Grieving and the Margin of Victory

CNBC reported on Sunday, December 18th, that,

Donald Trump’s top aides on Sunday said the president-elect isn’t ready to accept the finding by intelligence officials that Moscow hacked Democratic emails in a bid to elevate Trump. Even if it’s true, they said, Trump still won the White House fair and square….

“This whole thing is a spin job,” said Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, “And I think what the Democrats ought to do is look in the mirror and face the reality that they lost the election….”

“Where’s the evidence?” asked Kellyanne Conway, another close Trump advisor.

There are generally thought to be five stages to the grieving  process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Perhaps both sides in this election will be going through this process to some degree.  Donald Trump and his aides are clearly in denial.

One thing Donald Trump and his aides do not mention when they maintain he won the
“White House fair and square” despite the efforts of the Russians is the margin of victory.  If we are going to consider the question of whether this was a free and fair election, we need to consider whether all the information stolen and leaked by the Russians had a decisive impact on the results of the election.  To consider this, we need to consider the margin of victory and determine whether it could have been altered decisively by the Russians.

The Margin

The results below are the latest.  If you click on the number, you will be taken to the source.  Clinton received 232 electoral votes.  If she would have won Michigan (16 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20), and Wisconsin (10), she would have won the election.  She lost these states by razor-thin margins:

10,704 in Michiganforecast-grid
44,292 in Pennsylvania
27,257 in Wisconsin
82,253 total

137,012,544 total votes cast
One percent = 1,370,125
82,253 =  1/16.65 x One percent

Trump’s margin of victory was 1/16.65 of one percent of the vote.  There is a reason you do not hear this discussed by Trump or his supporters.  There is a reason you do not hear it discussed by the news media.  There is a reason during his last press conference this was not mentioned by President Obama.  This razor-slim margin of victory together with the finding of the intelligence community regarding Russia undermines the integrity of the election.

To put this margin of victory in perspective, Clinton is now leading the popular vote by 2.8 million votes, or 2.1 percent.  Clinton’s margin of victory in the popular vote is 34.9 times larger than Trump’s margin of victory in the popular vote for the electoral college.

The Impact

Could all the information stolen and leaked by the Russians in order to help Trump win account for 1/16.65 of one percent of the vote?  The answer obviously is yes.  The fact the question has to even be posed could be viewed as a sign we are all still in denial.  But to drive the point home it helps to consider the timing of the release of the information and the impact it had on the race.  The chart below describes the chances of victory according to Fivethirtyeight.  The chances are based on the analysis of all the polls done by the Fivethirtyeight team.

538-forecastOn July 6, 12 days before the Republican National Convention began in Cleveland, Guccifer released the D.N.C.’s battle plan and budget for countering it. For Republican operatives, it was insider gold.  On July 22, three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, WikiLeaks dumped out 44,053 D.N.C. emails with 17,761 attachments. Some of the messages made it clear some D.N.C. officials favored Mrs. Clinton over her progressive challenger, Mr. Sanders.  The Democratic convention began with Sanders supporters protesting.

From July 6th to July 30th, Clinton’s chances of victory went from 77.5 to 49.9%.  We have no reason to conclude the leaked emails are the sole cause of this drop.  Both of the conventions took place during this period.  We also have no reason to deny the leaked emails contributed to this dramatic decline in Clinton’s chances of victory.

On Oct. 7, a month before the election, the Wikileaks site began the serial publication of thousands of private emails to and from Mr. Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager. Wikileaks began to release Podesta’s emails one hour after the The Access Hollywood tape was released showing Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.  After this tape was released a number of women began to come out confirming what Trump had said on the tape.  However, eleven days before the election, the FBI director sent his message to congress.  We can therefore see the release of the emails and Comey’s announcement both working to offset the lead Clinton might have gained as a result of the Access Hollywood tape.

The impact of the Comey announcement was striking.  In the six days after that announcement, Clinton’s chances of winning individual swing states went down on average 14.5%, according to Fivethiryeight.  Clinton herself describes the Comey announcement as making the difference.  Nate Silver agrees.

State                                   10/28    11/3      Drop

Florida                               65.8      49.6     16.2
North Carolina                64.4      49.5     14.9
Arizona                              49.4      28.9     20.5
Iowa                                    50.9      28.3     22.6
Ohio                                    49.9      32.7     17.2
Michigan                           86.5      78.3     8.2
Pennsylvania                   85.9      75.9     10
Wisconsin                         85.3      78.7     6.6
Average drop                                               14.5
United States                   81.5       66.2     15.3

The close margin of Trump’s victory suggests he could not have won without the impact of the information stolen and leaked by the Russians or Comey’s message to congress eleven days before the election.  Both had a measurable impact on the race that exceeds Trump’s slim margin of victory.   The evidence would therefore suggest the Russian interference in the election and Comey’s announcement were both decisive: if either did not occur, Clinton would be president.

This is not to argue other things could not have also been decisive.  When the margin of victory is 1/16.65 of one percent, many things could potentially have been decisive.  Clinton could have spent more time in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.  She could have picked a different running mate.  This is why FBI Directors should not make announcements like Comey’s and why in the future news organizations should not aid the counterintelligence programs of foreign powers.

To conclude then, the evidence suggests the Russians interfered in the U.S. election in order to help Trump win.  The impact of that assistance greatly exceeds Trump’s margin of victory.  Consequently, the claim “even if it’s true, … Trump still won the White House fair and square” is not based on the evidence.  That is one reason why the people making the claim do not mention the margin of victory.  It is why the slim margin of victory does not come up in discussions in the news media or over dinner in the company of those with diverse political perspectives.  Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea this was not a free and fair election, that our democracy has been undermined.  It is understandable.  What has occurred is shocking and we are in denial.

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