Updated to include polls through Oct 26th (AM, more polls later in the day on the 26th will be added at the next update):
Updated, 25 October AM
As I expected, and demonstrated much to the consternation of everyone, the ever widening double digit lead of Clinton over Trump in an increasing number of polls meme is a falsehood. Here is the latest graphic using the same approach as described below, but updated to reflect additional polls.
Rather than a widening, or even consistent, gap, or a gap that is double digit, we see Clinton continuing to lead, but pretty much in the same way that she has led since the conventions. In other words, the three presidential debates, the release of Trump’s tax records, the sexual assault tape, the confirmation of many actual groping cases, and the VEEP debate, may have had some short term effects on the polls, and if you look closely and squint, may have actually re-widened Clinton’s lead to post convention levels a bit, but for the most part, we are looking at a pretty steady relationship between the two candidates from the end of the convention period to the present.
When the general polls conform to expectations, they matter. When they don’t conform to expectations, say “yeah, but what really matters is the electoral college, and in the electoral college … bla bla bla.”
And yes, since we attempt to choose our president using the Electoral College (though that doesn’t always work) that is what matters, and it may be the case, though I can not independently confirm this at this exact moment in time (Tuesday AM), that Clinton is either taking or widening the lead in some of the swing states, and some red states are turing less red, as we speak. But, it turns out that we DO look at the general numbers for a number of reasons, including the fact that we expect general trends to conform to state wide trends, as a check on what we are seeing, and general trends may matter down ballot.
The original reason that I wrote this post is that I was concerned that a lot of commenters (and maybe voters) had come to the conclusion that Clinton’s lead was growing, nearing or in the double digit range, and that the Clinton campaign need not look back, and could start doing other things, but, my read on the polls was that the debate/scandal swing looked like earlier swings, and I had little faith that it was long lasting. I took a look at the data and saw preliminary information suggesting that this may be the case. And now, that is confirmed. I conclude for now that the three presidential debates, the release of Trump’s tax records, the sexual assault tape, the confirmation of many actual groping cases, and the VEEP debate, may have had some short term effects on the polls, and if you look closely and squint, may have actually re-widened Clinton’s lead to post convention levels a bit, but for the most part, we are looking at a pretty steady relationship between the two candidates from the end of the convention period to the present.
And yes, I said the part that the incredulous will ignore twice.
I may do another electoral projection to replace this one later today.
America. Democracy. Decency. Thoughtfulness. Everybody and every thing, it feels like.
Everyone is upset this morning about Trump’s comment that he will wait and see about the results before he accepts them. His comments are deplorable and astonishing, but I think they are also a distraction. If he ignores the results, it may be a bit messy but he will be ignored. A few militia groups will go and take over a Federal facility or two, but that will be managed. Unless the Congress gets on board with denying Clinton the presidency, nothing really bad will happen.
I’m more alarmed by all the comments he made in this debate, and perviously, about how he would handle wars, the military, the economy, the law, the Supreme Court, trade, ethnic/race relations, and his comments about women (which continued last night). Those are all problems that will ruin us as a country if he wins, and that have damaged us as a country already even if he walks away from this race right now. I’m not all that worried about him having a tantrum if he loses.
And, of course, it is maximally concerning that Trump wins the election, than it is that he loses and refuses to go quietly. This is because it is simply not the case that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have this sewn up. Let me show you why.
This graph shows the daily averaged-out polls, all of them, as listed by RCP’s site, since July 1st (plotted on a y-axis of days before the election). There is a 3 day moving average imposed on this (a shorter moving average than usual, but this is an average of averages, and those averages are of polls taken over varying numbers of prior days, so we have plenty of helpful smoothosity on that curve).
Never mind the details for a moment. Notice first that over this time, which starts in the month of the conventions and goes up to the present, there is an overall pattern of oscillation. For much of the time all of the pols are within the margin of error, but Clinton’s polls are usually higher than Trumps, when averaged out. If you apply the FiveThirtyEight method, or use similar approaches, to combine the different polls into probability statements, one can be more definitive about Clinton’s overall and consistent lead since the conventions.
But, notice that about 50 days out, the two candidate’s polling became close before Clinton started to separate again, and also notice, that this cycle of Clinton pulling ahead and then drawing down again seems to be happening one more time. There was probably a lot of pressure separating Clinton and Trump, with Trump’s bizarre and generally poor performance in the debates, the revelation of the tape in which he seems to have no clue that sexual harassment is not OK, and the revelations seeming to confirm that he is a serial sexual molester, and the tax story from the NYT, and all of that. But the about 27 days out, that pressure relaxes, and all the numbers regress towards the mean again.
Let me put this another way, as a stark but supportable hypothesis. About 50% of the United States would vote for Trump, and about 50% would vote for Clinton. People talk about the 35% to 40% Trump base, and that’s real. And Clinton has a similar base. But the rest of the country, the 20% to 30% that are not part of those groups, are divided roughly in half, in terms of preference for either candidate, and their preference is soft.
If there are no more strong events pushing people away from Trump, the numbers will settle down to where they were between days 40 and 50. this will place trump within about one point of Clinton. And, one point is very very close.
The current widespread rhetoric that Clinton is going to win no matter what may be the exact cause of her losing. How many people will not bother to vote, when they otherwise might have, because they are confident that Clinton will win? If the two candidates are 1% apart, then only 1 in 200 voters have to do that to put Trump in the White House.
Let me note what may end up being the greatest situational irony of our times. MSNBC has lots of great commentators and reporters, like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes. They are providing the most thoughtful and coherent analyses of what is going on during this election cycle. But, they are also constantly repeating and supporting the rhetoric that Trump can’t win. And, their audience corresponds closely to that subset of people who are going to vote for Clinton.
Unless MSNBC and other sources fail to shut up about how Clinton can’t possibly lose, and one in 200 otherwise-Clinton-voters stay home.
There are, of course, other possibilities. The apparent closing of the gap we see on the above chart could be an artifact of poling and disappear by itself over the next 48 hours, or it could be real, but reverses because of something Trump does. However, keep this in mind: Trump is being such a distraction from the race that a lot of information that could be used against Clinton (legitimately or not) is currently piling up and not coming into play. It is quite possible that forces that work to push Trump down on this graph could be weak, and forces that work to push Clinton down on this graph could be strong, and we might not be looking at a dangerously weak 1% lead by Clinton when the first week of November rolls around. We may be looking at a distinct Trump lead.
I should mention that today’s polls are not shown on this graph because they are mostly not available. Those that are available are in that subset that tends to favor Trump, but they are all showing a virtual dead heat.
Today, tomorrow, through Monday, we should be looking very closely at the polls. If they show narrowing, then my Hypothesis from Hell can’t be ruled out and the idea that the race is really about 50-50 between scandals needs to be taken seriously.