Saturday, September 17, 2016

Nate Silver says it's almost time for Democrats to panic

Might be time to refill those anti-anxiety prescriptions, Hillbots.

Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls has been declining for several weeks, and now we’re at the point where it’s not much of a lead at all. National polls show Clinton only 1 or 2 percentage points ahead of Donald Trump, on average. And the state polling situation isn’t really any better for her. On Thursday alone, polls were released showing Clinton behind in Ohio, Iowa and Colorado — and with narrow, 3-point leads in Michigan and Virginia, two states once thought to be relatively safe for her.

It’s also become clearer that Clinton’s “bad weekend” — which included describing half of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables” on Friday, and a health scare (followed by news that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia) on Sunday — has affected the polls. Prior to the weekend, Clinton’s decline had appeared to be leveling off, with the race settling into a Clinton lead of 3 or 4 percentage points. But over the past seven days, Clinton’s win probability has declined from 70 percent to 60 percent in our polls-only forecast and by a similar amount, from 68 percent to 59 percent, in our polls-plus forecast.

That’s not to imply the events of the weekend were necessarily catastrophic for Clinton: In the grand scheme of things, they might not matter all that much (although polling from YouGov suggests that Clinton’s health is in fact a concern to voters). But when you’re only ahead by 3 or 4 points, and when some sequence of events causes you to lose another 1 or 2 points, the Electoral College probabilities can shift pretty rapidly. A lot of light blue states on our map have turned pink, meaning that Trump is now a narrow favorite there instead of Clinton:

Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida have all gone pink of late.  Give the polling time to catch up with popular opinion, and this time next week we'll see if this momentum of Trump surging and Clinton falling is sustained as the first debate -- Clinton and Trump only, as you may have heard -- looms on the calendar.

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 Politics and 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.

This potentially ignores a more important question, however. Sure, Clinton might lead by only a percentage point or two right now — with a similarly perilous advantage in the Electoral College. But is that necessarily the best prediction for how things will turn out in November?

Silver goes on with the deep dive; I'm an executive summary kind of guy.

This is a complicated question, and one that we might want to revisit over the next couple of weeks. But the short answer is… I don’t know. We know that many news events — most notably, the political conventions — produce short-term “bounces” in the polls that partly or wholly reverse themselves after a few weeks. There were also some examples of this in 2012. Mitt Romney’s position improved by several percentage points following his first debate in Denver against President Obama, but his gains soon proved fleeting. Media coverage of the campaign — which tends to rally behind whichever candidate is gaining in the polls until it tires of the story and switches to scrutinizing the frontrunner — could also contribute to such swings back and forth.

So it’s plausible that Clinton’s “bad weekend” could be one of those events that has a relatively short-lived impact on the campaign. As if to put to the question to the test, Trump upended the news cycle on Friday by relitigating the conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. (Trump finally acknowledged that Obama was born here, but only after falsely accusing Clinton of having started the “birther” rumors.) If voters were reacting to the halo of negative coverage surrounding Clinton rather than to the substance of reporting about Clinton’s health or her “deplorables” comments, she could regain ground as Trump endures a few tough news cycles of his own. Over the course of the general election so far, whichever candidate has been the dominant subject in the news has tended to lose ground in the polls, according to an analysis by Larry Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley.

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 very poor candidate who costs the Republicans substantially, but that Clinton 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.

So is there anything that Clinton can do to take the initiative and regain the lead instead of just reacting to how awful Trump is, hoping that will somehow rally undecideds to her cause?  Two sources may have that answer.  First, Glenn Thrush at Politico, in "Five reasons Trump might fall in autumn" (I'm excerpting just the last two):

4. Terrified Democrats are Clinton’s secret weapon. This is the big one, the factor upon which the election truly hinges. Raw, small-mammal fear. Trump’s success might be the only thing that gets many Democrats (or anti-Trump moderates outside the party) to hold their noses and vote Hillary.
The wow in recent national polls is not Trump’s rise, but the fact that more Trump voters are psyched about their candidate than Democrats are jazzed about their less-than-exciting nominee. In the Times survey, 51 percent of Trump supporters were enthusiastic about him vs. 43 percent of Clinton supporters who were thrilled about her. But fear is as powerful an emotion as love in politics (it’s why negative ads work and the decision by Jeb Bush’s super PAC to dump tens of millions into positive ads was so bad) — and Democrats are panicking, in a way that could be good news for their underperforming nominee.

Ultimately, Trump Terror has been at the core of Clinton’s strategy since the end of the primary, and it’s why her comment about half of Trump supporters being in a “basket of deplorables” probably won’t do any long-term damage: It’s basically still a base election, and she needs to get them out to win. A more vexing problem is her continued meh performance with younger voters who are flirting in the 25 to 30 percent range with third-party candidates.

The endgame strategy, here, in a quote: I ran into a top adviser to Clinton at a social event earlier this week, and asked him how things were going. “How the hell do you think it’s going? We’re probably going to win, but there’s a 30- to 40 percent chance we are going to elect a f---ing madman for the White House.” Then the guy headed for the bar.

5. Gary Johnson? Really? Very, very few Clinton voters are leeching directly over to Donald Trump — but a substantial number are visiting the pot-loving, socially liberal, bean-bag decorated Libertarian halfway house run by 2016’s chilliest third-party candidate, Gary Johnson. Johnson is a smart ((Ed. note: LOL), iconoclastic critic of both candidates who has been making a broad pitch for Bernie Sanders’ supporters, and it now appears he’s drawing skeptical former Clinton supporters in substantial enough numbers to affect the race.

Clinton’s Brooklyn brain trust is in a quandary on dealing with this: Attack him, and Clinton allies have compiled oppo files on the former New Mexico governor, and raise his low profile; let him roam the firmament snatching up progressives in his VW van and lose votes.

Fortunately for Clinton’s team, support for Johnson seems relatively soft (as opposed to the smaller, but more militant following attracted by Green Party candidate Jill Stein), and Clinton’s team expects many to drift back to her cause, as third-party defectors often do in October and November.

Barring an unexpected Johnson boomlet, this will be their anti-Johnson strategy — claiming that a vote for the mild-mannered Libertarian is, in fact, a vote for President Trump.

That might work.

Just ask Al Gore, who made the same case against Ralph Nader in 2000.

Priceless.  Now Angry Bear, who's already freaking out.  Too long to excerpt in context, so here's the bottom line.

 I just desperately wish she would run a campaign that is grounded in the economic and anti-campaign-funding-corruption populism in tune with 2016.  A.k.a., a strong desire for change.  Instead she’s running a deplorable one and turning a lot of us former Sanders supporters into basket cases.

Turns out that a substantial percentage of millennials think there’s no difference between Clinton’s policy preferences and Trump’s.  Not all that surprising, I guess, given that Clinton spent the summer campaigning for Republican votes.  Brilliant idea!

Clinton has abandoned the hard-negotiated Sanders platform as if on cue.  The Democratic fear factor is one of the few options left for her to try to hang on and run out the clock.  A 'prevent defense', as the best football coaches say, only prevents victory.  And an inevitable coronation suddenly finds itself flailing.

I don't have any insights that Nate Silver doesn't already have, and he admits he doesn't know where this will wind up.  But to me it feels like the Titanic's unsinkable hull has been breached, and she is slipping under the waves.

No comments: