Published in The Moderate Voice on July 14, 2016
Recently, new surveys from three mega-battleground states were released that left many scratching their heads. Quinnipiac’s polling of Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio showed Donald Trump with narrow leads in the first two and tied in the latter. The polls contradict others – including a series of NBC News/Marist/Wall Street Journal polls released the same day that showed Hillary Clinton further ahead, including by nine in Pennsylvania. More importantly, they also contradict public sentiment that Trump’s many verbal faux pas (or true beliefs depending on one’s point of view) would make her victory a foregone conclusion. I never thought that at all. I’ve been at this a long time and I’ve expected a very, very close race almost all year. I still do.
Polls this early are only reliable in the sense that they show where each campaigns have solidified their standings, and where each need to make up ground. These are the dog days of summer and the news of the week, rather than careful introspection, tend to dominate the minds of the electorate. In this case, the news that dominates is FBI Director James Comey’s report that let Clinton off the hook legally but nonetheless issued a verbally damning reprimand, particularly in the area of her handling of classified information. It shows damage but again, that was the week that was. Let me remind folks that the election is Clinton vs. Trump and that is just now getting underway. Let’s break that down, shall we.
I’m not an expert at grasping the methodology, sample size of polls and how they jibe with recent Presidential election turnout by party (folks like twitter’s Jair Martin and many reputable state pollsters can do that better) but many comments have been pointing out that the various sample sizes have been too heavily Republican compared to turnout in 2012. Additionally, Quinnipiac’s track record this year – at least in primaries have been spotty. But let’s, for the sake of argument, assume Quinnipiac is right and thereby, look at why Republicans shouldn’t get too giddy.
First, it’s four months out and the most important factor in the surveys is the large number of undecideds which at this point is a good 20%. While the Quinnipiac poll contains slightly few more undecideds than other polls, the voters who make up the undecided is a good fifth of the electorate. The Libertarian candidacy of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is also a wild-card, as predicting how well he’ll do is at this point a fool’s errand especially if it appears he may play spoiler. But right now, Johnson’s support seems to be coming more from Trump as Republicans who can’t vote for him but who’d consider it treasonous to vote for Clinton are openly considering him (Jeb Bush). And although Sanders gave Clinton a long awaited endorsement, not every one of his supporters will automatically follow. But most will in time.
There are pluses for camp Trump. I would have thought any of the backlash Trump incurred would have hurt him during the nomination. That he survived and went on to capture the nomination over multiple, talented state and national officeholders shows that he has built in support so, heading into this crucial phase, he obviously has legs going into the fall even if he is lacking unanimous backing from his own party.
Two, it is true that a number of traditional Democrats in areas where they have long ago felt the party had left them might pull the lever for Trump as well. Many under-educated and economically marginalized individuals have indicated plans to do so and I suspect that’s what making these states tight. Having said that, much will happen between now and November.
That brings us to the most important factor at this stage of the game and ignoring it comes at a pollsters peril. It cannot be ignored that Trump and Clinton both have profound weaknesses. The undecideds are undecided for that reason. That turnout will bring demographics to the polls in record numbers and these groups will “trump” the new voters or nominal voters Trump will lure out by a mile. The picking of the running-mates will be coming first followed by both parties having conventions. September will be a month of tailoring issues. Then there will be the debates. Oh boy, will there be debates. Every time two Presidential candidates duke it out, it should be must see TV – not because much of it is theater but because we in some cases, it is the only chance regular Americans see when electing a leader. But this one really is must see TV and, given that both Trump and Clinton possess the gift of a heavyweight verbal slugging ability, this will be a match-up that Tyson-Holyfield – a real heavyweight match, cannot possibly surpass.
Speaking of the media, the ads will also be in full swing in battleground states with one side reminding voters why they should dislike and detest the other. Team Clinton’s ad will remind voters that their candidate does not have a monopoly on honesty related issues. In addition, voters will also be treated to a rehash of the reasons, statements, etc, that Trump made to convince them that he is not qualified to sit at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Once that is done, I suspect many of the frustrated Trump voters in battleground states will have maxed out and by Election Day, the number of people voting for Clinton despite rather than because will overtake the Trumpers. In other words, if undecideds cast their vote on honesty vs. offensive statements, the voters Trump needs to put him over the top probably don’t exist in most of the battleground states.
Finally, voters will ask themselves “the question.” That is ignoring all of the warts, who would they most feel comfortable with sitting in the Oval Office. It may break as late as the time people enter the voting booth to pull the lever but it’ll happen. Thus, hen all is said and done, Clinton should capture enough of the undecideds to get to 270 electoral votes.