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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Update on the 2016 General Election

Justin H. Phillips, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate studies in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University
New York, NY
November 2, 2015

Date: 11/02/2015 Location: New York, NY Description: Columbia University Professor Justin Phillips provides foreign journalists with an update on the 2016 presidential race at the New York Foreign Press Center. - State Dept Image

2:00 P.M. EST


MS SHIE: So welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center. My name is Monica. Today we’re doing another in our series of election briefings. We have Professor Justin Phillips, if you want to come on up, from Columbia University here to give you an update on the U.S. election and an overview. He’ll give some remarks and then take your questions. All right? Thank you very much. Professor Phillips.

MR PHILLIPS: Thank you very much. I will – I have some opening comments that are kind of an overview of the process, and then I will take questions. So I’ll try not to talk too long.

But I want to start with kind of a basic this is the way presidential elections and primary elections in the United States work. Because if you were to design a system to elect party nominees or elect a president, you probably wouldn’t design this system. But it’s the system that we have, and it can be a little complicated. But what’s happening right now is the process has begun where each of the two major political parties are going to nominate a candidate for the general election, and they do so through national political conventions. Parties – American political parties have used national conventions to nominate candidates for the presidency since the 1830s. Republicans hold their convention in Cleveland in July 18th through the 21st, and the Democrats in Philadelphia July 25th through the 28th. And that’s when kind of the real general election will begin, after that period of time.

And of course, the nominee for each party is the candidate who receives the largest number of delegates, or a majority of the delegates at their party’s convention. And historically, it was unclear heading into conventions, typically, who the party’s nominee would be. So there’d be rounds of voting, days of backroom – days of backroom negotiating, and then eventually a nominee would be settled upon. But these days it’s usually clear heading into the convention who the nominee is going to be. Delegates are pre-committed for the most part. And so the conventions themselves don’t have a lot of drama. That might not be the case this year on the Republican side, depending on how the primary election goes.

So what we’re observing right now is what political scientists refer to as the invisible primary. It may be a term that you’ve heard. It’s still months before any voting happens in primary elections or in caucuses, but this is the period of time where candidates have announced that they’re running and they’re working on gathering as many donations as they can, hiring the best staff that they can, recruiting volunteers, building ground organizations in the states with – that are going to be voting. In February, they’re going to kick off the competition. They are trying to project viability. They are essentially just trying to mass the resources that they’re going to need once voting begins. And candidates begin to sort of drop out of this process as it becomes clear to them that they’re not going to be able to – sort of – it becomes clear they’re kind of losing this invisible primary and aren’t going to have the resources to continue.

The – sometimes a candidate will kind of win this invisible primary – arguably like Hillary Clinton’s doing now, where kind of the establishment of the party, the major donors, kind of the top campaign staff coalesce around this person, and it becomes pretty clear that he or she is going to win the primary even before voting begins. That happens sometimes, and other times it doesn’t happen. For instance, with Republicans, candidates are trying to kind of win this invisible primary right now, but the party is not coalescing around one particular individual.

So as this invisible primary – invisible primary continues, we kind of look forward to the process where voters become directly involved. And that’s where – that’s when the fight for delegates to the national conventions really begins. And each state is assigned by the political parties, as are the territories, a certain number of delegates that they get to allocate. States kind of set the rules for how they’re going to allocate their delegates to these national party conventions.

And there are two methods that are used to allocate delegates. There are caucuses and primaries. And kind of the caucus is the oldest method. This is a process which is run and paid for by the political parties themselves, not by the government. So state governments normally – they run the primary elections, they pay for them, but if a party in a state wants to have a caucus to decide the allocation of its delegates, it’s responsible for funding that on its own.

The caucuses begin – the first one begins in Iowa, February 1st. Typically, Iowa begins this process – Iowa and New Hampshire. And this is by tradition, not by – no one sat around and rationally decided that these two states would go first, but these states have found themselves in this position through a lot of kind of their own strategic actions. They do a lot to try and ensure that no state jumps ahead of them in the line for holding a caucus or a primary. And of course, Iowa and New Hampshire are not very representative states. There would be many other states if you wanted pick something that looked like a cross-section of the United States that you would start with, but these states play an important role in that they start to send signals to other states – the voters elsewhere – who the strong candidates are going to be. Usually, the candidates that move – come out of Iowa and New Hampshire winning then have a lot of momentum, and that then leads to increased donations, it leads to increased resources. And usually the polling in other states begins to move upwards. So in a sense, Iowa and New Hampshire kind of have a disproportionate influence on the process because the signals that they send kind of reverberate throughout the electorate.

And caucuses are a very weird institution in themselves. So each state – each party – each state political party that has a caucus will run it differently. So the one I’m most familiar with is Iowa, which I think a lot of American political scientists are because it goes first. The state is divided up into 1,800 voter precincts, and each of these precincts holds a caucus. Sometimes these precincts will hold their caucuses in the same place, and each caucus will agree to support one particular candidate. And so if you participate in the caucus, you show up in a room. Representatives from the different candidates will speak, and then people will cast their – people who are there will cast their ballots.

And the caucus is kind of a weird process in that once these ballots are cast, you’re really only selecting a representative – you’re really nominating someone who is going to go to your political party’s county convention. There are 99 counties in Iowa. So from these precincts emerge members who are going to represent candidates at these party – at these county conventions. The county conventions then select people that go to the state convention. The state convention then selects delegates to go to the national convention. But you get a pretty good idea from the results of the caucuses on whenever they’re held – these precincts – these caucuses in the precincts – how the delegates to the – how the Iowa delegates will be distributed. But it’s a very lengthy process.

It’s a process that tends to be dominated by core party activists. So attendance at these things – it’s not like you show up, you cast your vote, and you leave. It’s often maybe an hour, an hour and a half, two hours worth of your time that you have to spend. So the range of people who participate is fairly narrow, and they do tend to be people who are really kind of core partisan, is very active in their political party. And it’s important for campaigns to have a very good ground organization because you have to get people to go to these caucuses. You have to get them to be willing to dedicate a lot of their – a lot of time.

Then we have after Iowa is the New Hampshire primary, which is on February 9th. This is the first primary. Most states now use primaries to decide how their – the distribution of their delegates across potential candidates. And primary elections are like most elections. So a voter would go into – get a ballot and it would be – it’d have all the candidates’ names on there and they would make a selection.

There are different types of primaries. Some states have closed primaries, which means if you want to vote in the Republican Party’s presidential primary, you have to be a registered Republican. Or if you want to vote in the Democratic Primary, you have to be a registered Democrat. Other states have open primaries which allows people to vote in whatever primary they want. Usually, you can only vote in one, but it allows for kind of – people to – people who are Independents, for instance, maybe to pick a political party’s primary that they want to – that they want to participate in. So really the sort of the beginning of February is when the process of allocating delegates is going to begin.

There’s – the rules that have been set forth typically require – this is especially true for the Republican Party this year – that states have to – any state that votes before March 1st either in a caucus or in a primary election, they have to allocate delegates proportionally. So usually there’s some kind of threshold, like if you get 5 percent of the vote, 10 percent of the vote, 20 percent, then you get some delegates from that state based upon from the proportion of the vote that you receive. And this is going to be true for both primaries and caucuses, which means in a crowded Republican field like we have that there’s going to be – no one’s going to come out of these – out of these early elections probably with a commanding lead in terms of the number of delegates unless something changes pretty dramatically.

But then after March 15th, states are allowed to do – allocate their delegates on a winner-based-all – winner-takes-all basis. So Florida is a state that typically does this. So Florida votes on March 15th. Whoever wins – whichever candidate – whichever Republican wins the most votes in the state in the primary election in Florida will receive all 99 of Florida’s convention delegates. So after March 14th, the process kind of opens up a little bit more and it’s easier for a candidate to start to accumulate large numbers of delegates and potentially build a substantial lead. Again, candidates are trying to get a majority of the delegates to their party’s convention.

There are a couple of other – there are a couple of important dates to keep in mind. So after New Hampshire on February 9th, the next state to vote is South Carolina, which has a primary day. And South Carolina – what’s interesting about South Carolina, of course, it’s a much more diverse state than Iowa and – Iowa and New Hampshire, at least on the Democratic side. And following South Carolina is Nevada, also another diverse state with a very large Latino population. So we begin to get, after New Hampshire, states that have greater amounts of diversity. And the really big date that everybody’s looking forward to is something called Super Tuesday, which is March 1st, which is when a large number of states – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 – 11 states all vote at the same time. A lot of southern states coordinated amongst themselves so there’d be a large bloc of southern states voting on that particular day, but for Republicans at least, one-quarter of all their delegates at the national convention are going to be allocated on that Super Tuesday.

So it’s a really – leading up to that, it’s – the campaigns are going to be working hard. It’s a very different type of – different type of campaign you have to run leading – in the lead up to Super Tuesday. Because before that, it’s one state at a time. You have a state going and you wait a week or wait a couple weeks and then another state votes, but here you’ve got to be running a campaign in a large number of state simultaneously. It’s a much more expensive, difficult endeavor. Then there’s a second Super Tuesday. Normally, we only have one, but states are always kind of moving around when they’re going to vote so it’s not the same every election cycle, with the exception of Iowa and New Hampshire leading first. And we have another – on March 15th, another handful of states, including some big ones like Florida, Illinois, and North Carolina. And at this point, states can start giving out their delegates and winner take all. So at that point, you would expect candidates to and campaigns to start accumulating large numbers of delegates fairly quickly.

Now, how – whether a Republican is going to be able to put together a majority of delegates is going to depend on kind of what the field is looking like at that point in time. If there’s still a large number of candidates and no one’s winning more than a couple of states in these big – in these big primaries, then you could see that delegates are going to be distributed fairly evenly across the candidates and we might end up in Cleveland in July without a clear majority, which for a political scientist like myself would be fascinating. It’s a situation that the Republican Party dreads a great deal because they want – the parties have an interest in having these elections – figuring out who the nominee is going to be fairly quickly so that they can move on to running a general election campaign so the party can unite behind their nominee.

So if – the term that we use here is sort of a possibility of a brokered convention, right, where a lot of – there might be multiple rounds of balloting. There might be backroom negotiations where one candidate says, okay, well, I’ll encourage my delegates to vote for you if you do A, B, or C, or maybe there might be bargaining over who the vice presidential nominee is going to be as a way of accumulating additional delegates.

So it could be a very interesting, eventful convention. But for the most part, with candidates kind of going in with where it’s always been clear, at least for the vast many, many presidential election cycles, who the nominee is going to be, the conventions end up being sort of like commercials for the political party, right. They don’t – not a lot of interesting things happen at these conventions anymore, but if it’s – if there’s a brokered convention on either side, it would be very interesting television.

So after the conventions, then we move to the general election phase. So even though these American presidential elections are really long seemingly, they are – a lot of that is kind of this invisible primary, and we’ve been going through – living through this for months. But the actual kind of real general election is August, September, and October with early – with voting – with the national Election Day on November 8th. So the conventions lead up to that. And so there’s – this is – these party conventions are one of the odd aspects about how – about the American presidential election system.

But then the second one is then the way that we do voting, which is through this odd institution called the Electoral College, where every state is given a certain number of electoral votes. Electoral votes are – the number of electoral votes a state has – every state has two electoral – begins with two electoral votes and you get one additional electoral vote for every member of the House of Representatives that you have. And so basically, the electoral votes are distributed in strong correlation with population. So states like California, New York, Texas, have a great – a lot of electoral votes and have a lot of influence on outcomes.

But so the oddity is that for most states it’s pretty clear right now how they’re going to vote in the presidential election. And so presidential campaigns then focus on those states that are what we call swing states, right, where it’s unclear if the – if they’re going to vote Democratic or Republican. And there’s a handful of states, maybe 10 states or so, where presidential campaigns focus their resources, and then – because in order to win the presidency, you need to have – assemble a majority of the electoral – of votes in the Electoral College. And so in each state, it’s – with the exception of two, it’s winner take all. So if you win California by one vote, you get all of California’s electoral votes.

So that happens on November 8th – or the voting happens on November 8. The meeting of the Electoral College is later. But I guess as I see the presidential election today, there are – for both sides there are challenges. For Democrats, I mean, historically, it is very difficult – and it is probably the case that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, though a lot can happen between now and the actual voting, but for Democrats and presumably Hillary Clinton, it’s very difficult for one party to win the presidency three times – three times in a row. Typically, if a party wins twice, then the American public sort of turns the White House over to the outside party in that – in the next election.

So this is a challenge, is how do you – for someone like Hillary Clinton, how do you convince the American public not to follow this typical pattern? How do you convince the American public that your administration is not going to be just a continuation of the previous administration, but there’s something different – kind of different ideas, different approaches to government?

And we put together models to predict or to forecast presidential elections. One of the things that we – one of the important predictors of how the country is going to vote are things like the existing president’s approval rating. So if Hillary Clinton wants to win or the Democrats want to win the White House, they hope – they have to hope that President Obama’s approval rating stays high. Because if the American public really kind of turns on the Obama Administration, they’re going to be more prone to voting for – to voting for Republicans.

And of course, the state of the economy. Since Hillary Clinton is not President Obama but still sort of tied to the Obama Administration, at least through partisan identification and obviously having worked in that Administration, if the economy is doing well, then it’s sort of good for the incumbent party in the White House. So Hillary has to hope that the economy continues to do well and the approval of President Obama is high.

And challenges for Republicans include sort of this big – and this – a lot of media attention on that – a big kind of demographic problem that Republicans face with minority voters in the United States increasingly voting with – voting for Democrats, at least at the presidential level, and that the Republicans have done very little to sort of change this, to change these kind of patterns of voting. And the size of the minority population, the non-white population in the United States just has grown, continues to grow. It’s grown since 2012. It’s grown since 2008. So this is kind of a demographic challenge that the Republicans are going to have to face. And a common thinking is that they’ve reached as high – their ceiling on the share of the white vote that they’re going to get, and that means winning more minority voters.

But so things that have been happening – things that have happened recently in – that have – that change the dynamics of the race at least somewhat, on the Democratic side it seems to be that Hillary Clinton is consolidating Democratic support. So between her pretty strong performance at the first Democratic debate and her very strong performance in her testimony in front of the Benghazi hearings, if you look at the public opinion data she’s gone from having about 43 percent in national polls to about 50 percent among Democrats – from among – for primary support. She’s – her support in Iowa, according to public opinion polls, has grown dramatically. She’s got a really sizeable lead now. Her support in New Hampshire has stayed about the same, where she’s pretty – she’s just like slightly behind Bernie Sanders. But so her really strong performance does seem to have kind of strengthened her support among Democrats, and we can see some evidence of this in public opinion data.

Among Republicans, Trump is still leading – well, at least in the poll of polls, which is probably the best – if you’re interested in kind of polling data in American politics, and you may go to these websites already, but is my favorite. They’re an aggregator, which means that they take all the polls that are out there and pull them together. And they do – they create something which is called a poll of polls, which is a kind of average what the polling data is telling us across a variety of firms. This ends being really fairly accurate. Nate Silver has a book where the talks about the strength of the poll of polls. And you can follow what’s going on there.

And Trump’s lead has shrunk, but he still is leading at the national level, though every once in a while a poll comes out that has Ben Carson leading.

And really since the last Republican debate, there’s been a great deal of positive buzz for Marco Rubio. So it looks like – he’s doing better in this invisible primary now than he was about a week ago. It hasn’t really translated into dramatic gains in the – in public opinion. He’s not suddenly racing up into first place in polls, but he’s had Paul Singer, a billionaire Republican fundraiser recently endorsed him. That’s probably going to bring more money into his campaign. And kind of among party insiders, his debate performance has generated a lot of – again, a lot of kind of positive comments. And so he’s I think doing a little – doing better in this sort of invisible primary than he was before and maybe is emerging among some insiders as a potential consensus candidate, at least amongst the kind of party elite, party insiders, people who’ve been involved in the party for a long period of time.

But it’s still pretty clear that Republican voters themselves right now at least have strong preferences for someone outside the traditional Republican Party, someone who hasn’t been in the – someone who hasn’t held elected office within the party before, which is sort of puzzling to political scientists such as myself, but we keep saying – if you followed the Republican Party in 2012, a lot of people led in public opinion polls that didn’t end up doing very well once the voting started happening. So the Republican Party kind of cycled between various outside candidates, and then ended up settling on Mitt Romney eventually.

And so people like myself think that’s probably going to happen this time, but we don’t really know. And it’s hard to know how solid Donald Trump’s support is and Carson’s support is until people actually start going and voting. Can Donald Trump – do people support Donald Trump enough to go to a caucus for two hours on a Saturday in Iowa in February, or do they support him enough to tell pollsters that yeah, I like this guy but they’re not really willing to commit to his campaign? But we will see how that develops over time. But it has been surprising thus far.

So why don’t I stop there and take questions.

QUESTION: You can hear me? Thanks so much for the presentation. It was really clear. James Reinl from Al Jazeera. From – obviously, we’ve got these two candidates that are frontrunners at the moment in the Republican race, Carson and Trump. And from what you’re saying, the process of the primaries and the caucuses is going to be one that favors an establishment candidate. Is that because the people that are registered to vote in those primaries and caucuses have been card-carrying Republicans for lots of years and they’re more likely to favor an establishment candidate? And if that is what you’re saying, what would be the tactics that somebody like Trump could employ to improve their chances in those kind of votes?

MR PHILLIPS: Yeah, I think that caucuses favor traditional campaign organizations, so they – the campaigns that do well in caucuses are campaigns that are a great ground organization and have lots of field offices, that have a lot of dedicated volunteers, that are going to be able to get people that are going to work hard to get people to go to the caucus. What traditionally outsider campaigns do – tend to do well among people who aren’t very politically active, and people who aren’t very politically active don’t have a lot of experience with going to a caucus, don’t – might not even know how it works, they might not be registered to vote.

So last year, Rick Santorum ended up winning the Republican caucuses in Iowa, and the reason for that, and a lot of people didn’t expect it, was because he had a very good ground organization, had very dedicated supporters in Iowa. And it does take a high level of dedication among your supporters who are going to go participate in something like this. But Donald Trump is kind of building that, trying to build that organization in Iowa, which a lot of observers didn’t think he would do. I mean, that’s more of a traditional – he’s trying to create more of a traditional political campaign. And he may succeed in doing that. It’s really – it is hard to tell.

Usually the candidates who have won Iowa – Iowa tends to have a very strong kind of evangelical Christian component to the Republican Party there, and so often it has been those candidates who have a really strong following among evangelical Christians who do very well – Rick Santorum for example in 2012. And that’s a constituency that isn’t as onboard with Donald Trump as potentially other candidates. So we will see. My – I would be surprised if he wins, if he wins Iowa, but I’m kind of surprised that he’s doing as well as he’s done. So we have sort of traditional ways that we kind of understand American presidential campaigns to work and who does well and who doesn’t, and so far this – he’s breaking the mold. We’re going to have to rethink the way that we conceive of American presidential campaigns potentially, but we will see.

MS SHIE: We can go to Washington, D.C. for the next question.

QUESTION: 21st Century Business Herald, China. About Bernie Sanders, he labels himself as a Democratic socialist and to start a revolution in American politics and society. I wondered – this socialist thing is a taboo in American election history. Will this affect – how will this affect his campaign strategy and his future in this primary nomination running? Thanks.

MR PHILLIPS: Yeah. No, it’s – “socialist” is kind of a bad word in American politics, so this is why Bernie Sanders is labeling himself a democratic socialist and trying to define what that means for the American electorate. But I think that the socialist label would sort of doom him in a general election if he were to win the Democratic nominee, because it’s a label he’s embraced before. And even as he tries to move away from it you can see the ads that Republicans would run against him, so I do think it’s – the label doesn’t help him in the long run. I mean, it maybe helps him in – among kind of very liberal white voters in primaries in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, but I think in a kind of broader electorate it hurts.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Ahmed Fathi. I’m a correspondent for various Arabic news media across the Middle East and North Africa. With regard to – just a two-part question. First, what are the swing states that are on hold this election cycle?

And second, with regard to the Republican Party candidates, how they can fill the bridge or fill the gap between their inflammatory statements regarding minorities? We have Trump with the Latinos, Carson with the Muslims, other tried to pander their way, and others stay quiet. And as you describe that the American society and the American registered voters are increasingly represent parts of the minority – various minority groups in the United States, how they can get over it and what’s the effect on their chances on winning a term rather than a Democratic candidate? Thank you.

MR PHILLIPS: Well, so the – I’ll take the first question. I’ll start with that. So there’s kind of a core set of swing states that have been – the last several elections. So think states like Florida, Ohio, those are states with a lot of electoral votes and that can go either way in presidential elections. States like Wisconsin, Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, these are – or states that Obama won in 2008 and lost in 2012, like North Carolina and Indiana. So those – that forms kind of the core of those states that – where the campaign is going to be fought. And a big – could potentially creep into states like Arizona and Georgia, but think about sort of the really big – the big prizes, the big prize swing states are Ohio and Florida – a lot of electoral votes and they can vote either way. So I think they’ll be the target of a lot of advertisements, a lot of campaign stops.

As far as your second question goes, it is – it’s a problem for the Republican Party to have – to be associated with kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric in primaries. So the strategy is to try and not be so inflammatory in the primary as to permanently alienate minority voters, sort of be kind of conservative enough on immigration to win the Republican primary but not do yourself permanent damage. This was the strategy Mitt Romney tried in 2012 and it didn’t really work. So these statements get recorded. They can be shown back in commercials.

So I think that some candidates – Jeb Bush has tried really hard to not be associated with this sort of rhetoric. But if he doesn’t win – it doesn’t do him any good if he doesn’t win the – if he doesn’t win the primary. So if someone like Donald Trump were to win, I don’t – it’d probably be impossible for him in order to sort of win back large swaths of the Latino vote, for example. So yeah, I agree. I think this does the Republican Party very – damages it for the general election. I think what Republicans hope is that they can be tough on immigration and then try and win minority voters over in the general election by talking about economic issues and economic growth. But it’s a very difficult strategy.

MS SHIE: We’ll take one more in New York and then go back to D.C.

QUESTION: I think he has already answered partly. My question around same, but I want to get just categorical answer from you that is direct answer from you. Did he say that no one Muslim should be allowed to become U.S. president, number one? Number two, he declared to close the Muslim prayer houses. Do you think these comments – first your comments – personal comments regarding these two messages. First your personal comment.

MR PHILLIPS: Is this about Donald Trump? Is that – I mean, I think that – I mean, personally I’m not a Donald Trump supporter, but it’s – he – I think he does not stand a very strong chance of winning, but there’s nothing to disqualify him in the constitution from serving should he be elected. But it’s hard to see him – it’s hard for me to see him winning the Republican Party nomination. Usually the Republicans in the last several election cycles have come around to nominating their most viable candidate for the presidency. So even though they’ve – they usually kind of cycle through various non-establishment candidates or who are – represent a more extreme wing of the political party, they usually come back to nominate somebody moderate.

Because again, the process is about winning a majority of the delegates that go to the conventions, so even for Republicans, where do – where are the big delegate-rich states? California, New York. So a lot of moderate states, a lot of Democratic states, still send lots of delegates to the Republican convention, and these delegates – and the voters, the Republicans in these states have a lot of sway on who their party nominates. So it’s not just – it’s not just kind of conservative southern states that are picking the nominee, but it’s more broadly the Republican Party. And even though New York is never going to – not going to vote for the Republican nominee for the presidency – its electoral votes are not going to go with that individual unless some shocking event happens. New York still sends close to 100 delegates to the Republican convention. These are going to be kind of more moderate Republicans.

So I think that the – I just don’t anticipate Donald Trump will be the nominee. Now, it could happen, and if that happens, I don’t think that he will probably win given, again, some of these inflammatory statements and the fact that the eventual – the winner is going to have to do reasonably well among minority voters and it’s hard to see how Donald Trump does that.

MS SHIE: Of course, Donald Trump’s a New Yorker, if that isn’t --

MR PHILLIPS: He is a New Yorker. But Al Gore didn’t win his own state either. (Laughter.)

MS SHIE: Okay, we have another question from Washington, D.C. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Justin. My name is Henrique, I’m from Brazilian newspaper O Globo. And I need to know: What may change in the Senate in the next election? Is it possible to Democratic Party gains the control of the Senate again?

MR PHILLIPS: So typically, whichever party wins the presidency picks up Senate seats. The Democrats would need to probably win at least five Senate seats, assuming that they won the White House, to control the Senate. You can see where, though, there is a number of Republicans from blue-leaning states, or states that have voted for – voted Democratic in the last presidential election. So it’s – assuming that the Democratic nominee does reasonably well and wins the – and wins the presidency, the Democrats would probably pick up a number of Senate seats. The question is are they going to – would they pick up five, six, or seven, and that’s going to depend on kind of how the nominee ends up performing. So if the Democratic nominee wins comfortably, then I could see the Democrats picking up enough seats.

So there are vulnerable Republicans running in Wisconsin, Florida – that’s going to be an open Senate seat – in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in New Hampshire. So you can start to see Senate seats that the Democrats could pick up to get the five or six seats that they’re going to need. So it’s entirely possible, but I think it only happens if the Democrats win the presidency.

MS SHIE: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Gabriel Mellqvist from Sweden’s Business Daily. I have a question about another New Yorker, Mike Bloomberg. I don’t know if you – there’s a lot of speculation about him. But could you speak a little bit about the dynamic of running as an independent, why it’s so difficult, and do you just skip the primary – (laughter) – sequel if you do that?

MR PHILLIPS: Yeah. So it is an incredibly difficult process to run as an independent. The existing political parties have made it this way. So in order to run as an independent, you have to qualify for the ballot in each of the 50 states, so it’s not – in the United States, states run elections, not the federal government. So each state has its own rules for how you get onto the presidential ballot. And because those rules are in essence written by the existing political parties, they make it incredibly difficult to do this. So it involves – typically it involves collecting a lot of signatures in a very limited amount of time, and often from people who aren’t already registered within an existing political – so they – it’s just an incredibly difficult, time-consuming process. I mean, Ross Perot did it back in 1992, and it would take someone – I mean, Bloomberg has the resources to do it if he wanted to. But I think that he won’t because it’s an incredibly difficult process and it would probably cost the Democrats the White House if he were to run, and I think that he would probably rather see a president Hillary Clinton than a president Donald Trump. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thanks. I’m Mort Bertelsen with Dagens Naeringsliv, a Norwegian business daily. I’m curious about Jeb Bush. He was the establishment candidate and he is the establishment candidate. How damaged is his campaign now, and how could he turn it around? And my second question is to do with endorsement by party elites and senators and so forth. How important is that compared to polling and so forth? Is that a better predictor of what is going to happen?

MR PHILLIPS: So I think that endorsements – it’s hard to say what the effect of endorsements are, because a lot of people don’t endorse until sort of they, like, put their fingers up to the wind and see what ways – what way the wind is blowing before they make their endorsements. And for the most part, I think that the public, absent a few individuals, are not going to be swayed by kind of elite opinion, not in an age where you can watch eight presidential debates and you can get a good feel for these candidates on your own. Maybe in a different time, endorsements would have mattered. There are probably some endorsements that could have an effect, particularly among kind of elite media figures that have a big following.

As far as Jeb Bush is concerned, I think – six months ago, my opinion was that he was probably going to be the Republican nominee, because he certainly – he seemed to be winning this invisible primary. He came out, he announced his presidency, and then immediately raised millions of dollars in an attempt to kind of intimidate the field into not running, intimidate other potential candidates to stay on the sideline. But it didn’t work. And it seems to me that he’s very out of tune with most Republican primary voters, so he’s seen as kind of an establishment conservative. He’s also someone who’s been out of government for a long time now, and maybe he’s lost kind of the feel for where voters – where Republican primary voters are at this point.

And I think his only chance is really if no other establishment figure kind of emerges to kind of win this invisible primary. And so right now it seems like that counter-figure, that opposite figure is – to Jeb Bush is Marco Rubio. And I’m starting to see kind of establishment Republicans line up behind him, and if that happens, I think Jeb Bush is – just his campaign is done. And he – so something similar happened to McCain in 2008, where he started out as a – early on as kind of a favorite, and just didn’t poll well, got down to where he was – had to fire most of his staff, was driving around in a bus, and then managed to come back and win the Republican Party’s nomination. So there is precedent for something like this happening, kind of an insider candidate not doing well for a while and then eventually gaining traction. But it’s harder to see in this case. I mean, John McCain had kind of a clear campaign message – “I’m a maverick, I’m an outsider.” Jeb Bush doesn’t really have that, and there’s other figures, other figures that are going to be probably acceptable to the establishment – somebody like Marco Rubio, who, like I said before, I think people are starting to rally behind and of the establishment candidates running, he’s polling the best.

MS SHIE: Okay, let’s take the next question from Washington, D.C.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. My name is Marcus Pindur from German national public radio, DEUTSCHLANDRADIO. I have a technical question and I have a political question. The technical question first: You mentioned that until March 14th, the rules are set that people are allocated proportionally to the conventions, and that after that it changes. Now, who sets that rule? Do the states do that or do the parties negotiate that? First part. Then, which are the two states who do not allocate by the winner-takes-all rule? That’s the technical part.

And the political part is: Mitt Romney would have won the 2012 election with the 2000 electorate. Now, I mean, you just talked about the rough time the Republicans have with Hispanic voters, for example. How could any Republican candidate overcome this possibly in the next election? Because 16 percent, not 14 percent, of the electorate will be Hispanics, and Romney fared very, very badly among them. Thank you very much.

MR PHILLIPS: Yeah. So your – the answer to your first question is that the national political parties – the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee – are the ones that set these rules for how – the proportionality of delegate allocation. So the Republican Party says any primary or caucus before March 15th, delegates have to be allocated proportionally, and after that, the state parties are able to decide. So after that, some states allow for winner-take-all – states like Florida. Other states – New York – does a proportional system still, even though they could allocate delegates on a winner-take-all basis. So – and this is one of the American federalism – so even the national party just sets guidelines and then it’s up to the states and the state political parties whether they follow them. And the punishment for not following the guidelines is that you lose some of your delegates to the national party convention. But it is up to states. And states decide – or the state parties decide what threshold you have to reach in order to get some of the proportional delegates. So in some states you have to get 20 percent or more of the vote in order to get – even be eligible to get proportional delegates. In other states it’s 5 percent. So from that perspective it’s very hard to have just a generic rule of – or general rule of thumb for thinking about how these races are going to be run and how many votes a candidate needs in order to get or start accumulating delegates.

Again, this question about – so your second question: It is – you’re absolutely right about the changing nature of the American electorate, and that if the Republican Party was running in 2000 or the 1990s, they’d be doing a lot better than they are now. I don’t know – I mean, I think there are some candidates, some Republicans who are better positioned than others to run a general election campaign. I think Jeb Bush has positioned himself well, but the question is who else has positioned themselves. I don’t think Jeb Bush is going to be the nominee. Marco Rubio has probably positioned himself all right. He does have – he is – his family has the Cuban background; he supported immigration reform in the Senate; so he has kind of a more moderate track record than some of the other Republican candidates. But outside of those two, it’s harder and harder to see who the viable candidates are who can probably try and reverse the kind of damage that’s being done in the Republican primary.

But I think that it is – the Republican Party has to be concerned, even if you’re a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio, with the Republican brand name, which, as that becomes damaged among – increasingly damaged in minority communities, even just a generic Republican is going to have a hard time overcoming that damage. And so I think that’s the concern even for somebody like Jeb or Marco Rubio: How do you undo this damage that’s being done? It’s not clear to me how.

QUESTION: Hi, Michael Persson from Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. A question about polls and the debates that have been going on so far. Whenever I write about the debates, I think most of the time there’s a winner or there’s a couple of winners, because you can count the points like a boxing match when you see something happening. But when I look at the polls, especially on internet, nothing seems to change really after a debate. So I was just going to ask: What do you think that – what that says about the polls, about the electorate, or maybe about me? Thank you.

MR PHILLIPS: (Laughter.) It is – I think the – it’s hard to say what the impact of debates are. So there’s been some research in general, in the kind of general elections, about debates, and it seems that they don’t – they don’t have much of an effect. Sort of the winner of a debate gets like – a little temporary bounce that may be artificial. In primaries, there’s – less research has been done so it’s harder to say. But when people have sort of – already have a pretty good idea about who they’re supporting and have well-developed feelings towards the individual candidate, I – it’s hard to see debates mattering that much. I mean, I think that what a lot of the – the ways in which debates matter right now is kind of this invisible primary. I mean, it matter – I mean, you should look to the polls as evidence. So I think Hillary Clinton did herself well by her performance in the first Democratic debate, and even maybe helped herself out even more with the Benghazi hearings, her testimony there, and you can see that in the poll numbers. But so Marco Rubio had a great debate performance; it’s not necessarily reflected in the public opinion data, but where it is reflected is in the op-eds that are being written, in Paul Singer saying, “Okay, I’m going to support you, I’m going to write big checks now.”

So I think that don’t be too focused just on the public opinion polls, but look at this kind of invisible primary that’s being waged, and I think that’s where it matters more. It will start to matter, but I think that it will start to matter – these public opinion polls are going to – I mean, they matter because they affect a little bit this invisible primary that’s going on, but there’s still a long time before people start voting. And then you’ll see that the public is going to start to become really influenced by what’s happening – like, so what happens in Iowa is going to start to influence people. Whoever comes out of Iowa is going to get a bounce in the upcoming states.

So I think that look a little bit at the public opinion data following these debates, but also look at what is elite opinion, what are donors doing, and I think that’s a big part of who the debates are trying to reach.

QUESTION: My name is Ali Cinar from Turk of America, Turkish media outlet. I have a question regarding the overseas votes. Maybe for presidential candidates it’s a very minor focus, but today, like, this morning I got an email from the Hillary campaign. They will have a reception in support of Hillary for America in Stockholm, Sweden. So we see some engagement from the overseas voters. Do you have any data about the participation rate from, like, recent elections, from 2012 or how they are involved with the votes? Do they go to embassy or ballots or mailing? So that’s my question.

MR PHILLIPS: Yeah. So I don’t have anything off the top of my head about participation rates of Americans overseas. I have voted in a presidential election from overseas before, and usually you – since votes are counted at the state level, you have to – it’s not easy to vote overseas because you have to let your state know and they have to send you a ballot, then you have to send it back. But the candidate – the conventions, the parties also have a certain number of delegates that are for – to represent Americans living overseas, and so they participate in the primary process in that way. And so sort of the selection of presidential nominees is a little bit more open process than voting in the general election. So like if all of the territories, for example, have – American territories have a certain number of delegates at the conventions as well, even if they don’t have any Electoral College votes. So Puerto Rico doesn’t get electoral votes in the presidential election, but they’re still really important for Democratic primaries too.

QUESTION: Nikkei Business, from Japanese publication. What’s the most hot topic for this election – like health care, foreign policy, immigration reform – in the Republican and Democrats?

MR PHILLIPS: So I think that all of the – I mean, so health care is going to be an important issue – probably less important than the Republicans would want it to be – but I see the economy is probably going to be the main issue, as it was in the prior presidential election. So – I mean, the American economy is doing all right but not great, and so I think that that will be the main focus, and with a lot of focus on ISIS, Iraq. So these are going to be important issues in the presidential debate, and usually – in the presidential campaign, and usually they have typically three presidential debates in the general election, and usually one of those is dedicated to foreign policy so you can see – I mean, all those are going to be important issues. And it kind of depends on what happens between now and the presidential election. So in 2008 and the Lehman brothers – the sort of the financial crisis happened before the presidential election. So that made the focus much more on the national economy than one might have even expected it to be, whereas if there were some kind of foreign policy crisis that happens prior to the election, it could be much more an election about foreign policy. But I think immigration reform is always going to be there until Congress does something about immigration. So these are all – everything you mentioned is going to be an issue, but I think that the economy is probably going to be kind of front and center, the most important issue for the American electorate.

MS SHIE: I think we should go to D.C. for the next question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Dr. Phillips. Thanks for doing this. My name is Jeremy. I’m from the Straits Times of Singapore. I just have a question about convention. Has there been a convention where the – let’s say the Republican Party has not – have gone into it not knowing who the eventual nominee is going to be? And given that in the last cycle there were a lot of candidates as well, what is different about this particular group that makes people think that a convention without a clear nominee is likely?

MR PHILLIPS: So I’m not sure that anyone – it’s probably not likely to have a clear nominee, but there’s at least a – of all the recent cycles, this is probably the one where there’s the greatest chance that there’s not going to be a clear nominee heading into the convention. Really, prior to the end of the 1960s, it was usually unclear heading into a convention. So I was just looking at this before I came down from Columbia today, that – so like I looked at the 1960 Democratic convention, and Lyndon Johnson, through his – said, “I’ll run” two weeks before the convention met. So it was very different – the country had a very different system back then than it does today, and a series of reforms were adopted in the late 1960s. So it’s – really since the late 1960s, it’s always been pretty clear heading into convention who the nominee is going to be.

What makes this election different is that there seem to be a number of strong candidates on the Republican side who are polling pretty well and who aren’t going anywhere, in the sense that they’re not going to be dropping out anytime soon. So with the structures – with the changes that have happened to the finance of American political campaigns, it’s easier for people to stay in for a long period of time. So before you used to have to sort of raise your own money and you could sort of do it in $2,700 increments, and if that money started to dry up, then you kind of dropped out of the race.

But now, with cases like the Citizens United case that the Supreme Court decided on a few years ago, it’s easier for kind of outside groups or like one big donor to write a $10 million check and keep a campaign afloat for a while. And so – and when you have someone like Donald Trump, who’s not even doing a lot of fundraising but just can kind of support his own campaign, it’s more – it’s easier to believe that he’s just going to let this campaign run its course and keep fighting for delegates farther into the process.

But it may end up being the case that come Super Tuesday, one candidate does really well and then other candidates start dropping out and that the race is pretty much over at that point. But given that for the large number of candidates who are kind of credible, strong candidates and the ability to finance your campaign with one or two big donors has changed the process, and if no one emerges kind of the victor of this silent primary, then it could go to a brokered convention. I would like to see that just as a scholar of American politics because it’s been so long, but it’s probably not likely. But there’s a chance.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Thea Pedersen from Danish media Ekstra Bladet. I would like to go back to Trump and Carson and just ask you if there’s – and drawing like a historic view, is there any – can you say anything about polls, the statistics on previous candidates leading at this point, and how they – it actually turned out for them?


QUESTION: And the second question would be if you can just say a little bit about why we see that Carson is increasing a bit on Trump right now.

MR PHILLIPS: Yeah. So your – to your first – to the first question about – so the Republican Party – I can’t find any – not for a hundred years going back has the Republican party nominated kind of an outsider like a Donald Trump or a Ben Carson. The closest thing they – we can find to them nominating a kind of an ideologically extreme candidate is Barry Goldwater in 1964, but that ended up as an electoral disaster for them. So I sort of believe that they are going to come around to somebody who is more credible and more of a mainstream figure, unlike Donald Trump or Ben Carson.

And if we go back to the last presidential election cycle or the one before that, there were many candidates who were winning who ended up not ending – getting a single delegate. So think about Rudy Giuliani, who was for a long time in 2008 ahead in the national polls for the Republican Party and who ended up flaming out – a disastrous candidate. Michele Bachmann was leading for a while in 2012; she’s no longer even in Congress. So there’s plenty of evidence of Republicans kind of early in the process picking candidates who don’t do well once the voting process begins.

So I – this is sort of why I don’t put a lot of faith in these early public opinion polls. I know it looks sort of surprising to see these – to see Donald Trump and Ben Carson leading these polls, at least for kind of observers outside the Republican Party, but there’s historical precedent over the last couple election cycles that kind of strong outside candidates or people who have a lot of name recognition doing well kind of in early polling and then in the end not being – so we’ll see what happens.

I mean, the thing is with those other candidates, they tend to cycle through them much faster. So I think what’s been surprising to observers of American politics this time around is that Donald Trump has stayed in first place for such a long period of time, and before we hadn’t observed that. I think that’s what’s most surprising.

And I think that there’s just – there’s clearly a deep well of anger within the Republican Party towards the party leadership and kind of establishment Republicans. And the closest – the best – any – just looking at the aggregate poll, opinion aggregators or the poll aggregators right now, I mean, the best establishment – that an establishment candidate is doing in the polls is Marco Rubio, and he’s at about 10 percent. And he’s pretty new. He’s a first-term senator. So I – so yeah, I think that that is what – that’s what’s surprising to me.

Now, it’s unclear if once people – telling the pollster – telling pollsters you support one particular candidate is very different from actually going and voting for that candidate. So we will have to see where they end up and if people do in Iowa – in the Iowa caucuses go and vote. But I think that Republicans themselves have – are kind of coming to terms increasingly with the idea that Donald Trump might be their nominee. So for a while even Republicans were sort of dismissing this as far-fetched, particularly kind of establishment figures within the Republican Party, and now some are saying, well, Donald Trump might be our nominee.

And I think that even though he does poll well against Hillary Clinton right now – I mean, sort of put no stock in those kind of polls, but I don’t think – I think he would probably be a sort of disastrous general election candidate.

QUESTION: I’m Larisa Saenko from U Times Magazine. I have like gender issue question for you. How favorable is woman candidate, woman president for Americans, and what does it reflect? And will we see gender equality issue in the agenda of these elections?

MR PHILLIPS: Yeah. So at least according to public opinion data, Americans seem supportive of the idea of having a woman as president. And I think that gender – issues of gender will be in this presidential election, I think, because the Hillary – Hillary Clinton’s campaign decided that a mistake they made in 2008 was not talking about gender more. And so it’s been pretty clear that they’re going to talk – that Hillary is going to talk a lot about gender.

And part of that is to generate excitement about her candidacy. So she’s a figure that’s been around in American politics for a couple of decades now, so in order to – one way to frame her candidacy as something new is to talk about gender: There’s never been a woman president in the United States. So even though Hillary has been around for a long time, the idea of a woman president is kind of new in that there’s never been one. So this is a – it’s kind of a strategy on her part to talk a lot about gender. And there’s a gender gap in American politics – it’s been around for a while now – that women tend to vote for Democrats more than men do. And so it’s also a way of kind of mobilizing and energizing one of the Democratic Party’s core constituencies.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for being here. My name is Hans Klis. I work for Dutch media. I have a question on the roadmap the Republican Party made after the 2012 election. I was wondering what are we going to see this election cycle – the changes they propose in that draft.

MR PHILLIPS: Yeah. Yeah, Republicans had ideas about how they could sort of reshape the party following their loss in 2012, and one of the strategies was let’s do immigration reform. So the leadership of the party understands the demographic challenges. The problem is that the base of the party – the activists in the party; the people who go out and vote, especially in primary elections – have different opinions than the party elite. I mean, this is part of why we’re seeing this Donald Trump and Carson doing so well.

So the Republicans haven’t really followed through with their roadmap, and I don’t see any plans to. I mean, the new speaker of the House just said the other day immigration reform is off the table, so that they’re not going to be passing any immigration reform or considering anything. So clearly it will be an issue in the 2016 presidential election, and they’re not – the party has kind of ignored this huge issue.

And so the question is, if you’re the nominee, how do you overcome that? And I think the eventual Republican nominee will probably – if it’s Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, will speak favorably of immigration reform, but kind of a more Republican-oriented version of that. But there has to be some strategy to try and win over minority voters or win enough minority voters to combine with like a white majority to win the presidency. But it’s hard to see how that happens now. Any – there could be another financial crisis; there could be a foreign policy issue which changes the dynamic of the election.

MS SHIE: We have time for two more questions, one from New York and one from Washington D.C. So we’ll take D.C., and then you’ll take the last one.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Gilles Paris from Le Monde. Thank you for doing this. We’ll have to – two question; the first is technical. If I do understand it’s quite follow-up, are you questioning the accuracy of the polls, or should we question the accuracy of the polls, especially with what happened last time with the midterms? We had some surprise here and there.

And the political question is about the mood in the Republican Party. How do you explain this anger, especially compared to last presidential election, which takes place two years after the Tea Party movement?

MR PHILLIPS: So I think that you should always be skeptical of polls that are conducted so far in advance of an election. I think these early polls tend not to be very good predictors of what the election outcomes are actually going to be.

And I completely blanked. What was the – can someone remind me what the second --

QUESTION: The anger.

MR PHILLIPS: Oh, the anger. So I think that – I mean, I am not a Republican or active in the Republican Party, so my understanding of a lot of where the anger comes from is that Republican – the sort of the base of the Republican Party feels that the Republican Party itself, and particularly the Republican Party – the elected officials in Washington, has not followed through on the promises made. So sometimes very big promises are made in elections and they are not followed through on. So Obamacare is still law of the land; taxes were raised on the – on wealthy individuals following the 2012 presidential election; conservatives are angry about the Bush administration, which saw a huge expansion of government though – even though it was a Republican presidency and a Republican-controlled Congress.

So there’s a feeling of kind of alienation from the political party, that the party elites, candidates tell the voters one thing and then don’t follow through on their end when they’re in Washington. And so I think that that’s kind of the reservoir of sort of this alienation that Republican voters feel from the – from their party.

QUESTION: Hello. This is Edvard Zitnik, Slovenian public broadcaster. I was in a way surprised last time after the debate on the reaction of Republican candidates on media. I was thinking that this is happening only in Eastern Europe in new democracies. (Laughter.) Could you comment on that? And what, in your opinion, will be their next step regarding media and television debates? Thank you.

MR PHILLIPS: Yeah. It’s an interesting – so for a long time, there’s been a – kind of a talking point among conservatives that American media has a liberal bias. And so for – even though this is probably less true today than it was, because there’s very – there’s a lot of a conservative media now, including Fox News, and CNBC is not exactly a bastion of liberalism. So yes, it’s very – it’s a good strategy for Republicans to kind of bash the media as a way of appealing towards their base, who feels a lot of alienation towards media – the New York Times, CNN, NBC – these kind of major American media outlets.

And it’s interesting. So there’s ongoing negotiations between the campaigns amongst themselves and with future television hosts of debates as to how they’re going to proceed. So existing debates, like the format, the times have all been negotiated with – between the Republican National Committee and the media outlets that have been hosting these. Now the campaigns want the Republican National Committee cut out of the process and want to bargain with the media themselves. But there’s so many campaigns it’s unclear – so they had a meeting on Sunday and continue to have negotiations amongst themselves to kind of retool the way that the debates work.

So the things – some of the things that they want are to be able to give opening statements. They want to – for the debates – Donald Trump wants two-hour debates, not longer than two hours. There’s all sorts of – they want to control the temperature, so nothing about 67 degrees in the – they’re negotiating over all sorts of things. I’m not sure what will come of it, because the – I mean, the candidates can always threaten not to participate in the debates, but the debates are a great opportunity to be able to present your case to the public. So I don’t see candidates opting out of the debates if they don’t get – sort of get their way. But it is interesting that the Republican National Committee is kind of being cut out of this process.

And I think that it’s not necessarily unreasonable for the Republicans to want kind of to have some debate moderators who are Republicans themselves, since these are Republican Party debates and the constituency that they’re trying to appeal to is fellow Republicans. But it will be interesting to see what kind of changes happen going forward. It’s just totally unclear at this point what is going to happen.

MS SHIE: And on that note, we’ll end it. Thank you, Professor Phillips, and thank you all for coming. (Applause.)

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