Who’s Afraid of Michael Moore?

At otherwise jolly holiday parties, my political friends couldn’t stop talking about Michael Moore’s prediction that Donald Trump would win in 2020. (Remember, Michael predicted Trump would prevail in 2016.)  How worried should we be?

Michael Moore made his prediction in a December 26th conversation with Amy Goodman (https://www.democracynow.org/2019/12/26/michael_moore_donald_trump_impeachment ):

“I believe whoever the Democrat is next year is going to win by 4 to 5 million popular votes. There’s no question in my mind that people who stayed home, who sat on the bench, they’re going to pour out, in California, New York… The problem is, is that [Trump] will — if the vote were today, I believe, he would win the electoral states that he would need, because, living out there, I will tell you, his level of support has not gone down one inch. In fact, I’d say it’s even more rabid than it was before, because they’re afraid now.”

Moore explained to Goodman that he believes the reason 2016 Democratic presidential candidate  Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump was because, in states like Michigan, she did not generate enthusiasm among rank-and-file Democrats.  In 2020, Moore is afraid that Democrats will lose again if they repeat the Clinton “mistake.”

The good news is, again, number one, never forget, there’s more of us than there are of them. The majority of the American people agree with us. Seventy percent of the voters next year are women, people of color and young adults… So, what we have to do is we have to make sure we don’t give them another Hillary Clinton to vote for. 

Michael Moore is a smart guy.  What he is saying is that if, in 2020, Democrats nominate a Hillary-clone then they’ll lose again because Trump will carry the midwest and, therefore, win the electoral vote.  This is an important argument that has three components: 1. Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election because Democrats in critical states, such as Michigan, didn’t vote for her.  2. Moore believes the 2020 “centrist” Dems, such as Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, are bound  to be as unpopular as Clinton.  3. In 2020 the other political dynamics will be the same as they were in 2016.  That is, Trump will probably carry the Independents.  Furthermore, Moore believes Trump will probably win the same “red” states and the Dems will probably win the same “blue’ states and therefore, the race will come down to the same handful of states such as Michigan.  Let’s examine each of these contentions.

1.Hillary lost swing states because registered Democrats didn’t vote for her.  The 2016 election post-mortem suggested that Clinton lost the electoral college because she underperformed in three states and lost them by a total of 77,759 votes. Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,307 votes (0.7 of a percentage point), Wisconsin by 22,748 votes (0.7 of a point) and Michigan by 10,704 votes (0.2 of a point).

Michigan: Trump had 2,279543 voters (47.50%) and Clinton had 2,268,839 voters (47.27%).  Two other candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein had 223,499 voters (4.66%).  So it’s likely that some Democrats who didn’t like Clinton, chose instead to vote for Johnson or Stein.

The CNN exit polls indicated that while there were more potential Michigan Democratic voters than Republican, only 88 percent of Dems voted for Clinton versus 90 percent for Trump.

Wisconsin was similar to Michigan: Trump had 1,405,284 voters (47.22%) and Clinton had 1,382,536 voters (46.45%) , while Johnson and Stein had 137,746 voters (4.62%).  Once again it was likely that some Democrats that didn’t like Clinton voted for Johnson or Stein.

Pennsylvania results indicated that Trump had 2,970,733 voters (48.18%) and Clinton had 2,926,441 voters (47.46%).  Johnson and Stein had 196,656 (3.19%).

The CNN Pennsylvania exit polls were similar to Michigan.  There were more Democratic voters (42%) than Republican (39%) but only 87% of Dems stayed with Clinton versus 89% that stuck with Trump.

Conclusion: In these key states, Michael Moore is right when he states that Clinton lost because her base didn’t stick with her.  But it’s an oversimplification, because Moore ignores the decisive role played by Independents — Trump carried the Independents in each state.  (By the way, the national exit polls indicated that Trump carried Independents — 20 percent of the electorate — 48% versus 41% for Clinton.)

2. The 2020 “centrist” Dems, such as Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, are bound  to be as unpopular as Clinton.  Michael Moore believes that 2020 Dems are about to make the same mistake they did in 2016 and nominate an unpopular candidate — leading to a “hold your nose” election where Trump will prevail. The most recent polling data doesn’t support this.  538 (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-democratic-presidential-candidates-are-becoming-less-popular/ ) notes that Trump is by far the most unpopular candidate (47.8% “very unfavorable” rating).

Among the Democratic candidates: Joe Biden had a 31.4% “very unfavorable” rating, while Bernie Sanders had a 34.4% rating and Elizabeth Warren 34.2%.

Conclusion: Michael Moore seems to be off in his assertion that the 2020 centrist Democratic candidates  will be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.

3. In 2020, Michael Moore assumes the other political dynamics will be the same as they were in 2016.  There are  actually two parts to this assertion; the first is that Trump will, once again, carry Independent voters.  This doesn’t seem to be the case.

The latest Gallup poll shows that Trump’s approval rating is 42 percent with Independents.  This is consistent with the 2018 election results where Democratic candidates “took 55 percent of independents compared to just 41 percent for Republican candidates.” (https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/475607-independent-voters-will-make-donald-trump-a-one-term-president)  A recent The Hill article observed: “A recent Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 62 percent of independents ‘disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president.’ ”

This shift in the sentiment of independent voters seems to indicate that, in 2020, Independents will prefer the Democratic presidential candidates over Trump.  There isn’t a lot of polling on this, but a November Washington Post/ABC News poll (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-trails-democratic-rivals-in-national-survey-as-independents-move-away/2019/11/04/) showed that among Independent voters: Biden led Trump by 56% to 39%.

The second Moore assertion is that the 2020 election map will look the same as it did in 2016.  That is, the coasts will go to the Democratic presidential candidate, the south and heartland will go to Trump and the election will be decided by a small number of states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Many Democratic strategists don’t agree with Moore’s perspective; they think many more states will be in play.  Seven states have been mentioned as possible Democratic targets.

Arizona: In 2016. Trump won Arizona with 48.1% (Clinton got 44.6%).  However, the state is inexorably swinging towards the Democrats.  In 2018, Democratic Senator Krysten Sinema replaced (outgoing) Republican Jeff Flake.  Recent polls show that Trump’s popularity is waning; Real Clear Politics indicates that he and Joe Biden are tied in the Arizona polls.  (Explanation: I’m using Joe Biden as the potential Democratic candidate because — in these seven states — Biden has the best poll numbers versus Trump.)

Florida:  In 2016, Trump won Florida with 48.6% (Clinton got 47.4%).  As we know, this is a volatile state.  At the moment, Joe Biden leads Trump by a 2 percent margin.

Georgia:  In 2016, Trump won Georgia with 50.4%.  We know this state is difficult to peg because of historic Republican-instigated voter suppression.  Nonetheless, at the moment, Joe Biden leads Trump by 8 percent.

Iowa:  In 2016, Trump won Iowa with 51.1%.  In the latest polls, Trump leads Biden by approximately 2 percent.

North Carolina:  In 2016, Trump won North Carolina with 49.8%.  At the moment, Biden leads Trump by 3 percent.

Ohio: In 2016, Trump won Ohio by 51.3%.  In the latest poll, Biden leads Trump by 6 percent.

Texas:  In 2016, Trump won Texas by 52.2%.  In the latest polls, Trump and Biden are even.

Conclusion:  Michael Moore is predicting that Donald Trump will again win in 2020 because (1) Democrats will nominate an unpopular candidate — Moore, who is a Bernie Sanders supporter, believes that Joe Biden will prove to be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.  (2) Moore’s second assertion is that Democrats will again lose Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  At the moment, Biden (and other Democratic candidates) are ahead of Trump in these three states. (3) Moore’s third assertion is that, in 2020, Independent voters will break for Trump.  Once again, this doesn’t seem to be the case.  (4) Finally, Michael Moore believes that the 2020 electoral map will be the same as it was in 2016.  Once again, this is questionable.  At the moment, Democratic candidates — particularly Joe Biden — seem to be extremely competitive in seven states that Trump carried in 2016.

I’m not saying that Trump will definitely lose in 2020.  I’m saying the situation looks different than it did in 2016 and Dems should have “guarded optimism.”  At the moment, several Democratic candidates — notably Joe Biden — have a good shot at defeating Trump.