The past several U.S. presidential elections have been decided based on the usual political calculus, i.e. candidates, demographics, voter turnout, money, debates and issues along with the economy and matters of war and peace.
That will not be the case in 2016. Instead, it is all but certain that election will be decided by transformative and possibly existential events.
The possibility for disruptive events is omnipresent, so why will it be different in 2016?
First, we can identify several areas that are ripe for a game-changing event. Second, we have postponed, temporized or failed to address critical matters that will reach a tipping point within four years. Third, the crises we have so far ignored have the potential to change an election. Fourth, at least one of these chickens will come home to roost, if not much of the flock.
I have identified six areas in which such politically seismic events are possible, if not likely, between now and the next election and assigned a probability range to each. They are presented in the order in which they are likely to occur.
- Debt Crisis – 40% to 60% likely: A debt crisis is almost inevitable. The only real question is whether it will happen by 2016. A debt crisis will erupt the instant people quit buying U.S. government debt under acceptable terms. This will plunge the United States into such a crisis that we will be lucky to maintain the rule of law and avoid widespread civil unrest.
- Terrorist Attack and Aftermath – 25% to 35%: We are losing the intelligence battle by refusing to incarcerate and effectively interrogate terrorists. Instead, we kill them with drones and gain zero knowledge. The intel gathered prior to Obama has become stale, and terrorists have adapted. If America suffers a devastating terror attack and it was found that intelligence failures were to blame, the election, ipso facto, will be decided.
- Loss of Iraq and/or Afghanistan – 25% to 35%: The current administration has failed to secure the gains made in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq easily could fall into the orbit of Iran or disintegrate into factions. Afghanistan could revert to tribal enmities, leading to the return of the Taliban and al-Qaida. Should either or both of these events happen and our costly sacrifice in blood and treasure be for naught, it will get very ugly indeed.
- Iran Nuclear and/or Middle East Crisis - 20% to 30%: If Iran detonates a nuclear weapon, that could be an election changer. If Iran threatens Israel or actually uses an atomic weapon, it definitely will be a game changer. A full-blown Middle East crisis involving Israel will be transformative if it is shown the United States slighted Israel. Finally, if, as it now appears, the Arab Spring transmogrifies into a triumph for terrorists, extremists and the Muslim Brotherhood, it will make Benghazi seem tame by comparison.
- Obamacare Cost Explosion and/or Crisis – 20% to 30%: Obamacare remains wildly unpopular. When it takes full effect, costs will explode, people will lose coverage and finding health care will become problematic. Granted, this will not result in a single seismic event, but the cumulative effect could be just as devastating to its proponents.
- Europe Implosion – 15% to 25%: Although this would not impact America directly, it would provide clear and convincing evidence that it is disastrous to follow a similar path. With daily images of death and devastation in Milan, Madrid and Marseilles fresh in the electorate’s minds, it is hard to see much support for big-government, no-growth policies.
Applying probability computations to the low end of the probability range for each of the above events informs us the probability of at least one of the events taking place is 82 percent, while the chances that two or more will occur are 45 percent. At the high end of the probability range for each event, the chances become 94 percent that at least one of the events will occur and even money that two or more will occur. It is 15 percent to 20 percent likely three or more happen by 2016.
Each of these events would result in grievous electoral harm to those who caused them. Based on the midpoints of my analysis, it is 88 percent probable at least one election-altering event will take place, nearly 50 percent at least two such events take place and 18 percent three or more could occur. One event should be sufficient to decide the 2016 election, and two events would result in a landslide, not just in the presidential contest but in congressional and statewide elections. I shudder to think about what could happen if three or more of the chickens come home to roost.