The big question being asked today across America – and, for that matter, the rest of the world – is who will win the presidential election tomorrow?
There are several critical considerations to keep in mind, according to nationally respected researcher George Barna. First, while polls indicate voter preferences, they are generally ineffective at predicting turnout – and turnout is the first factor that can make or break how well each candidate does. Second, despite the mainstream media’s obsession with the “horse race” numbers, the national vote totals do not determine who win be sworn in next January. That depends upon who wins at least 270 votes in the Electoral College, which is based on amassing wins in key states.
Barna evaluated surveys in 16 important states to provide insight into what matters as we evaluate the election results.
“Hillary Clinton,” he explained, “has been in the driver’s seat for months because of the Democrats’ advantage in states that supply large numbers of Electoral votes – California, New York, and Illinois, especially. To win, Donald Trump must carry every state that was won by Mitt Romney in 2012 plus Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio – all of which were won by Barack Obama in 2012.”
Pundits on both sides of the race are struggling to figure out if that will happen. Barna again turned to the latest polls for insight.
“Right now, Mr. Trump has the momentum in virtually every state outside of the northeast and the west coast. His lack of momentum in those states does not mean much because winning those states has never been part of his strategy for getting elected. The bigger issue is whether he can sustain – and in some cases, accelerate – his campaign’s momentum in the critical swing states.”
Barna has been conducting surveys related to the presidential race every day during the past two years. The American Culture & Faith Institute, which he directs, has completed more than two dozen election-related surveys during that time. He offered his current assessment of where things stand.
“The dynamics of the race have changed significantly in the last three months. Mr. Trump’s support has transitioned from being an alternative to Mrs. Clinton to being a candidate whose views many people embrace. That has altered peoples’ attitudes and enthusiasm about the race and enabled it to be much more competitive. Combined with the series of scandals surrounding Mrs. Clinton, many voters who had written off Mr. Trump felt compelled to revisit their views of him, and enough of them have become his supporters to make it a real contest. The increased importance voters have assigned to the Supreme Court nominations that will be made by the next president has also served to tighten the race.
“Mr. Trump is likely to win Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, and South Carolina,” Barna said, focusing on a state-by-state analysis. “Each of those states was doubtful or in jeopardy just a few weeks ago. Iowa is significant because the Democrats won there in 2012.
“Mrs. Clinton is likely to take Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Those are states where recently her lead has been shaky, but she looks like she can pull it out in those places.
“That leaves the 6 states that will decide the winner,” Barna continued. “Florida appears to be dead even. If Mr. Trump loses Florida and its 29 electoral votes, it doesn’t matter what happens in the other six states. Keep your eye on Florida; it is perhaps the most pivotal state of them all.
“Like Florida, both Nevada and North Carolina appear to be a dead heat. Mr. Obama won Nevada’s four electoral votes in 2012 but Romney won North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes. Both states are truly up for grabs this time around.
“Mrs. Clinton has a small edge in Colorado, though Mr. Trump has the momentum. She will likely carry Colorado and win its nine electoral votes. She has a very similar, small edge in Pennsylvania but again, Mr. Trump has the momentum. Pennsylvania is significant because it provides 20 electoral votes. Based on a series of factors, she has to be considered the favorite, although Mr. Trump is still alive there. Pennsylvania is definitely still in play.
“That leaves Ohio,” Barna explained. “Right now, Mr. Trump appears to have a small edge in Ohio and he also has the momentum. It seems likely that he will take Ohio’s 18 electoral votes.
“So the overall scenario is this,” he said in summarizing his overview. “If Mr. Trump loses Florida, he loses the race. If he wins Florida but loses Pennsylvania, then he must win Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada to win the race. Alternatively, if he wins Florida and Pennsylvania but loses Ohio, then he must win Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada to win the race. Mrs. Clinton is still in the preferred position, but there is more uncertainty in these final three days of the election than we have seen in a long time. She has the lead but he has the momentum. If you like drama, this is your kind of race.”
The U.S. Senate is the other major part of the balance of power equation to consider on Tuesday. Currently Republicans control a small majority of the Senate with 54 seats. Losing four incumbent seats will deadlock the Senate, allowing the Vice President to be the deciding vote on split decisions.
Again, Barna turned to statewide polls to provide some perspective on what is likely to happen.
“The Republicans are likely to retain their seats in Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and Georgia, while the Democrats have a comfortable lead in the effort to retain their seat in Colorado.
“Just as in the presidential race, there are multiple states in which the Senate races are neck-and-neck,” Barna commented. “Those states include Missouri, New Hampshire, and North Carolina – all of which have incumbent Republicans – and Nevada, with an incumbent Democrat who is retiring.”
“Then there are the states that are close but perhaps predicable,” Barna went on. “Pennsylvania is leaning toward the Democrats right now, which would be a pick-up for them. Indiana is now leaning toward the Republican candidate, so the GOP is likely to retain that seat.
“If the four states that are currently even wind up splitting, two seats per party, and the other races go as I’ve suggested, the Senate will be evenly divided, 50-50. But if one party wins the majority of the four evenly divided races, or earns a surprise win in another state, that party will then have a Senate majority.”
The Bottom Line
So what does all of this mean for the average voter?
First, the predictions by Barna and other analysts are predicated on the assumption that the people who have been telling pollsters that they will vote will actually do so. Barna urged voters not to become so encouraged or discouraged by such predictions that they figure their vote is not needed and thus fail to participate. Every American has both a responsibility to vote as well as an opportunity to make a difference in the future of the country. Christians, he noted, are compelled both as citizens of the United States and as followers of Jesus Christ to use the influence of their vote to guide the nation forward.
Second, the close nature of all of the races described above highlights how politically divided America is today. Anyone who wishes to have a say in the direction of the nation has a meaningful opportunity to do so by voting in this election. Decisions regarding many critical choices for the nation – regarding the Supreme Court, abortion, taxes, jobs, trade, immigration, healthcare, national defense, government spending and reach, and more – will be determined on Tuesday. Anyone who chooses not to vote essentially forfeits their right to complain about policy decisions and implementation strategies enacted during the next four years. And whatever their character flaws may be – and those are undeniable – the stark contrasts in the platforms of the major presidential candidates offer a means of expressing what you believe America should be in the years to come. Voting in this election represents a unique chance to influence the nation’s future and to leave a personal imprint on the culture.
Third, things invariably happen that alter our schedule. Research has shown that the people who have planned out how they will execute their vote – what time of day they will vote, how they will get to the polling place, ensuring that they have the identification documents they will need, knowing who they will vote for once they arrive, and so forth – are more likely to actually vote. Those studies underscore how important it is to think through the process in order to get the job done.
In the end, one of the great wonders of the American system is that the people have the power – but that power is merely theoretical unless citizens use it appropriately. Be sure to vote – and vote wisely.
About the Research
George Barna is the Executive Director of the American Culture & Faith Institute. He is a veteran of political research, having conducted polls for a wide variety of political candidates and state government organizations. He was also the founder of the Barna Group, which became a leading marketing research organization focused on faith and culture. He is also the bestselling author of more than fifty books about American society and faith, and is a frequent contributor to radio, TV, and print networks.
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians related to the political process, in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual candidates or political parties.
Additional information about this study and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com. To receive a free copy of these newsletters, visit the website and register for the SAGE Con Weekly newsletter.