Monday, May 9, 2016

Observations on the US election campaign

So it is Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. A few observations.

1. The Wall Street Journal has this fascinating graphic about the public perception of the main candidates from both parties. 
It stands out that the two least liked candidates from both parties are the winners and the two most liked the losers! This clearly points to a negative campaign - the lesser evil will be the winner. This evidently means that going forward, Trump will have to expose Clinton as being a far worse candidate than he himself is. If the victor will be the one who is less disliked, as it appears now, Clinton looks comfortingly decent in the face of Trump's demagoguery.

At another level, the failure of the positive candidates, despite the very high level of negativity induced by the two winners, also highlights the absence of an Obama-like simple and decent centrist among either of the two Parties. It is also a reflection of the extremist positions of the Sanders and Kasich that they both came not even close despite having overwhelmingly disliked opponents. From hindsight, Micheal Bloomberg should have stood and would have been an odds-on favorite against Clinton. 

2. While one can never be sure about any election, a Bayesian proposition is in order. In this US Presidential election, given the nature of the two candidates, ceterus paribus, more than in any other high-profile election anywhere in the recent past, one could make a reasonable claim that Clinton stands as good a chance of victory as one could make an election prediction about anybody with any degree of comfort. If I were a betting man, and I am pretty risk averse, I would bet on her! 

Edward Luce has already declared her the winner. The participants are the annual Milken conference appears convinced too. Her support base among the youth remains very strong and far ahead of Trump. And consider this from Times,
Mr. Trump’s biggest problem is that he would be the most unpopular major party nominee in the modern era, with nearly two-thirds saying they have an unfavorable opinion of him. More than half view him “very unfavorably” or say they’re “scared” of his candidacy — figures with no precedent among modern presidential nominees. Mr. Trump’s ratings are worst with the voters who made up the so-called Obama coalition of young, nonwhite and well-educated voters who propelled President Obama’s re-election four years ago. In some ways, Mrs. Clinton is not a natural fit to reunite Mr. Obama’s supporters — especially the younger voters who have overwhelmingly preferred Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. But whatever challenges she may have among these groups dissipate against Mr. Trump. Recent surveys even show her leading among 18- to 29-year-old voters by a larger margin than Mr. Obama’s when he won them four years ago.
That said, if Clinton loses and I lose my bet, I'll sure be disappointed and even surprised but hardly astonished. As a reminder from history,
In 1980, Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan in many polls this time of year. He went on to lose by 10 points.
3. If, as it appears today, Hillary Clinton is sworn in as the first woman President of the United States, then ironically enough, Bernie Sanders too could justifiably claim victory. Or at least his positions. For his views on inequality, Wall Street, trade and so on have undoubtedly pushed Clinton more to the left than she would have liked. To that extent, despite being the closest representative of the establishment, she may end up having to accommodate non-establishment interests, a not unwelcome development.

On the same note, Candidate Trump, irrespective of what happens with the election, may have nudged the US foreign policy away from Wilsonian idealism and towards greater isolationism. It is most certain to trigger off pressures for allies to contribute a greater share in all the three major US's international engagements - NATO, East Asia, and the Middle East. 

4. What does all this mean for India? The most worrying concern for India should be the shifting discourse on trade, immigration, and national security towards more isolationism. A protectionist America would trigger off similar trends elsewhere, to the detriment of developing countries like India. If the protectionism gathers ground, India's US-dependent ITES sector could suffer and the American dreams of its growing pool of engineers diminish. A foreign policy disentangling from security alliances, especially in East Asia, would leave India's near abroad the exclusive domain of China and therefore more vulnerable to its incursions. No abrupt shifts are likely in any of these cases. But it cannot be denied that the discourse has shifted more in the opposite direction to India's interests.

5. Finally, a more interesting area of speculation will be what will happen at the Republican Convention and how will the Party itself respond to this "crisis". Paul Ryan has publicly said that he's not yet ready to back Trump! Cleavages are opening up fast. There are still developments that may be quite extraordinary and worth speculating.

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