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Andy Friedman: Indie Voters Crucial to Clinching Presidency; Trump Could Trip Up

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Republicans will hang onto their House majority this year — and the rest of the decade — while Democrats have a chance to regain a Senate majority, according to Andy Friedman of the Washington Update.

In his latest look at the political landscape, Friedman opines that “it is not a stretch” to predict that the Republicans will keep control of the House this fall, and absent a “party-wide scandal,” Republicans are likely to hold the House “for the rest of the decade — and perhaps the following decade as well if they keep their stranglehold on the state governments.”

Meanwhile, the presidential candidates will have to capture the independent voters if they expect to win the White House seat, Friedman says.

Of the 34 Senate seats up for election this year, 24 are held by Republicans, he notes. These Republicans were elected in 2010 as part of a “strong backlash against the Democratic administration,” while many of the Republicans hailed from states that typically lean Democratic “but were caught up in the anti-Obama tidal wave,” Friedman says.

To regain a Senate majority in 2016, Democrats must pick up four seats if they hold the White House and five seats if the Republicans win the presidency.

Friedman notes that the individual state races bear out the Democratic advantage. Democrats have a good chance to pick up seats in six states: Florida, New Hampshire, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“Republicans can counter with possible pick-ups in Colorado and Nevada,” Friedman says. “Given these numbers, the possibility of a Democratic takeover of the Senate cannot be ignored.”

As to the presidential race, three “important metrics” bear directly on the presidential election: party affiliation, demographics and the Electoral College. As it stands now, 42% of the U.S. is independent, up two percentage points since 2012, Friedman notes, and the “highest ever” polled for a presidential election. Republicans (26%) and Democrats (29%) are each down two percentage points since 2012, so these numbers “make capturing the independent vote one key to winning the election.”

While “dangerous” to paint all independents with the same brush, it’s fair to say that independents typically are more concerned with “fiscal issues (lower government spending and lower taxes) than implementing new government restrictions on social behavior (gay marriage, etc.),” Freidman says. “Independents also tend to favor compromise over ideology. (Voters who feel strongly about a particular ideology tend to belong to one or the other party.)”

Thus, he says, “a candidate who emphasizes fiscal over social issues and exhibits a willingness to work with the other party once elected appears to have a better chance of capturing independent votes.”

As to demographics, since the last presidential election, the percentage of nonwhite voters has risen three points to 31%, Friedman says, with the percentage of the white population declining accordingly to 69%. So capturing the nonwhite vote is “another key” to winning the election, he says, with a Republican candidate able to capture “a greater portion of the nonwhite vote than did his or her predecessors” having a better chance of claiming victory.

As to the electoral college, to become president, a candidate must garner 270 electoral votes. “Tallying the electoral votes from the states Democrats almost will surely win (such as California and New York), plus votes from two states they are likely to win (Iowa and Pennsylvania), yields 249 electoral votes, 21 votes shy of winning the election,” Friedman says. “The Republicans, on the other hand, can count on 191 electoral votes from states they almost will surely win, leaving them 79 votes short.”

What about Donald Trump’s chances of prevailing, then? Says Friedman: “Two factors ultimately might stop the Trump juggernaut.”

First, “although Trump is great at rallying his supporters when he speaks, he has a relatively weak ground organization. As the number of primaries begins to increase, Trump could have more trouble getting out the vote than do his rivals with stronger grassroots organizations.”

Perhaps more important, Friedman opines, “Trump could get tripped up by his lack of expertise. He sounds good, but when the debates turn to substantive issues, he often takes a step back. If that lack of expertise becomes more apparent (as it has, for instance, with Ben Carson, another Republican candidate), Trump could find his support drop off.”

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