Sunday will mark one year until the 2016 Presidential Election. My focus has been, and will continue to be, on the primary races, but the one-year mark feels like a good time to take the briefest of looks forward to the general.
Below, I’m ranking the candidates in likelihood to be the next president, estimating their percent chance to win the election. The best way to arrive at this number is to estimate a candidate’s percent chance to win nomination and multiply it by the percent change that they convert that nomination to a general election win.
Let’s get to it. Note that due to rounding, these numbers might not add up to 100 percent, but they’ll be close. I’m also not factoring in a surprise entry into either field (Paging Mr. Romney…) or a legitimate Independent candidate.
1. Hillary Clinton (90% chance of nom. X 51% chance of converting = 46%)
Let’s face it: the nomination is hers. Sanders will keep her honest the rest of the way, but even in states where his surge once gave him some leads, the surge has ended. Clinton has taken a commanding lead in Iowa, and Sanders’s dominance in New Hampshire has eroded into a virtual tie. As expected, Biden declaring his non-candidacy was the death knell in Sanders’s challenge. Barring political catastrophe, she’ll win at least 48 states and maybe sweep the country.
For the general, however, things won’t come nearly as easy. The Crown Princess of Divisiveness will unite the right against her, and her favorability among all voters is below water. She also loses head to heads general election polls with most Republican contenders, especially Ben Carson. On the surface, these numbers should be troubling to Democrats. However, consider that the right also united against Barack Obama in 2012 and he still won the Electoral College quite comfortably. General election polling is also overrated. The presidential election is not a single nation-wide popularity contest but rather 51 smaller contests. Thanks to recent demographical developments, the Democrats have a decided advantage in the Electoral College. Many more electoral votes start comfortably blue in this election cycle than comfortably red. The Republican candidate needs to win many more swing states than the Democratic one does. The Republicans have an uphill climb, and so I give the edge to Clinton in a general election against most Republicans, including Trump, Bush, and Cruz. I’m sure many Republicans would think this is a crazy prediction and the American people would never elect such a person, but I’m guessing these are the same people who thought that of course Romney was going to beat Obama.
2. Marco Rubio (33% chance of nom. X 55% chance of converting = 18%)
A one in three chance at the nomination feels about right. (To understand why I have Republicans ranked as they do for the nomination, read my November Power Rankings from Monday.) I expect the Republican love affair with Trump and Carson to peter out by February. No one has to commit to their vote today, so it’s easy to support the candidate of the day. I also suspect that over the next couple months, Trump supporters will be trained not to vote for Carson, and vice versa. When one of them loses support, the other will not grow stronger. Instead, more viable candidates like Rubio will soak up support, especially when it comes time for Republican leadership to start backing a candidate and telling their constituents to do so the same.
Rubio in a general election against Hillary Clinton would be extremely strong. His home state of Florida’s 29 electoral votes — the biggest swing state of the election — are as good as red, considering the state was President Obama’s narrowest 2012 victory at just 0.88 percent. Rubio would also certainly improve on Romney’s abysmal 27 percent of the Latino vote. Similarly, a nomination of the Latino Rubio could help the GOP nullify Clinton’s advantage as being the latest “first ‘fill-in-demographic-trait’ to be president,” which the media loves to play up. Rubio is stronger than any Republican contender on foreign policy, which is a strength of Clinton as a former Senator and Secretary of State. Finally, the optics of a young, energetic personality against an old Democratic dynasty look great for the GOP.
3. Ted Cruz (15% chance of nom. X 45% chance of converting = 7%)
I don’t like him in a general election because I think the country is leaving his conservativism behind, but I do love him in this nomination fight.
4. Chris Christie (12% chance of nom. X 55% chance of converting = 6%)
5. Jeb Bush (14% chance of nom. X 45% chance of converting = 6%)
Christie and Bush are the last two candidates I can’t figure out. I feel good about Rubio and Cruz moving forward. I feel confident that Carson and Trump have no more than a 10 percent chance of holding on as actual voting draws near. But Christie is so good at politics that I get the feeling he just needs a break and he can take off; I just don’t know if he’ll get that break. Being left out of the next main debate doesn’t help. Still, he’s made for the local retail chats that Iowans and New Hampshirites love. Jeb Bush, meanwhile, is nearly the exact opposite. He’s terrible at politics. He loves to boast about his successful Floridian policy, but he left office a decade ago and no one seems to care. Many feel like he’s been shoved down our throats because of his last name. He needs to earn the nomination, which he hasn’t had the ability to do. But boy does he have cash, and the Bush family is really good at winning elections. Ultimately, Christie and Bush are both top five most likely nominees, and yet they’re also the top five most likely top drop out by the end of the year.
In a general election, if Christie has won the nomination, we can assume he’s firing on all cylinders. That should carry over. Then it’ll become okay to talk about the Obama embrace, where he put his state above politics. Independents will eat that with a spoon. Then it becomes okay to talk about his necessarily moderate record of New Jersey. He can brag about being a Republican governor of a dark blue state, showing that unlike Obama, who failed miserably to bridge the red state-blue state divide, he actually had to work with the other side to govern his state. Independents would love that kind of talk more than Clinton’s divide and conquer, and Christie would therefore be the favorite in a general. Jeb Bush, however, would punt the Republicans greatest advantage — dynastic fatigue. And if he can’t even win over the party where Bush is a popular name, he likely won’t be able to win over the country where it’s not.
6. Ben Carson (10% chance of nom. X 45% chance of converting = 5%)
7. Donald Trump (10% chance of nom. X 40% chance of converting = 4%)
For obvious reason, we’ll lump these two together. They each have about a one in ten chance of holding onto their leads and winning the nomination, but that’s the only way they’ll do it. If at any point things go south for either one, there is no comeback. And what are the chances that things never go south? About one in ten. (Speculative side note: I’m still not even convinced either of them want the job.)
In a general election, I hate Trump’s chances. Even at the zenith of his popularity, his general election numbers were unimpressive. I have a feeling Americans won’t let him become President of the United States. As for Carson: total wild card. I don’t know what to think. He should be embarrassed by Clinton’s experience. However, if he can cut deeply into the Democratic dominance of African Americans, that’s a huge hit for the party to absorb. While I like his chances better than Trump’s, I think Independents would worry about making Carson their commander-in-chief, no matter how much they like him as a person.
8. Bernie Sanders (8% chance of nom. X 45% chance of converting = 4%)
And I might have been too generous with the eight percent. I don’t think he can overcome the socialist label in a general election. While he will mobilize huge numbers of the American youth, it probably wouldn’t be enough. But it’s a non-issue. He’s not winning the nomination.
9. John Kasich (3% chance of nom. X 52% chance of converting = 2%)
10. Martin O’Malley (2% chance of nom. X 48% chance of converting = 1%)
11. Carly Fiorina (1% chance of nom. X 48% chance of converting = 0.5%)
No need to waste your time more than I already have.
12. Remaining Republican Field (2% chance of nom. X 40% chance of converting = 1%)
“So you’re telling me there’s a chance!” -All other Republican candidates.