Eight months before the presidential election, it's clear that voters are going to have choose between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. It's only been nine months since "The Donald" announced his candidacy, but in that time he has turned the Republican establishment upside down. The race to the finish line, on November 8, promises to be a nail-biter.
Both candidates are well known: Trump from having been a reality-TV star and New York personality for twenty years; Clinton from having been in the political spotlight since her husband, Bill, ran for president 25 years ago. Americans have strong opinions about both candidates: Trump's favorability ratings are 57 percent unfavorable and 36.4 percent favorable. Clinton's aren't much better: 53 percent unfavorable and 40.8 percent favorable.
By most definitions, Clinton is a Washington insider: She came to Washington in 1992, served as First Lady, United States Senator, and Secretary of State. Trump is an outsider. He's never held political office. (Indeed, until a few years ago, most observers thought Trump was a Democrat.)
Clinton has wrapped herself in the mantle of Barack Obama and is running to guarantee a third-term for his policies. She has the support of the entire Democratic establishment. (Which accounts for her relatively easy victory over insurgent Senator Bernie Sanders.)
Trump is running as the political maverick. He has no political endorsements from establishment Republicans. (Indeed, one might say that he is running as an Independent from within the framework of the Republican Party.) Trump believes Obama has been a terrible president and seeks to reverse many of the accomplishments of the last eight years, including Obamacare and the Iran Nuclear Agreement.
Obviously, there are stark policy differences between Clinton and Trump. For example, Trump wants to build a huge wall along the US-Mexico border and deport 11 million undocumented residents. Clinton wants the undocumented to have a pathway to citizenship. Trump believes that global climate change is a hoax. Clinton takes it seriously and believes that the US needs to do everything it can to avert the consequences.
Both candidates have a solid base within their Party. Trump has commandeered the anger wing of the Republican Party, the segment that does not trust anyone in Washington. These voters are enthralled by Trump the personality; it's not so much what he says as the way he says it.
Clinton has a solid base within the Democratic Party. These are folks who have known her for a long time, believe her to be a gifted leader, well qualified to continue the legacy of Barack Obama. Democrats are angry, too, but their anger is directed at Washington Republicans who they believe have gone out of their way to obstruct the Obama administration for the past seven years.
Assuming that both candidates hold their respective bases, the 2016 election will be decided by Independents. The latest Gallup Poll suggests that only 11 percent of voters are truly Independent. The other 89 percent of the electorate are split between Democrats "including leaners" 46 percent, and Republicans and leaners 43 percent.
There's an argument to be made that some Republicans loathe Trump and may not vote for him. But will they vote for Hillary? Probably not; perhaps they will not vote at all. On the other hand, some Democrats do not like Clinton. But will they vote for Trump? Probably not; perhaps they will not vote at all.
If we assume the Democrat and Republican base stays intact, the final outcome will be decided by the Party that deploys the best get-out-the-vote campaign and the attitudes of a relatively small number of Independents.
Who are these 11-percent hard-core Independents? Gallup says they are Americans who do not identify with either Party and are dissatisfied with government, in general. An April Pew Research report indicated that Independents were disproportionately white men, including a surprising number of Hispanics. They tend to not have college degrees and be in the 18-33 age group (Millennials).
It's safe to assume that some Independents will not vote, particularly the Millennials. Those who do vote are likely to split between Trump (anger at government) and Clinton (Trumps racism).
The current Huffington Post Clinton versus Trump poll-of-polls shows Clinton with 48.1 percent and Trump with 42.8 percent with 9.1 percent undecided. (This is remarkably similar to Democrats all voting for Clinton (46 percent), Republicans for Trump (43 percent) and 11 percent undecided.)
The next eight months of the presidential contest will see a nerve-wracking competition featuring two well-known candidates who have historically high unfavorable ratings.
If Hillary Clinton is to prevail she will have to: make no strategic mistakes; do well in the debates with Trump; mount an effective get-out-the-vote campaign; and attract high numbers of certain voting segments, including single women, Hispanics, and Millennials.