Clinton has just 20% chance of winning against any Republican says incumbency model

According to a model based on how an incumbent fares in an election from 450 elections in 35 democratic countries, any Democrat has only a 20% chance of beating any Republican for the US Presidential election.

Clinton's chances

Clinton’s chances

The model shows that Barack Obama’s current approval ratings are not high enough to allow a successor to get elected, though he would, as an incumbent, have an 80% chance of being reelected himself. With his current approval rating of 45-47%, any successor would only have a 20% probability of winning. Even if Hillary Clinton is an exceptional candidate, it will not be enough to overcome the inexorable hand of this incumbency effect.

Clifford Young and Julia Clark in Reuters:

Elections are not mysterious events subject to the whimsy of unpredictable candidates and voters. They’re actually highly predictable, with a set of variables that influence outcomes in familiar ways. Because of that, we can say, with reasonable confidence, that a Republican will be moving into the White House in 2017.

That conclusion is based on the results of a data model we created, and is primarily the result of two factors, both related to the challenges faced by “successor” candidates — candidates from the same party as the incumbent. First, a Republican will win because voters typically shy away from the party currently in power when an incumbent isn’t running. In fact, a successor candidate is three times less likely to win. Second, President Barack Obama’s approval ratings are too low to suggest a successor candidate will take the White House.

At this point in the election cycle, poll data asking the “horserace” question (“Who will you vote for in November 2016?”) can be very misleading. This far from Election Day, published poll data is off by an average of 8 percentage points compared with the true election outcome. That’s an enormous number when we’re used to elections where candidates win by two to three points.

Time Before Election

Average error of polls (compared to final results)

One week

1.7%

One month

2.7%

Two months

3.8%

Three months

4.8%

Six months

5.8%

Nine months

6.9%

Twelve months

7.9%

Source: Ipsos analysis of 300 polls across 40 markets from 1980 through current

So we created a much larger database of elections by looking beyond the United States to hundreds of presidential and parliamentary elections in democratic countries around the world. This exercise gave us far more data to work with: a sample size of more than 450 elections from 35 countries.

The most important finding from our model is the power of incumbency: if you already hold the office you seek, you are far more likely than not to retain it. Our model showed that incumbents have a threefold greater chance of beating their opponent. When no incumbent is running, successor candidates (in this case, Democrats) are three times less likely to win.

From our database of global elections we also learned about the importance of knowing where the public stands on the direction their country and leadership are going. Are they generally happy or unhappy with the government? There are a few ways to measure this, but the most universal (and therefore the one we use) is approval ratings of the sitting leader or president.

Our model proves the power of presidential approval ratings. It determines that in order for a successor candidate to have better than even chances of winning, the sitting president must have an approval rating of above 55 percent. Because Barack Obama’s average approval rating is now at 45 percent, a successor candidate (i.e. Democrat) is unlikely to win. …….

…… In the coming months, Obama’s approval ratings may tick up. But they would have to pass the 55 point mark to give the Democrats even odds of keeping the White House. This is extremely unlikely, given the fact that presidential approval typically declines over time, and Obama’s ratings are no exception.

Some will argue that Hillary Clinton is special; that her chances are significantly better because, given her popularity and status as a “legacy” candidate, she seems more like an incumbent. But if we go along with that hypothesis and run it through our model, at Obama’s current approval ratings, Clinton’s chances of winning the general election are still less than half.

The Democrats have quite a mountain to summit to retain power past 2016.

The best strategy for Hillary would now be to stop throwing any money down the election drain until Obama improves his approval rating to at least 55%. That would at least give her a 50% chance of being elected.

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