Question for the mathematically inclined: Given three likely events, each of whose probability is 60% in favor, what is the probability that all three events will occur? (Answer found below)
After Tuesday’s outcome, I now believe a Trump presidency is the most likely scenario.
For those unfamiliar, this week brought so-called “super Tuesday”, the first day large numbers across the country cast ballots for Democratic and Republican presidential election nominees. It now looks highly likely Mr. Trump will win the Republican nomination.
Voting by a wide cross section of America shows his strengths and other candidate’s weaknesses. Barring legerdemain during the nominating convention, Trump has proven himself the heavy favorite.
On the Democratic side, it’s far harder to assess momentum. Only five states were in play. The rest were either in the heavily African-American Southeast known to favor Hillary Clinton or a candidate’s home state. Of those, Clinton won two (Texas and Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders won three (Colorado, Oklahoma, and Minnesota). Despite this, I don’t think these numbers are as hopeful for Sanders as they might seem. Sanders started the race a heavy underdog and to have a chance against Clinton, he needs to catch fire right about now. His rise has been steady but hardly overwhelming. Clinton’s favor among the Democratic Party establishment that runs the convention will make an outsider nomination by Sanders a long shot.
Still, the fact that Sanders is even making this a race has got to be a concern for Clinton. She has run twice, in 2008 and now, and in each case went from heavily favored to struggling against a senator who’d been on few radar screens a year or two before. She didn’t handle it well in 2008, and I see no sign she’s come up with new tricks since. She still seems content to sit on a lead.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Among all the candidates, I think Ms. Clinton would make the most qualified and most experienced president. But as a campaigner she displays glaring weaknesses. Unlike Sanders, voters don’t associate her with a fiery assertion of principles. She’s not a forceful speaker. I admire her but must admit she often comes off scripted and tentative, an unpleasant contrast to Sanders’ unwavering confidence. Also, the only campaign tactics I’ve seen her employ involve protecting her lead and trying not to lose the election. It didn’t work for her in 2008 and its effectiveness is questionable now. Yes, I wish she were as good a campaigner as she would be a president, but I’m compelled to see the realities of the actual campaigns she’s run.
Despite this, I still believe she will wrest the nomination from Sanders in the end, even if she needs an army of superdelegates to do it. Once that happens, however, she will be a weak candidate against Trump’s onslaught. I’ve never seen a presidency won by touting administrative skills against an opponent boldly articulating principles. Clinton would enter her contest against Trump a heavy favorite, and unless she breaks tendency in a big way, she will proceed by trying not to lose the election, by hanging onto her lead long enough to be ahead in November. Trump, on the other hand, will advocate bold new ideas, with plenty of time to pivot back to the center. By Election Day, America will have forgotten many of the outrageous statements he made winning over the extreme elements in the Republican party. With nomination in hand, he need no longer court them. They’re not about to stay home Election Day risking the Hillary Clinton they’ve hated for decades becoming their president.
Given Trump’s skill as a campaigner, and Hillary’s weakness against inspirational opponents, I reluctantly must predict a Trump victory. Wishful thinking has him thrown over in a landslide by a country that suddenly becomes sick of demagoguery and fear mongering, but dispassionate analysis forces me to admit such an outcome is less likely.
What would a Trump presidency mean for the LGBT community? Impossible to tell. Trump is more of a political opportunist than any candidate in recent memory. I fully believe him capable of supporting oppressive policies regarding bathroom use and discrimination if he thought it met his political ends. However, he is equally capable of suddenly seizing the standard of LGBT rights if that helped him shore up his popularity. Watching him and listening, I conclude he has no genuine caring about what happens to us, good or bad. True, Clinton also experienced an evolution of her views on same-sex marriage, but I see strong signs that she deeply cares about human rights. Even in the days she supported the Defense of Marriage Act I think it probably made her uncomfortable to have to speak out against marriage rights. Not so with Trump. As he has shown with so many other marginalized groups, he’s willing to be a bully when it suits him.
Do I think a Trump win is likely? No. But it’s the likeliest scenario. And no, those two statements are not inconsistent. Let me explain. A Trump victory requires three events. He wins the nomination, Democrats nominate Hillary (I think Sanders would be much harder to beat for reasons extensive enough to deserve a column of their own), and then Trump beats Hillary in the general election. In my opinion, all three of these are more likely than not.
Here’s where the answer comes in to the question at the front of the article. If three events each have a 60% probability, that means the odds run considerably in the favor of each to occur. Despite that, the probability of all three occurring is still somewhat small. In this problem, 21.6%, or barely one in five! Probabilities combine multiplicatively, yielding a much lower likelihood than any one individual event
In the same way, even though I think each of the three events are are probable, the probability of them all happening to bring about a Trump presidency is still nowhere near 50%.