economy looked good and no one expected the crash in 2008.   Silver says there is still a lot of news to happen in the next 18 months that could affect the outcome.
  9. Democrats should not count on a blue wall.  The party believes that it has a structural advantage in the electoral college, but history reminds us to be cautious.
  10. Demographics are not always destiny.  Silver says the nature of campaigns is to emphasize our differences rather than our similarities.  Voter surveys in all demographics (gender, age, and ethnic groups) said the economy was the most important issue in 2012.   Members of the electorate also belong to more than one group, and that clouds the picture, while the parties continue to shift their stances to maintain a 50-50 split in the country. 
  11. Is the Obama coalition just an Obama thing?  While Democrats performed very well in swing states in 2012, there has not been good Democratic turnout in the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014.
  12. Have Republicans had their reality check?  Is the Republican party close enough to the center of the electorate and willing to moderate some issue principles?
  13. Bad reporting of the polls could drive us all insane.  Silver says there is a danger of seeing wrong things in the data as more and more data is collected.   There is also a tendency in the media to report dramatic swings in the data because Silver said makes a better story.  Silver said there is actually very little change day to day, and a very stable line when polls are averaged together. 
  14. There is real reason to worry about poll accuracy.  Polls are obtaining faulty data and publishing misleading results.  He cited polls in the recent British elections as a good example of the issues.
  15. In some ways, Silver says it’s hard to forecast which candidate will be selected.   He said the 2016 election is only the fifth in history to select a successor to a President who follows a term-limited incumbent.
  16. Whatever the outcome, polarization is the most important thing in American politics.  Silver says he could confidently bet on 30 different states that will have predictable outcomes by party.  There are fewer and fewer U.S. House seats that are genuinely contested.   Silver says that means fewer voters will have a vote that makes a difference in years to come.

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