While much of the world is still processing the results of the referendum in Great Britain on Thursday night where voters, to the surprise of many, elected to leave the European Union; many of our country’s political pundits are wondering what it all means for our presidential election in November.
There have been a number of think pieces on this topic. Too many in fact.
So does this mean I am going to add to the already existing pile of these articles and give my thoughts on the topic? Yes. Yes it does.
If you were to read some of these articles or listen to some pundits on TV, you would think Donald Trump locked up the presidency on Thursday night. I have absolutely no idea this has become a popular point of view. When was the last time an election overseas had a direct affect on an election here in the United States?
People need to chill out a little bit. Of course I know that is next to impossible. Americans, myself included, always seem to watch world events take place and ask what it means for us. That and our media is always game for an overreaction to draw the public’s attention.
So, were Thursday’s results in the UK a great foreshadowing of what is to come in November? Does a surprise “leave” victory mean we are going to wake up on November 9 to the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency beginning on January 20, 2017?
The answer is no.
I will say, what happened on Thursday should give the Democrats who seem to think Clinton has this election in the bag a wake up call. There are no guarantees when it comes to voting and as we have seen so many times throughout 2016, conventional wisdom doesn’t necessarily win out at the end of the day.
And yes, there are some parallels between the EU vote and the support behind Donald Trump; namely the urban/rural divide, the divisions between generations, those with a college degree and those without, and the vote breakdown based on the diversity, or lack thereof, of a particular city, town, or region.
Yes, Trump can ride the anti-elite wave to the White House the same way the advocates for “leave” did to get Britain out of the UK; but the results would be coincidental at best.
For starters, and to state the obvious, the United States and England are two different countries. Voters in the US do not necessarily have the same level of concern about specific issues as voters in the UK do. And vice versa.
Polling in Great Britain has consistently showed immigration is the top concern among their voters. In a number of polls over the last year, the issue is far ahead of concerns over the country’s national health care system or the economy.
In an Economist/Ipsos Poll taken right before the referendum, immigration was the top concern among 48% of Britons; outpacing the NHS (37%), Europe and the European Union (32%), and the economy (27%). A plurality, or 27%, of all respondents rated immigration as the most important issue facing the country.
Here in the United States, immigration typically lags far behind the economy and national security as the most important issues on voters minds. The issue is typically bunched together with healthcare, education, the environment, and crime.
It is also important to note that immigration ranked as the top issues among conservative and liberal voters in Britain, with conservatives being more likely to say it is their top issue.
This is not the case in the United States. In fact, a Gallup survey conducted back in January showed immigration did not crack the top four issues listed by both Democratic and Republican voters as most important to them. Like in the UK, Republican (conservative) voters were more likely to name immigration as a top issues, but even among the GOP base, the issue still finished behind the budget deficit, foreign affairs, and the size of the federal government.
Unfortunately for Trump, unlike in the UK, immigration is just not an issue Americans are deeply concerned about. He was able to ride the anti-immigrant sentiment to victory in the Republican primary, but he will not be able to replicate it in the general election.
Speaking of polls, for some reason, people are under the impression they were all dead wrong in the lead up to Thursday’s referendum. The prevailing thought among many has been the polls, and by extension the political experts, all underestimated the support among the “leave” constituency only to be shocked by the amount of support it actually received. This, they say, is similar to what happened here when just about every political pundit underestimated the support Donald Trump had among the GOP primary electorate.
There are two big problems with this argument.
First, while a number of polls in the days leading up to Thursday showed “remain” pulling slightly ahead, an average of all polls showed it as a 50/50 tossup, with “remain” half-a-percentage-point up on “leave.” All one has to do is look at a number of polls earlier from earlier this month, and prior, to see plenty of them had “leave” on the winning side.
Second, political pundits in our country may have gotten it wrong on Trump’s chances of winning the nomination, but the polls sure didn’t.
Shortly after he gracefully descended the escalator and entered the presidential race in June of last year, Trump shot to the top of the polls and stayed there throughout. Yes, one or two polls in the dog days of the primary season had Cruz ahead of Trump by a point or two, but there was never any stretch of time where Trump was consistently behind any of his GOP rivals.
The issue here seems to be the media, in both cases, believed their own narrative and never deviated from it. It was never obvious “remain” was going to carry the day, and yet the experts were convinced it would.
Same with Trump. Despite all evidence to the contrary, even after he started winning contests, a countless number of pundits kept telling us Trump’s demise was right around the corner.
There was not a huge miss by the pollsters in either circumstance, despite what people might tell themselves. Those who worry, or wonder, about whether our general election polls are wrong should take comfort in this fact.
Right now, an average of all polls taken over the last month have Hillary Clinton with a solid lead over Donald Trump. There is no reason to think this isn’t true.
Another thing to keep in mind is how much different the electorates in Britain and the United States are.
Britain has far more voting age whites than does the United States. 87% of the UK’s voting age population is white, compared to 74% in the United States; while African Americans make up only 3% of the electorate in the UK, they make up 13% of the electorate here.
In terms of age breakdowns; Britain’s 65 years-old and older population make up over 17% of the electorate. In the United States, voters who are 65+ only account for 15%.
The vote breakdown in the EU Referendum is similar to the breakdown of party support here. In England, older, white voters without a college degree predominantly voted for the UK to leave the EU. This demographic also makes up the base of support for the GOP in our elections.
The younger, more diverse voters with a college degree overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU and also tend to support Democrats in the United States.
However, the data seems to show that if the UK electorate had the same diversity as the United States, with similar turnout rates, it would have given the “remain” campaign another 4% in support and thus, a victory on Thursday night.
People also seem to forget there is a huge difference between a referendum and an election. A referendum is basically a choice between which idea or policy someone agrees with more.
In an election there is a choice between candidates where voters not only factor in policy ideas, but also the temperament, viability, qualifications, and likability of each candidate.
It is worth noting that the UK electoral system simply goes by popular vote. This is for both referendums and for elections between candidates and political parties. This is a far cry from the Electoral College we have for presidential elections.
Before a single vote is cast for president, Hillary Clinton already starts out with a huge advantage over Donald Trump given the allocation of electoral votes from safe blue states compared to safe red states.
So while it is easy and, for some people, compelling to believe the UK results will lead to something similar here, it is also a waste of time.
Whoever wins the presidency in November will do so because they were able to turn out their base and convince enough swing voters in battleground states that they are best person to lead the country for the next four years.
It will not be because voters in Great Britain decided they had enough of the European Union.