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How to explain the 2016 election to someone who just tuned in

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(Ryan Hermens/Paducah Sun via AP)

Just 42 days to go! Given the election has been going on for more than 500 days (Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) became the first presidential candidate inMarch 2015), that means it’s basically at our doorstep.

It also means, if history is any guide, that the vast majority of Americans who have treated election news as little more than background noise arestarting to tune in.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been paying at least a smidgen of attention to the 2016 race well before the 42-day mark. (If not: Welcome!) Either way,let’s take what we know and tie it up into a nice bow to help our friends and family who haven’t been following closely understand this sometimes-inexplicable election.

Here’s what to say if someone asks you:

What’s the state of the presidential race?

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Hillary Clinton has been leading Donald Trump in the polls since the general election got underway in August. Recently, Clinton’s lead overall has narrowed from an eight- or nine-point lead to less than three points.

But an even better predictor than national polls the state of the race in key states shows Clinton has anelectoral lead, though it’s tightening. So found a recentWashington Post-SurveyMonkey 50-state poll, which we’ll get into more detail below.

Is Donald Trump going to win?

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Donald Trump (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The odds-makerswouldn’t call it a safe bet, but it’s not impossible.

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Trump’s magic number is 26: That’s the number of states he needs to win to get to 270 electoral votes, and it’s two more than Mitt Romney won in 2012. Right now he’s leading in 19.

Trump’s likeliest path to victory is through the Rust Beltin Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Those are states with a significant share of the older, white, non-college-educated working class vote i.e., Trump’s base.

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But if Trump is within striking distance in the Upper Midwest, he’snot a lock to win somestates Republicans typically win, such asArizona and Georgia. And any time he turns his attention toholding traditionally Republican terrain is time he’s not spending in the swing states.

Is Hillary Clinton going to win?

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Hillary Clinton (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

At this moment, it’s the likeliest possibility though the race is much closer thanClinton would like.

If you add up all the states she’s leading in right now, she’s much closer to the magic 270 she needs to win than Trump is.And as you can see from all the blue and purplebelow states in play for her Clintonhas plenty of options from which tograbthe remaining votes.

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But even without Trump,Democratswent into 2016 with a majorelectoral advantage thanks to our nations’ changing demographics. As Fix Boss Chris Cillizza has pointed out, Clinton just needs to win the19 statesDemocrats have won in each of the past six elections, pick upjust one more big prize likeFlorida, and she’s president-elect.

Trump’s path is muchnarrower. Clinton’s isn’t.

Can I vote for someone other than Trump or Clinton?

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Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Depends where you live. As of this writing, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson (of “What is Aleppo?” fame) is on the ballot in 49 states. Green Party nominee Jill Stein (who is charged inNorth Dakota for damaging equipment during theprotest of anoil pipeline) is on the ballot in 43 states. And independent candidate Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer who is trying to play spoiler to Trump, is on the ballot or an option as a write-in in 19 states.

It also depends on how you want to use your vote. There’s some evidence that voting for a third-party candidate could influence the results though not necessarily the outcome. That Post-SurveyMonkey 50-state poll found that when you include Johnson and Stein on a test ballot, Clinton’s winning margin narrows.

Recent U.S. politics has favored candidates from the Democrat and Republican parties, but here are seven examples of candidates who ran under a different mantle. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post) What’s the latest on Clinton’s emails?

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There’s beena steady drip of information that raises questions about whether Clinton understood and complied with State Department rules about classified information when she used a private server exclusively while serving as secretary of state. But there’s no smoking gun that indicates she broke a law.

FBI Director James B. Comey has said Clinton’s handling of her email was “extremely careless” but that the decision notto charge her “was not a cliff-hanger.” We’ll see more of her work-related emails before Election Day.

Smoking gun or not, the narrative around Clinton’s emails does appear to be a drag on hercandidacy. A recent CNN/ORC poll found 62 percent of registered voters agree with the statement her use of the server is “an important indicator of her character and ability to serve as president.”

The FBI Sept. 2 published a detailed report on its investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post) Is Trump becoming more presidential?

This is a subjective question, but we can try to weigh it objectively. Since he got a new campaign manager in August, Trump certainlyseems to bespending less time these days lobbing insults and being embroiled in controversies that distract from his campaign. Over the same time period, the average length of timeHouse Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has gone between denouncing something Trump says has increased from eight days to 11 days.

Butsuccess is relative. For instance, Trump has since doubleddownonsomething his Republican colleagues have beenhard-pressed to defend: PraisingRussian President Vladimir Putin, calling hima stronger leader than President Obama.

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(Philip Bump / The Washington Post) Is Congress in play?

Yes, but to varying degrees depending on the chamber.The Senate is definitely in play, though Democrats’ opportunities have narrowed in recent days as the presidential race tightens. Democrats need to win four tofive seats to take back control after they lost it in 2014. They have a chance in roughly five to seven.

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Meanwhile, House Democrats have a slim opportunity to seriously eat into Republicans’ historic majority, thanks in part to Trump’s lingering unpopularity among white, college-educated women in suburban, GOP-held districts.

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If Clinton were to come back to post ahistorically strong result(like, by getting the highest percentage a winning presidential candidate has received in two decades), Democrats could even win back the majority. But that’s a huge “if.”

Here are thetop 10 House races right now.

And here are the top 10 Senate races.

What polls should I pay attention to?

The Fix’s polling guru, Philip Bump, goes into much more detail here. But basically, stay away from polls conducted exclusively via social media, and online. Put much more value in the averages of polls (like RealClearPolitics and Huffington Post Pollster), which are the most accurate.

When’s Election Day?

Nov. 8! Put another way: at least 42news cycles from the moment this story was first posted. So, in American-election-year time, basically right around the corner.

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/09/09/how-to-explain-the-2016-election-to-someone-who-just-tuned-in/

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