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BLOG: Voter turnout is key to the Trump v Clinton contest

News Page 3rd October 2016

Senior Lecturer in International Relations & Politics, Ron Mendel, takes a look at the race to the White House.


With less than 40 days to go before US citizens cast their ballots, the contest for the US Presidency remains too close to call. Despite Hilary Clinton’s impressive performance at the first of the three schedule debates and Donald Trump’s relatively lacklustre showing, the Democratic candidate holds only a marginal advantage according to the most recent polls.

While the support each candidate can generate over policy issues, such as the economy, trade, taxes immigration and national security, has contributed to the tightness of the race, a more appropriate explanation lies in the polarising images Clinton and Trump project to the electorate.

The former, to her supporters is competent, experienced and articulate – and above all, prepared to assume the role of the President, while to her detractors is out of touch with ‘ordinary’ Americans, lacks personal integrity (as witnessed by questionable storing of personal emails on her Secretary of State email server) and is too close to Wall Street and other corporate financial  donors.

The latter among his backers speaks for the ‘common’ man and woman who have been ignored by the political establishment, which Clinton is part of, have experienced economic hardship and feel anxious about the influx of immigrants, especially those who ‘illegally’ enter the US. To Trump’s opponents he is a loose cannon, prone to making offensive remarks about Latinos, Muslims and the disabled,  and possesses  a temperament which raises questions about his fitness for the highest office in US politics.

What makes it even more difficult to predict a winner of the election is the nature of the presidential election process. In the US to prevail in the contest, a candidate must win 270 electoral votes and not necessarily garner the majority of the popular votes.  Each state based on population is credited  with electoral votes,  which equals the number of Senators to the US Senate (two in each case) and the number of representatives  each state sends to the lower house of  Congress. This means that some states carry more value in the election.  For example, the most populated state, California has 55 electoral votes, while Maine has only two electoral votes.

A  recent Financial  Times analysis of the opinion polls nationally and  by each of the 50 states shows at this moment Clinton laying claim to 205  votes and Trump, to 165, with 168 electoral votes (over 13 states)  identified as a “toss-up”. Among the 13 are six ‘swing’ states – Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina (amounting  collectively to 114 votes) which both candidates have especially targeted in their campaigns.

In essence, then, during the upcoming weeks both candidates will aim to appeal to the undecided portion of the electorate in the swing states and focus their efforts to motivate their supporters to vote on the 8 November, for voter turnout could be the key factor in determining the election outcome.

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