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The Statesman


Professors weigh in on election forecast model

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaking at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona on June 18. GAGE SKIDMORE / FLICKR VIA CC BY-SA 2.0
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaking at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona on June 18. GAGE SKIDMORE / FLICKR VIA CC BY-SA 2.0

In the dimly lit Charles B. Wang Center Theater, students, faculty and community members gathered Wednesday, Oct. 12 to hear Helmut Norpoth and five Stony Brook panelists talk about Norpoth’s presidential election primary model at the first Global Forum series. 

In February, Norpoth, a political science professor at Stony Brook, predicted Donald J. Trump had a 97 to 99 percent chance of winning the presidential election this coming November.

Norpoth’s primary model consists of two elements: the outcome of primaries and which direction the electoral pendulum is swinging that year.

The swing of the electoral pendulum is simple. Usually, after one term, the party that has been occupying the White House wins a second term, and after two terms, it loses.

As for the outcome of the primaries, Norpoth has taken two into consideration for his predictions. The first is New Hampshire, which has been analyzed in his model since he created it. The second is South Carolina, which he added into the equation since New Hampshire isn’t representative of people of color’s votes.

Based on both of these ingredients, Trump would overwhelmingly be the winner.

In the 25 elections Norpoth has been making these predictions for, he has been wrong only once, in the 1960 election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. 

Although these predictions came before Trump’s recent scandals surfaced, including his 1995 tax return that shows he could have avoided paying federal income taxes for years and a tape recording of him bragging about sexually assaulting women, Norpoth stands by his model.

Others are not as convinced. Leonie Huddy, also a political science professor at Stony Brook and one of the panelists at the inaugural forum, called this election an “unusual” one, and therefore believes Norpoth’s model couldn’t possibly account for all the discontinuities at play.

Everyone can agree this election is unusual for many reasons. As a former reality star that was mocked and doubted from the start, Trump poses as an enigma to some. Both the current Republican and Democratic candidates are historically unpopular. Unfavorability ratings were almost tied back in August with Hillary Clinton at 59 percent and Trump at 60 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll from August.

Huddy considers this to be an unusual election for a different reason. Clinton is the first woman in U.S. history to be a presidential nominee. That historic aspect of this election tends to be drowned out by all the other white noise in this contentious election, she said.

This leads Huddy to believe that there are more factors at play this time around. And indeed, Norpoth’s method has never been adjusted to account for a female presidential candidate because it never had to be. Until now.

“Gender is incredibly relevant in this election,” Huddy said.

When women run for political office, they have to play a different game than men do, Huddy said. Many feel Clinton has to balance being strong while showing emotion, being competent without being intimidating, and being confident but not cocky.

Had Clinton been up against a more moderate Republican, the polls showing her lead with women might have looked different. Clinton wins the female vote with a whopping 20 percentage points over Trump, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Oct. 7.

Based on this, Huddy believes the next president of the United States will be Clinton and that there will be consequences within the Republican party.

“One party champions women, and one party is silent,” Huddy said.

Stanley Feldman, another political science professor at Stony Brook, thinks recent events will be the demise of Trump. 

From 3 a.m. tweets to his temperament to the leaked tapes detailing his treatment of women, Feldman thinks Trump doesn’t stand a chance at this point.

“But if we only focus on that stuff, we’re missing something important,” Feldman said.

People have the tendency to attribute Trump’s surprising ascent to the fact that he was a candidate in a weak field, Feldman said. But he went on to say that is fallacious thinking because Trump was up against experienced and seasoned politicians, people who have been working toward becoming president their entire lives. He won the nomination over the brother and son of former U.S. presidents, and he appealed to the extreme right wing better than did Ted Cruz, who has persistently called for the federal defunding of Planned Parenthood during his career. 

“Trump beat a number of credible, strong candidates,” Feldman said. “And the question is, how did he do that?”

Feldman attempted to answer this question. Trump’s supporters are made up of mostly white men, but there’s another defining characteristic of his base that explains why he’s doing so well and that’s anger. His supporters are angry about American jobs moving overseas, about illegal immigrants stealing their jobs and about feeling like they haven’t had a voice in the past two elections.

Norpoth attributes a Trump victory to this theory. Since Clinton is a candidate of continuity, Trump has a better chance of winning if people want change and if people want someone outside of the political establishment.

This polarization of American politics has caused even the most politically apathetic to choose a side, so as to not have the other candidate win.

Bob Decostanzo and Rick Rubin are both nontraditional students taking classes at Stony Brook through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program. They both support Clinton.

“Rick’s a little more optimistic. I’m a little more cautious,” Decostanzo said about a potential Trump presidency.

Barbara Brownsworth, a recently retired Stony Brook linguistics professor, attended the event with her husband, Tom Brownsworth. Both said they were unimpressed with both candidates, but are leaning toward Trump.

To Tom Brownsworth, it’s more about the party than the candidate himself. He’s worried about who will have the power to choose the Supreme Court Justice who has yet to be appointed following the death of Antonin Scalia. And for him, Trump’s ideals coincide with his more than Clinton’s do.

“I would like to see a woman president,” Barbara Brownsworth said. “C’mon, it’s the 21st century.”

No matter what differing political views people might have, most can agree this year’s still the most interesting one in modern history.

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