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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Political Analyst Larry Sabato Explores 2016 Presidential Election at ODU

The Friends of the Old Dominion University Libraries brought award-winning political analyst Larry Sabato and his Crystal Ball to Old Dominion University Oct. 13 to present his predictions for what will happen in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and a Norfolk native, said he was excited to speak in his hometown. His enthusiasm was contagious.

"I was impressed that he was able to integrate his sense of humor in light of the gravity of this election," said Norfolk resident Dali Shih.

G. William "Bill" Whitehurst, former Congressman and Old Dominion's Kaufman Lecturer for Public Affairs, introduced Sabato by remembering their friendship and praising his prediction record.

"When I was serving (in Congress), the Democrats controlled the House, that's just what they had always done. Larry told me that in 10 years the Republicans would be in control. Ten years later, I was a believer and have been ever since," said Whitehurst.

Sabato began by discussing factors that impact each candidate's chances of winning. For Republican candidate Donald Trump, success Nov. 8 depends on increasing the number of white, blue-collar workers who vote by 4 to 5 percent. Sabato said Trump is the first Republican candidate since record-keeping started in the 1950s who is losing white, college-educated voters.

Sabato said one issue that Trump can use to unite Republican voters is the future of the Supreme Court. The next president, in all probability, will make up to four appointments to the Supreme Court. Ensuring a conservative majority is the one issue that can unite Republicans of any stripe, Sabato said.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has an easier path to victory come November 8. The first factor in her favor is the changing demographics of the American electorate, Sabato said. The percentage of the electorate that's made up of minorities has doubled since the 1980s, which helps Democratic candidates, the party of choice for a majority of minority voters.

He added that President Obama's approval ratings stands to help Clinton in November. When a sitting President has an approval rating of 50 percent or higher, it's easier for his party's nominee to win the election, Sabato said. President Obama currently has an approval rating of 55 percent.

Clinton had the biggest post-Convention bump in her poll standings since her husband was nominated in 1992, which led to an Electoral College vote prediction of 348 electoral votes for Clinton, 190 votes for Trump. Throughout the campaign, her predicted share of Electoral College votes has never dipped below the 270 she need to win the presidency, according to Sabato's Crystal Ball, despite scandals ranging from her health scare to the WikiLeaks document release.

Following Sabato's address, a panel of Old Dominion University political science faculty answered audience questions. The panel was moderated by Cathy Lewis, host of WHRV 89.5's "HearSay with Cathy Lewis."

Shenita Brazelton, assistant professor of political science, responded to a question about threats to the established, two-party system - especially in light of unpopular presidential candidates this year - by suggesting the Republican Party will need to revamp its message in order to attract a broader base of support.

Jesse Richman, associate professor of political science, said Trump became the Republican nominee because the 15 other candidates in the race all made the mistake of assuming there was no way he could win. As a result, the GOP ended up with a candidate not as thoroughly vetted as he would have been in a field with fewer candidates, Richman said.

Glen Sussman, professor of political science, bemoaned the fact that both candidates are focused on the same limited issues. "No one is talking about climate change; no one is talking about Social Security," he said.

Asked about tax reform, Chip Filer, associate professor of economics, was realistic about its chances of success. "You could have a party called 'Tax Reform Now' in power and it still wouldn't happen," said Filer.

In closing the night, Sabato reminded that crowd that, at the end of the day, these were just his best guess at what would happen and that there could be some surprises come election day.

"Remember, the man who lives by the crystal ball will eat a lot of glass," he said. "Try not to get too mad at me if I'm completely off."

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