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All It Takes to Win an Election: Scare 270,000 People in Pennsylvania

Disclaimer: this is a highly speculative, controversial-on-purpose post. Historic events and data is mostly fact. Predictions and forward-looking analysis are mine, based on gut feelings and what-if thinking, not based on fact.

 

This is just a friendly reminder that in September 1999, a few months before the presidential election that brought him to power, Putin staged “terrorist attacks” in multiple cities across Russia in which 298 people lost their lives. The Chechen rebels were blamed for the bombings. Putin, campaigning on a hardline approach to the war in Chechnya won the election in March 2000 and the rest is history.

Oh what are you saying that the leader of the second more powerful nuclear power in the world killed hundreds of his own people to tip the outcome of presidential elections get out of here!

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Putin has since been at the helm for 16 years and counting but that’s not our problem, our problem is right here, right now:

I would argue that the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election can be easily swayed with one strategically placed and timed “act of terrorism” on U.S. soil or against an American target. See, it’s not that one candidate or the other is the “better anti-terrorism candidate”. All you need is for a not-too-large (see below) group of voters to be temporarily affected by a dramatic news event and vote for the candidate whose rhetoric is more plainly and one-sidedly “against terror”.

Oh but you’re being funny this is America not Russia that stuff doesn’t happen here what are you talking about we have rule of law and folks who prevent that kind of thing!

Really? Like nobody would hack a major party’s emails to influence public opinion in favor of an outspoken Putin sympathizer? No way! Don’t forget, this is the kind of stuff presidents used to quit their jobs over.

Listen there buddy, hacking emails is one thing, blowing up people is another.

Don’t forget, the potential for real terror acts is out there constantly. The reason there’s not a bombing taking place on U.S. soil every day is because the terrorists, as a whole, are much less competent and worse funded than the government agencies combating them. And that’s a good thing. But what if a serious, professional organization, skilled in international sabotage, decides to intervene on behalf of the terrorist and just help them a little tiny bit? That’s a different story. You do remember Putin is a Lt. Colonel in the KGB.

But that’s cool, when tens of millions of people vote, reason will surely prevail over any temporary outbursts of anger.

Not so fast. The predicted gap between Trump and Clinton has been steadily shrinking over the last two weeks. As of today (9/19, source: http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2016-election-forecast), Clinton is predicted to win 287 electoral votes, just a 37 vote lead over Trump:

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A lot? Not really. In fact, if all else remains the same, all it takes is swinging just one state like Pennsylvania, wielding 20 electors, to tip the scale in Trump’s favor.

Pennsylvania has been polling strongly in Clinton’s favor:

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But think about this: Pennsylvania has 8.3M registered voters. Assuming a very high 65% turnout rate (this is, after all, a highly engaging and controversial campaign), we can expect about 5.4M votes to be cast. Looking at the poll data above, a 5% swing can change the outcome of the vote in Pennsylvania. That’s just 270,000 people.

What if there’s a terrorist bombing with multiple casualties in downtown Philadelphia two weeks before election date? Can you imagine 270,000 people in Pennsylvania voting in anger, despair and fear? I can.

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