Americans, Math Says “Your Next President Is….”

[This is a back issue of this site’s newsletter. It was originally sent out in August 2015, but only published online in June 2016]

Remember last week’s email, about elections? If there are two major parties in an election, they both tend to be centrist. That’s because if one shifts left or right, it ends up losing votes to the other.
I promised you last week I’d tell you who’s going to win the 2016 US Presidential election. So, here’s what the math predicts:

First, the US has a rather unique way of picking who will be president. Election time starts early in 2016, with a series of “primaries”, where candidates vie against other members of their own party. The winner of these primaries is picked at an event called the “electoral college”. These winners are the ones who get to run for President, in a two-horse race called the Presidential Election, in November 2016.

So, to win the presidency, you need to win two elections. Lose the primaries, and you don’t go any further.

This causes some tension for candidates choosing policy positions with a view to becoming the POTUS. Remember, candidates in two-horse races need to present themselves as centrist – that is, centrist relative to their voter base. In the primaries, the voters aren’t the general population, but (mainly) the party members.

So, to a first approximation, Republican presidential hopefuls need to be middle-of-the-road Republicans in order to even be considered for the post of President. Likewise, Democrat presidential hopefuls need to be middle-of-the-road Democrats. That means, in a typical US presidential election, the two candidates tend not to be similar at all – they didn’t get that far unless they were at the median of their party’s political spectrum. Then, when they face the public on November, they appear quite polarised. If one or the other could appear more centrist, they’d be better able to win the presidency. But then, how can they win the nomination?

In 2016, the US Presidential Election Game is not completely symmetric, and you can predict who will win.

Let’s take a closer look at the two main camps.

In the Democrat corner, there’s a tiny handful of candidates, and, whether you like her or hate her, one obvious choice. I won’t say whether Hillary Clinton is a good or bad choice, but she’s certainly an obvious choice. She’s well known. She has that dynastic feel that US voters seem to like. She’s a woman, which will sway a small percentage of the women voters. Unsurprisingly, she’s leading in the (Democrat) polls, and has been ever since she announced her candidature. She doesn’t have to be quite so “centre-of-the-left-wing” in order to win the primary – she can afford to give, say, Bernie Sanders few votes by leaning right.

The Republican camp, by contrast, is highly fragmented, with a record number of candidates. The current poll leader happens to be Donald Trump, but there’s no natural reason to have expected that in advance. He’s no more an obvious choice than, say, Jeb Bush, or Rand Paul, or Chris Christie or any of a number of the others.

Each Republican hopeful must choose positions along the right of the political spectrum, and differentiate themselves (in a positive way, in Republican eyes) from a thicket of other players. They might choose to be centre-of-the-right, but if many others do, they’ll lack distinctiveness. Some, instead, will choose an “extreme left” of the right wing of politics. That’s just centrist, which would be great for winning the presidential election itself, but won’t get much press coverage. Others will choose the extreme right of right, which will certainly get publicity.

The stiff competition between the many candidates and the effect of the media might push Republican hopefuls even further to the right. In any case, it won’t push them towards the left. So, when the July 2016 rolls around, and each party chooses their nominee, there’ll be Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, and somebody – who knows who – quite right of centre for the Republicans.

When it comes to the race for president, Hillary can play the ideal strategy for winning a two-player election game. The Republican candidate, however, will have been forced into a losing position.

So, the math predicts: Americans, get ready for President Hillary Clinton.