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What's gonna happen in 2016?

- April 21, 2015

A journalist wrote in with some questions:

1. Since November, Jeb Bush is leading the GOP nomination. Yet, he faces a really strong competition (Walker, Paul and Christie have led from time to time the competition). Who could be the underdog of next year Republican Presidential Nomination?
2. Mrs. Clinton seems to be the choice of the Democratic Party. Though, in 2008 she was as well the almost sure candidate… Could Elisabeth Warren (or someone else) be an eventual serious contender for her? On the other hand, if unchallenged, would she arrive stronger or weaker to the presidential campaign?
3. It’s certainly too soon to know how the campaigns will evolve… Nevertheless, in a broad sense, what groups will be the main target of their campaign? Latinos, white men, Republican women…? (In other words, who could make her president?).
4. Until now, Hillary has accepted President Obama support, mainly for his economic achievements (and certainly because as former Secretary of State she’s [bound] to his policies). But he’s far from being popular among electors… Could Obama become a key factor the presidential scramble?

I replied:
1, 2. Primary elections are inherently unpredictable as there are multiple candidates who have similar issue attitudes and political identities, all running in multiple contests over a short time frame. So you can expect uncertainty as the campaign arises. There’s not so much you can say now, a year ahead of time.
3. All votes count equally, except that voters in close states such as Ohio. Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia, etc., count more. That said, remember that a campaign has two functions: persuasion and turnout. Regarding persuasion, ethnic minority voters in recent years have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in recent years, so I expect that, in the general election, the campaigns of both parties will focus on white voters. Turnout is another story, because there a candidate will focus on people who might not vote, but would be highly likely to vote for him or her if they were to turn out.
4. Obama is popular among Democrats but not among Republicans. We can expect Democratic candidates to ally strongly with Obama during the primaries but to stake out more independent positions during the general elections. For Republicans it will be the reverse: strongly anti-Obama during the primaries but then a more moderate, conciliatory tone during the general election.
This response might not be the most satisfying, but sometimes the most useful contribution of a political scientist is to not pretend that we have some sort of “crystal ball.”