So…are the polls really showing a Trump surge? Are we ready to see the Truman/Dewey moment of the 21st century?
Here is what all the hubbub is about:
Yes. The story is real.
There is no question the polls have been narrowing ever since the end of the Democrat Party convention. Trump received no bump from his convention; Hillary got a significant one from hers. But clearly, that was not sustainable, as the polls have slowly drifted toward a closer equilibrium point.
What we are now seeing is the inherent weakness of Hillary Clinton as a Presidential candidate. This polling trend is less about Trump than about how the public feels about Hillary.
Hillary Clinton has always been an awful political candidate. In 2008, Hillary supporter former Sen. Dale Bumpers was asked how she was losing to a nobody name Obama:“I’ve known Hillary for many years, ever since she came to Arkansas; She’ll find a way to screw it up. She always does.”
That defines who Ms. Clinton is more than anything else you will ever hear.
Furthermore, Hillary has a quarter century of history that defines her…and the public has defined her, all right. In a Quinnipiac poll from 9/15/16, the pollsters asked if they thought Hillary Clinton was honest. She was underwater by 33 points, 32% Yes/65% No. That was even worse numbers than Donald Trump has (and he virtually lies about everything).
These issues have caused a huge enthusiasm gap…which another reason why Trump, for all of his negatives, remains still in this race. A CNN/ORC poll indicated that more than 1 in 5 five would-be Clinton voters were “not at all enthusiastic” about backing her. The poll found 58 percent of Trump supporters saying they felt either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about their choice, while only 46 percent in the Clinton camp feeling the same.
Even worse, that enthusiasm gap is largest where it hurts her the most: among minorities. There was always going to be a drop off of enthusiasm among the African American community from Obama to Hillary…but it appears to be far greater than they ever expected. A CBS News poll showed 31 percent of North Carolina’s black voters are supporting Clinton because they don’t like Trump. And the same percentage said they were “satisfied but not enthusiastic” about their choice, compared to 53 percent who were enthusiastic. That is approximately 40 points lower in enthusiasm than Barack Obama had in 2008, when he won the state of North Carolina.
This enthusiasm gap extends to Hispanics as well. The Clinton campaign early on presumed that Trump’s anti-Hispanic rhetoric would magically turn out the Hispanic vote for Clinton. That does not appear the case. Their campaign is now trying to woo Hispanic voters with TV and radio ads by Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine…who is white, but fluent in Spanish.
Democrats have criticized their entire strategy. The Obama campaign in 2012 put in early, sustained efforts to drive out the Hispanic vote…and largely succeeded. One veteran strategist of Obama’s 2012 campaign questioned the wisdom of waiting to engage in Spanish until the end in a recent Washington Post article: “The question I would ask is what message does that send to the Spanish-dominant Hispanic voters?” Amandi asked. “That they’re not as important as the English-language Hispanic voters by waiting this late in the cycle to engage with them?”
These are not clear winning strategies for any candidate.
When people like Nate Silver are sending up the warning flares, you better start listening:
When a candidate has a rough stretch like this in the polls, you’ll sometimes see his or her supporters pass through the various stages of grief before accepting the results, beginning with a heavy dose of “unskewing” or cherry-picking of various polls. In this case, however, the shift in the race is apparent in a large number of high-quality surveys, and doesn’t depend much on the methodology one chooses. FiveThirtyEight, Real Clear Politicsand Huffington Post Pollster all show similar results in their national polling averages, for example, with Clinton leading by only 1 to 3 percentage points over Trump.
All of this is tricky, though, because we still don’t have a great sense for where the long-term equilibrium of the race is, or even whether there’s an equilibrium at all — and we probably never will because of the unusual nature of Trump’s candidacy. Perhaps Trump isn’t that different from a “generic Republican” after all. Or perhaps (more plausibly in my view) he is a very poor candidate who costs the Republicans substantially, but thatClinton is nearly as bad a candidate and mostly offsets this effect. Still, I’d advise waiting a week or so to see whether Clinton’s current dip in the polls sticks as the news moves on from her “bad weekend” to other subjects.
The problem for Ms. Clinton is that these stories keep coming up. And they are largely unforced errors created by her or her campaign, instead of Trump successfully laying a blow on her. The sequence of events on 9/11 when she stumbled and almost collapsed is mind boggling: instead of admitting she had an episode; they tried to sneak out so the media didn’t see, then they tried to hide it as long as possible; then tried to spin it; and finally took almost 8 hours to admit what really happened, clearly after discussing how they would confront this with a long internal discussion among their political hacks. At that point, they already had sowed distrust through out the public on whatever they eventually said.
This doesn’t mean by any means that Hillary Clinton is losing (or Trump is winning). Despite all this ‘fear mongering’ from people like myself, Hillary likely still leads Trump by a point or two.
The problem is history shows you how tenuous such leads are. In late October 2000, George W. Bush led Gore by 1-2 points in the polls. Then, the weekend before the election, the news story broke about Bush having a drunk driving arrest as a young man. Even though the story was largely irrelevant, there are several surveys and studies in retrospect that show that story may have cost Bush the popular vote, by suppressing his base in some sectors from turning out. Whether this is true or not can never absolutely be proven, but again…Bush led for the vast majority of that campaign, and that 1-2 point lead didn’t hold up in the end.
The second hurdle for Trump is the electoral college:
Yeah. The structural advantages in the electoral college are tremendous for Trump. He has to not only sweep the toss-up states (50 EV), but also steal at least one of the Democrat-leaning states like New Hampshire or Virginia.
Furthermore, the problem for Donald Trump is he is utterly incapable of taking advantage of all these Hillary deficiencies, unlike Gore or other past examples. Hillary has a credibility problem, and the public thinks she is a liar; is Trump going to take the mantle of being the honest truth teller America needs? Good luck with that. Hillary has shown multiple episodes of gross incompetence; who here believes Trump is knowledgeable enough to show greater competence? Not many unaligned voters at this point. Trump is singularly incapable of taking advantage where other Republicans would be trouncing Clinton.
Clinton is largely undermining her own campaign because of who she is: she is a dishonest woman who repeatedly avoids transparency at all costs, even in the face of media attention and obvious self benefit; she is a woman with little or no natural political acumen, who engenders almost no enthusiasm from a bulk of her own party, and has a campaign staff that is either too cowardly or too incompetent to speak to her honestly about her own mistakes.
That is always a recipe for disaster in a political campaign. Hillary Clinton is currently toying with losing the most winnable race in the last half century…an amazing accomplishment, when you think about it.
In short, Hillary was a very weak candidate to begin with, with little credibility or trust among the general population. Compound that with her inability to be transparent, outright lying to the public, and her team’s own gross incompetence…and we are where we are: a race where she is likely to win, should win…but Trump still lives.