I want to get in three posts about tempering expectations while we're still in a limbo phase of the campaign, so as to not kill the buzz when things really start swinging back in our favor over the next several weeks. (Remember the rhythm so far: up during the end of an even-numbered month and the start of an odd-numbered month, down the following 3-4 weeks.)
First, with more months having passed during the post-primary and now post-convention stages, I'm revising the Electoral College prediction away from "landslide," though still in the "clear win" range.
Why? I'm going back to what election this one most closely resembles -- 1896, when McKinley inaugurated the Progressive Era by re-aligning the GOP away from the Gilded Age climate of laissez-faire economics, open borders, and Social Darwinism.
The only prediction I've gotten wrong was that Jeff Sessions would be the running mate -- although if I had stuck to what I'd predicted in that post about Trump as McKinley, I would've seen Pence as the choice. McKinley from Ohio balanced the ticket by picking a New Jerseyan, so I predicted that since Trump was from the Mid-Atlantic, he would balance by picking someone from the eastern Midwest touching on the Great Lakes, and Pence was the only one fitting that description.
I got caught up in who I wanted to be VP, and missed what the closest analogy predicted, so I'm adhering more to what happened around the 1896 election.
With that in mind, what was McKinley's Electoral College victory? He got about 60% of the EC, after a series of elections where the winners won by narrower and narrower margins in the EC. During and after the Civil War, elections became more and more divisive by geography. McKinley's Progressive pivot heralded the beginning of a period where the winner won by larger and larger margins in the EC -- meaning voters were not acting on local or regional interests, but the national interest.
By the 1920s (the Great Compression, with falling competitiveness among elites), the winner would get around 80% or more of the EC, a period that lasted through the Reagan years. Bush Sr. was the first crack downward, and it has fallen sharply ever since. During the Obama years, elections have been deeply dividing affairs across geography.
Because Trump is only the first step toward a New Progressive Era, he won't get the EC share that Reagan did, or Nixon, or Eisenhower, or Coolidge, or Teddy Roosevelt. In 1896, the 60% that McKinley got was not so different from his recent past. And in 2016, 60% will not be so different either (Obama won this much in 2012).
So I'm predicting Trump will get around 320 EC votes (60% of 538), give or take 20.
Worst-case scenario, Trump barely ekes out a victory by winning a few toss-up states. Best-case scenario is more open-ended -- if Trump clears, say, 350, then that will mean all sorts of states turned out to Make America Great Again. In that case, who knows how high? -- 400 would not be out of the question, depending if California returned to its Republican roots, after being turned off by the conservative culture wars of the past 25 years. Could happen -- Trump is steering the GOP away from being the More Conservative Than Thou Party.
Still, we should temper expectations about this sky-is-the-limit scenario. It happened in 1980 because voters were not too hyper-competitive and ideological. It was easy for a majority in every state to say, "Y'know, Jimmy Carter has got to go, and Reagan is promising a brand new way of doing things -- Reagan it is." We live in a climate where the states are incredibly more polarized against each other, on the brink of a second Civil War. It will therefore be difficult for so many states that voted for Obama to put the nation first and jump on board the Trump train.
Enough of the blue states will, along with enough of the swing states, to save America from being flushed down the toilet for good. But not so many will be open-minded enough to deliver a 1980 style landslide in the EC.
The next post will look more specifically at which states could flip, based again on which ones flipped in 1896. Not that the exact same states will flip -- but whether they had been traditionally blue or red in the decades before 1896, whether they were swing states, etc. McKinley won a few swing states (one being the Big Apple), and picked up enough blue states to off-set the red ones he lost.
And the third post will look at predictions for the popular vote. Unlike the Great Compression when voters were more of a like mind, in our deeply polarized time the winner will not get 55% or above in the popular vote. McKinley won 51% in 1896, and even Reagan got in the low 50's in 1980. So Trump, too, will probably win with a low 50's popular vote.
The bold new exciting direction we're going in is what should make us happy -- we shouldn't expect a landslide at the very beginning of changing course.