October 30, 2016
Since June, many have drawn the connection between Brexit and the Donald Trump campaign. Without going into the intricacies of this connection, suffice it to say that many of the same emotions, motivations, and underlying sentiments that led the United Kingdom out of the European Union have also led to the success of Donald Trump. A little over a week before the election, the smart money is against Trump winning, though the same was true with Brexit. Though for a variety of reasons I don’t think the shock of Brexit is likely to repeat itself across the pond, it is still critically important for the educated and establishment classes who were dismayed at the outcome of the Brexit vote to take note of Trump’s candidacy and recognize the power that Brexit sentiment has in the United States.
As of now, Clinton has a 4.3-point lead in the RCP average, and just about an 80% chance of winning in the 538 projection and the betting odds. For Trump to win the popular vote would require a polling error of the same magnitude that occurred with the Brexit vote. This is possible, but I think it’s unlikely. First off, though polling errors of that size are bound to occur occasionally, they are the exception rather than the rule. Just because it happened once doesn’t mean that we should expect it to happen again. Furthermore, though I don’t suspect that polling is necessarily better in the US than the UK, it is important to remember that American elections are essentially 50 different elections, and therefore would require the polls to be wrong 50 times instead of just once. The most likely cause of a polling error that would lead to a Trump victory would be something like the “shy Trump voter”, i.e. the idea that the polls underestimate Trump because there are a number of people who won’t admit that they are voting for him. Though I don’t discount the theory (I’d certainly be hesitant to admit voting for him, especially in some circles), I also don’t buy it. It is pure conjecture, and as such subject to the wishful thinking of the Trump advocates who are spouting it. More importantly, in a conflict between hard evidence and unprovable speculation, I am going with the evidence every time. Finally, it should be noted that there is equal speculation that the polls may be underestimating Clinton, most notably due to her vastly superior ground game. For now, I’ll stick with the polls and say Trump is unlikely to win.
If the odds play out like most expect them to—and it’s important to point out that at this point, Trump has about the same chance to win as you do of rolling a six on a single die—the question becomes why did Brexit succeed where Trump failed? The answer is simple, and that is that Brexit was about a cause, whereas the American election is about candidates, and the standard bearer for Brexit sentiment in America is deeply flawed. I suspect that there are a lot of people who would have voted for a Brexit-like referendum, or another Brexit sentiment candidate, but will not vote for Donald Trump. Perhaps the best evidence for this come from the massive gender gap that Donald Trump suffers from. Trump’s gender gap is huge, whereas the gender gap on Brexit was almost non-existent, and I think the explanation for that comes from the misogyny of the candidate.
Even if Trump loses, those who are in the political establishment and who are troubled by the idea of a Brexit-like movement need to sit up and take notice. They are appalled by Brexit and by Trump because both represent a nuclear bomb to the current political, economic, and cultural system. Those who support this sentiment do not fail to realize the extreme and far-reaching consequences of their actions. They support this sentiment because, to them, a complete and utter destruction of the current system, with all the risk and upheaval it entails, is preferable to the continuation of the status quo. They cannot be dismissed or ignored. Instead, those who are appalled by such a nuclear candidate should consider what would have happened if it were a different candidate carrying the Brexit standard. Remember, even with Trump on the ballot, at one point this was a coin flip race. What would have happened if instead of Trump, you had a candidate who, I don’t know, maybe hadn’t bragged about sexually assaulting women? Who didn’t find debate prep too boring to be bothered with, or engage in twitter wars with completely random people? I suspect that with a disciplined candidate, the result would be very different, even if that candidate represented the same nuclear option that Brexit had. Trump may still win this thing, but even if he doesn’t, the establishment should take note, lest this anti-establishment sentiment grow even stronger.