This election is simpler than it seems: The candidates who led the polls all along will win

This election has flummoxed the pundits, which is embarrassing, because the outcome was staring us in the face the whole time.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have led the national-primary polls for the entire time that each of them has been in the campaign, except for a blip or two for Trump. Not unrelatedly, Clinton is almost certainly going to be the Democratic nominee, while Trump is probably going to be the Republican nominee.

It seems all we had to do to predict what would happen was read the polls and assume they were correct.

Of course, the polls have been wrong in specific states (in particular, Clinton did much worse in Michigan than was forecast), and they have changed somewhat over time, particularly with Sanders shrinking his poll gap with Clinton.

But that stuff has mostly been noise. Sanders is still behind, both nationally and in states like California, which he would need to win in a landslide to overtake Clinton in the delegate count. You can tell a candidate is screwed when his chief strategist insists the nomination is “not a matter of delegate arithmetic,” which it is. The remaining question on the Democratic side is not whether Sanders will lose the nomination, but by how wide a margin.

Trump is not a near-lock like Clinton, and he will probably lose Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary. But Wisconsin is not a must-win state for him any more than Minnesota was, and he remains positioned to get the delegates he needs from the Northeast and California.

The uneven distribution of the primary calendar has created an illusion of twists and turns and shifts of momentum. Clinton had “great weeks” when there were Southern primaries and “bad weeks” when there were Western caucuses. Trump’s loss today will fuel a narrative that he is “losing momentum.” But Sanders is running out of caucus states, and Trump is still up more than 30 points in New York, which votes in two weeks. When the map shifts, the “momentum” will shift back.

The changes over time during this primary have been about space more than time, and by the end, all the spaces in the country will be represented. The national polls will prove predictive of the total national result.

This is important to remember when we look toward the general election. The polls are clear: Trump is hugely unpopular and he’s going to get creamed. You should listen to the polls, which have done a lot better than the pundits and the political scientists to date.

Of course, when you confidently say Trump is going to be a big loser, people will look at you and say, “But they said Trump couldn’t win the nomination either.”

“They” did say that, but “they” weren’t paying attention to the polls.

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