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Economy — and history — point to Clinton victory, says Stanford scholar

David Brady, a political scientist and SIEPR senior fellow, is drawing from polling research and voting patterns to understand a campaign he says “is not going to be pretty.”

As presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump march toward a November face-off, Stanford political scientist David Brady says political and economic factors are pointing in favor of a Clinton victory.

But Brady, speaking at a recent event hosted by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, stopped short of making an absolute prediction of a presidential winner.

“We’re saying we don’t think he could win,” Brady said of Trump. “But I’m not saying it’s not going to happen.”

Brady, a SIEPR senior fellow and the Bowen H. and Janice Arthur McCoy Professor of Political Science at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, based his insights on polling research and voting patterns.

Current — as well as historical data — suggest that Clinton has the upper hand, Brady said.

For one, voter turnout generally increases by about 12 percent to 15 percent in presidential election years, and the bump traditionally stems from Democratic-leaning groups, such as minorities and young voters.

“There's a different electorate, and that electorate is more pre-disposed to vote Democratic than Republican,” said Brady, who is also the Davies Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Also, economists have long found that when people feel the economy has improved — which seems to be the current sentiment most strongly held by Democrats — they vote for the incumbent party. Republicans, on the other hand, have been less optimistic about economic growth.

Brady also said it is unlikely that supporters of Bernie Sanders would choose to abstain or vote for Trump if and when the Vermont senator exits the race. Clinton, he said, will thus probably win that share of popular votes.

Polls show that Sanders’ base of support mainly comes from independent voters, and a particularly young contingent. Even though Sanders’ campaign has focused on inequality — a common concern among Democratic constituents — Democrats are still largely supporting Clinton, Brady said.

During his talk on May 26, Brady also discussed how no one in the party establishments had initially expected Trump or Sanders to go far in their campaigns.

The two gained footholds with a voting public that has increasingly grown dissatisfied with the government, Brady said.

Brady, like many others, did not consider real estate mogul Trump to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. He and Morris Fiorina, a Stanford political scientist and Hoover senior fellow, did not even include Trump in their initial list of 14 Republican hopefuls when they started a new monthly polling project in April 2015.

“Are you kidding?” Brady recalled thinking. “He’s not going to last.”

But Trump held his ground, and Brady and Fiorina added him to their polls starting in July 2015.

In telling feedback, nearly 20 percent of Republican respondents who felt their finances had worsened said they had “no preference” for a nominee before Trump was added to the poll’s mix. Most all of the Republican candidates — with the exception of Scott Walker — had a less than 10 percent share. But after Trump was thrown in, the “no preference” group essentially disappeared in an apparent shift to Trump, as he notched more than a 30 percent share as the preferred Republican nominee.

Support for Trump has only grown since, rising to 41 percent of overall Republican respondents in the latest April poll.

But among the general electorate, both Trump as well as Clinton are highly disliked, even by a substantial portion of voters within their own parties, Brady said. About 60 percent of overall voters polled in April said they viewed Trump “unfavorably,” while 56 percent said they viewed Clinton “unfavorably.”

“The bottom line is that these (two) candidates are pretty unpopular, and the campaign is not going to be pretty,” Brady said.

May Wong is a freelance writer.

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