How the left can win the general election

Of course, I have no idea how anyone can win any election, but that’s what this post is about anyway, and no one ever got clicks by admitting they aren’t sure. This is just a little election nervous energy, dedicated to David Brooks, who says “data driven” campaigns have been a fiasco. (Follow this series at the elections tag.)

With all this talk of political realignment, and the impending fracturing of the Republican Party, I was wondering how the parties might shake out if something serious really did happen. I struck me that the GOP establishment is really upset right now because the beast they have been cultivating (the racist, xenophobic, sexist, anti-gay, anti-science beast) is suddenly turning on them in way that threatens the things that really matter: keeping taxes and regulation from impeding their accumulation of wealth. As if what they really want is their mass of gullible voters back from Trump.

Anyway, I looked at the American National Election Studies 2016 pilot data, which asked 1,200 people a lot of attitude questions, as well as how they feel about the candidates. My question was, how are left and right divided now, and what might happen if things broke differently.

Breaking away

The results are all in the figures below. To make these I used Stata’s cluster kmeans command, which breaks a sample into the number of clusters you specify according to the distribution of means on the variables you list. Using math. This is nice for politics because it forces each person to choose a cluster, just like voting for a party. I used the feelings and issues you see in the top part of the figure to create the clusters, and then checked to see how the members of each cluster feel about the candidates. I ignored voter demographics, just taking into account their opinions. I used Excel’s conditional formatting to color-code from green to red (but check the coding because left and right don’t run the same way for each question — note if the item is “oppose” on a scale of 1-7, then 3 or less is “favor”).

The first figure is a two-cluster scheme. Every potential voter has to pick a party. In the two-party scheme a few major differences stand out. The left feels much better about scientists, gays and lesbians, and feminists. They are more interested in action on climate change, paid leave, equal pay for women, and big government generally. They favor affirmative action at universities and raising the minimum wage. They think legal immigration is good. Issues that don’t divide left and right so much are feelings about the police, free trade, and crime. The death penalty is not huge. The left’s favorite person is Sanders, but they like Clinton, too. They hate Trump. Here’s the first figure (click to enlarge):

The left here is only 45% of potential voters, so come November they need to raid the right somewhere – but where? To answer that I specified four clusters instead of two. This gives the left and right two center categories to fight over. Now the two left parties together sum to 45%, so for the left to win, I figure they need to find issues they can use to pull people away from the right, so I’m especially looking for big differences between the right and center-right. The good news for the left here is that the right is only 22%, so there is a lot of potential for poaching the center-right. In this figure, I highlighted a few key left-right divisions arbitrarily. Here’s the figure, with my comment below (click to enlarge):

Fortunately for the left, the right is blinded by their hatred of gays and lesbians and feminists. The center-right is much more tolerant, especially of gays and lesbians. So that seems like a good wedge. I say “tolerant” because the center-left isn’t really crazy about gays and lesbians or feminists, so going all the way to awesome in that area might be a turnoff to them.

The other good ones for the left are equal pay for women and legal immigration. The right hates them but everyone else is positive. Science is also good for the left, as the right doesn’t like scientists much, and the center-right is very into vaccination.

On the other hand, the center-right is very pro-police, so that may not be a winner for the left. The anti-police right isn’t coming all the way over, so it doesn’t help that they’re not pro-police. Also, affirmative action and the minimum wage aren’t good for pulling out the center-right. In general, the Chamber of Commerce type issues — climate change action, free trade, and big government, don’t help the left split the right much.

One caution is that the center left doesn’t like Clinton much — no better than they like Rubio, in fact. They are more positive about Sanders.

Obviously, how to work this into a campaign — with all the other issues that entails — is way beyond me. That’s why this is free.

9 thoughts on “How the left can win the general election

  1. How the left can win the general election

    No need to read beyond the headline.

    With Donald Trump the presumptive candidate of an intellectually vacuous Republican Party, Hillary would still win even if it became public knowledge that she swore a blood oath to Mao that her only goal in life is to destroy the USA.


  2. I find it interesting you don’t highlight the issue of immigration. Far left is opposed to legal immigration (if I’m reading your chart correctly), while center left is less opposed, and center right is more opposed. It seems to me there’s an alliance there between Far Left (which opposes immigration for labor protectionist reasons) and Center Right (which opposes it for possibly racial reasons).

    I also notice that Far Left and Center Right share more similar attitudes on scientists, which I think can perhaps be accounted for the hippie woo woo sorts of trends amongst the Center Left.

    Also I see both Far Right and Center Left share a similar opposition to mandatory vaccination, which also may play into the anti-science positions of those groups.

    I also am curious how things would break down if you included a libertarian/authoritarian axis. Many “moderateish” republicans I know are basically just right-wing libertarians. They don’t actively fight for gay rights but they don’t really care.


    1. I think you have the immigration attitudes backwards. I think the chart labels it as “Do you agree that legal immigration is bad”, and the “left” agrees the least, making them the most pro-immigration, followed by the “center-right”, the “center-left”, and then the “right”.

      In general the non-monotonic rows of the k=4 chart are very interesting, but I’m not sure the results support interpreting the clusters as analogous to “political compass quadrants” (i.e. libertarian left, libertarian right, authoritarian right, authoritarian left). For example, the “center-left” is the most anti-police and least supportive of required vaccines, so you might be tempted to label them as the “libertarian left”, but then they are not especially supportive of liberties like legal immigration. I would like to see if there are demographic features that give a better interpretation of the clusters.


      1. Yeah I agree, the four groupings certainly don’t fit libertarian/authoritarian quadrants neatly. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say the divide might have more to do with rural versus urban versus suburban distinctions. Or perhaps class idenity (as I could see Far Left people maybe including more working class union types who have police in their family, and while Center Left are maybe more Yuppie types). Or even some combination of those. And there’s also race and culture in the mix which can change stuff. Would be nice to have more info and see this fleshed out.


  3. Except that you assume the issues are equally weighted; in the present cycle, opposition to immigration (legal or otherwise) and free trade pacts dominate. If I were to assume a cutoff of 3, practically everyone is opposed to the two issues, and shift over with the right. In the present election cycle, just focusing on the two issues, a right wing candidate can reach into, between, say 55 to 72% of the vote.

    At this point, policies would not be able to wedge the left from the right; only, women and minorities can launch the left.


  4. I am not really that familiar with American politics, but from the glimpses taken here and there I had the impression that Trump is pro legal immigration, so this is not a real issue to lure voters from him, I guess.


  5. I wish I could edit my previous comment, instead of adding another one; Here is another piece arguing that Trump is the most pro-gay republican candidate in ages (which does not mean much, I guess):

    Remembering that he once indicated he is not against gun regulation, marijuana, public healthcare, Trump indeed may be the most liberal Republican candidate (Except for his nationalism).


Comments welcome (may be moderated)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s