And the Winner is...: Heath Brown on Election 2016

Election 2016 has brought its fair share of drama, intrigue, and surprises — with Professor Heath Brown (GC/John Jay, Criminal Justice) among its closest observers.

In Immigrants and Electoral Politics, his new book to be released next week, Brown interviewed dozens of nonprofit leaders and surveyed hundreds of organizations.

The result is a bold portrait of incredible successes in mobilizing immigrant communities, as well as efforts to suppress nonprofit voter mobilization.  

He recently spoke to 365 Fifth about the days leading to November 8: what to expect, how much polling matters, and who will win.

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What should voters look for in these final 30 days?

We should expect to see the long-planned campaign strategies for all major candidates, including important congressional races, start to come into focus. This will include many more television ads and likely many more negative and contrast ads. We also will see how digital strategies play out on the variety of new media outlets. Voters will be getting information and pleas from candidates from dozens of different places this fall.

How much does polling data matter in the final stretch?

Polling data matters for voters who want to observe the general patterns of support for major candidates, but it seems unlikely that new polling data will change the outcome of any election. There’s little research that suggests that polling data does anything other than reflect where likely voters are at any given time.

What can we expect from undecided voters? 

Truly undecided voters may be as undecided about whether they will vote as who they vote for. This is why voter mobilization or get-out-the-vote efforts by parties and non-party groups is important at this point of the campaign.

In my new book, I show the ways that immigrant nonprofits use a variety of tactics to register, educate, and mobilize voters. Getting registered voters out of their busy daily routines and out to vote takes a lot of work, especially if that person is undecided.

What other factors should we pay attention to?

Candidates are unlikely to travel to a state that their internal polling suggests is either strongly in their favor or strongly in the favor of their opposition. So when a candidate travels to a state, they think the race is close and that their visit will energize their supporters to turn out in large numbers. How much time Clinton spends in Arizona, North Carolina, and Michigan will say a lot about those closely contested states.

What can we learn from early voting?

Early voting varies so much by state rules so interpreting the early results can be a signal of final electoral turnout, but likely with a lot of noise. It's hard to read too much into early voting results.

Based on the current available data and polling, who do you think will win?
In such a closely divided electorate with high name recognition for both presidential candidates and widely available information, the winner will be the candidate with the most effective ground game.

Mobilization of supporters on Election Day, especially given some of the new voting rules in some states that make it harder to vote, will likely determine the outcome of this year's election. 
In addition to his research, Heath Brown is an expert contributor to The Hill, The Atlantic, and American Prospect, and hosts the New Books in Political Science podcast. He is the author of Pay-to-Play Politics: How Money Defines the American Democracy (2016) and Tea Party Divided: The Hidden Diversity of a Maturing Movement (2015), among other books.

Submitted on: OCT 4, 2016

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