Monday, May 23, 2016

It’s (Not) Only May

The Detroit Tigers are not quite in the cellar in the American League Central Division — thank you, Minnesota Twins — but today they have a .488 record and they’re 4.5 games behind the division-leading Chicago White Sox.

But hey, it’s only May and a lot of things can happen between now and the end of the season.  A lot of teams have come from behind to win and even go on and win the World Series.  The Tigers have good hitters, they’ve got a few good pitchers, and they could pull it off with some teamwork and good offense.  But right now they don’t look so hot.

The same can be said for the Democrats.  Compared to the GOP, they should be running the bases at a trot, and either one of their candidates should be leading the presumptuous Republican nominee by double digits purely based on qualifications and demeanor.  But right now they have problems.

As Josh Marshall points out, the Democrats are still battling it out over their nominee while the Republicans have already sealed their fate.  It’s normal for there to be tough numbers for the candidate who has yet to secure the nomination.

The first is that there’s a very real chance that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States, a prospect which should genuinely scare people in a way that a conventional, even very conservative, Republican would not. The second is that Trump’s move into what is for now something like a dead heat is largely or perhaps entirely do to the fact that Republicans are consolidating around their nominee in advance of Democrats doing the same, something that seemed wildly improbable in March or even April.

Another way to look at this is that these results is that they should be deeply worrisome to you if you’re expecting that Hillary Clinton is going to win in a blow out in November. On the other hand, these numbers should be mildly encouraging if you recognize the powerful draw of partisan alignment (the fact that partisans of both parties, but especially Republicans, will fall in line behind almost anyone from their party) and the difficulties of either party winning a third presidential term in office.

The key is that even with what should be a momentary advantage (having Republicans unify while Democrats are still battling it out) Trump is still at best even and probably a couple points back. As long as Democrats can unify in the relatively near future, Hillary Clinton should get her own nudge forward in the polls, enough to give her a meaningful though not large advantage. As Philip Bump notes here, a whole party is currently running against Hillary Clinton. No one is yet running a campaign against Donald Trump.


One of the revealing nuggets of information from the recent NYT/CBS poll was that 72% of Bernie supporters say they plan to vote for Clinton against Trump. That compares to 60% of Hillary supporters who said the same thing about Obama in the same poll eight years ago. As we know, virtually all of Hillary’s supporters went on to vote for Obama. (People are often not the best predictors of their own actions.) We should expect pretty much the same this year. Indeed, this poll says they’re already substantially further along in that direction. But of course the difference between 90% and 95% and 99% of Sanders supporters voting for Clinton makes all the difference in the world. And whether Sanders lines up unambiguously and strongly behind Clinton will be key for that pretty small – but still critical – number who could go either way.

The difference between the Democrats and the Detroit Tigers — other than that fact that I’m pretty sure Bernie Sanders can’t hit a sinker — is that the fans really can’t do much to get their team to win other than cheer them on from the bleachers.  They can’t go out in the field and back up the outfield or pinch hit when Miggy has a slump.

But Democrats can do something.  They can go out and work the field by contacting their local party office and seeing what they can do to get the vote out, support local candidates, and if there’s a good Democrat running against an entrenched Republican member of Congress, at least stir up the dust.  If you can’t contribute monetarily, sign up to walk the precincts, get a yard sign, speak up to your friends and co-workers, write letters to editors, get involved.  Don’t expect the other person to do all the work because that’s what they’re thinking: someone else will do it.

Yeah, it’s only May.  But time flies, and in elections you can’t say, “Wait ’til next year.”