Sam Wang

Sam Wang is a professor of neuroscience and molecular biology at Princeton University. He is the co-founder of the Princeton Election Consortium.

Recent Articles

The Transition from Obama to Trump Brings a Nosedive in Public Approval for the President

Trump has the shakiest base of approval of any incoming president in 60 years.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Numbers can help put a change in administration into perspective. The contrast in the style of leadership between outgoing President Barack Obama and incoming President-elect Donald Trump is obvious. Six decades of polling from Gallup show something additional: the most abrupt decline ever recorded of public approval of the person in the White House. As judged by popular opinion at the end of his term, President Obama is regarded about as well as Presidents John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush, and nearly as well as Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, who historians rank in the top quartile of presidents. And Bill Clinton actually topped all recent outgoing presidents in popularity. We won't have a job approval number for Trump yet until he is sworn in. But we do have a closely related survey number, his personal approval. Trump has the lowest approval rating of any incoming president in decades. In the past, presidents started out with majority approval—that even includes...

The Hardened Divide in American Politics

When did hyper-partisanship begin? Pre-election polling data point to the mid-1990s.

(Photo: AP/Mel Evans)
Although news reports and commentators during this year’s presidential election have focused on twists in the race and shifts in polls, the real story about campaigns since the mid-1990s is how little movement there is during a general election. American voters are much less open to persuasion by the other side than they used to be. With increased partisan polarization among voters, how states vote from one election to the next also changes much less than it previously did. That’s the reason we can talk about “red states” and “blue states” and focus on only a few battlegrounds. Election outcomes aren’t foreordained, but all the movement has been taking place within a relatively narrow range. The volatility of public opinion during an election year can be measured using the standard deviation, a number that describes how far sentiment has departed from the average. Like the stock market, presidential races may be volatile (high standard...

Losing Ohio Improves Trump’s Chances to Win the Nomination

Keeping John Kasich in the race divides the anti-Trump vote.

AP Photo/John Minchillo
Two months ago, based on a computer model I developed of the Republican delegate race, I wrote in The American Prospect that the GOP’s nomination rules tilted the playing field to Donald Trump’s advantage. For Trump’s opponents, the time window for counteracting many of those advantages and winning a first-ballot nomination has passed . Now the campaign enters a new phase, as Trump’s rivals try to deny him a majority of pledged delegates going into the convention. Simulating the remaining contests based on current polling data, my model picks up an unexpected wrinkle: Trump’s strongest position comes if he loses the primary in Ohio on Tuesday. Tomorrow marks the start of an onslaught of winner-take-all elections, which will continue for the rest of the primary season. A winner-take-all rule rewards the first-place finisher even without a majority, and therefore gives the biggest advantage when the field is divided. Two of the first winner-take-all...

GOP Nomination Rules Tilt the Playing Field toward Donald Trump

Even without a majority of the votes, Trump can win a majority of the delegates.

AP Photo/Lance Iversen
Pundits have assured us that the support for Donald Trump is so limited that he can’t possibly get the GOP presidential nomination. Last week in The New York Times , Ross Douthat argued that Trump has a ceiling around 30 percent of Republican voters and consequently will be defeated. To put this numerical claim to the test, I have created a detailed state-by-state simulation of the nomination rules. My conclusion may surprise you: Trump’s current level of support may be enough to deliver him the nomination on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in July. Political science research suggests that the “party decides,”—that is, a party’s insiders ultimately have a decisive say in choosing the presidential ticket. In this year’s splintered Republican field, however, the power players have been largely silent , as if waiting for a “mainstream” leader to emerge. The frontrunner in polls , Trump, has never held office. In...

One Reason the Democrats Lost So Big in Midterms: Exceptionally Low Voter Turnout

Not since 1942 has turnout been so low.

(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
When turnout falls, Democrats perform worse in elections. That general pattern is well known. In making their forecasts, pollsters try to estimate what that turnout will be on the basis of previous elections. This year, pre-election opinion polls were off by the largest amount seen in over 20 years. Could this massive underperformance by Democrats have been connected to a wrong guess about turnout? Here is a graph of turnout over the history of the United States. The data come from the Vital Statistics of American Politics and were plotted by Michael McDonald . As the graph shows, fewer people vote in midterm elections than in presidential elections—about 30 percent fewer, in the post-Watergate era. Data from Vital Statistics of American Politics , plotted by Michael McDonald. I have added to this graph an arrowhead indicating McDonald's current estimate of 2014 voter turnout: a dismal 36.3 percent of the voting-eligible population (VEP). This is the lowest rate of turnout since...