Saturday, November 5, 2016

So How Close is the Presidential Election Now?

So how close is the election right now?  Depending on the polls–along with their inter-
pretation and misinterpretation–one gets varying answers. The simple answer is that there is a lot of misinformation out there, fed in part by cherry picking of data, partisan pushing, or simply a misunderstanding or interpretation of polling and statistics.

On Friday Nate Silver gave Clinton a 66.5% chance to win, down a lot from last week. Until a week ago I had Clinton at about a 75% chance. Before the first presidential debate I had Clinton 50%+ to 55%. I am back to that prediction. Clinton's position in critical swing states appears to be eroding, and data in the Washington Post suggests that too.  However, as of Saturday, November 5, Clinton still has enough of a lead in the critical swing states to put her over 270 electoral votes and win.

But consider two polls.  Earlier this week a Washington Post-ABC Poll had Trump beating Clinton 46-45% among likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3%.  Now in a new poll released today Clinton leads 47-43%, with a margin of error of  +/- 3%.  The interpretation of these two polls is that Clinton has recovered from the latest FBI e-mail controversy.  But has she?  Not necessarily.  Consider the margins or error.  A Trump 46-45 lead with a margin of error of 3% could mean the race was Trump ahead 49-42, or Clinton ahead 48-43%, with today Clinton now leading 50-40 or losing 46-44.  Margins of errors are, well, margins of error and not pinpoint statistics.  This means that in the last it is possible there has been no overall shift in the polls and that instead what the Wash Po poll is revealing is nothing more results well within margins of error.  We really do not know if the race has shifted much in the last seven days.  However, given that most other polls have listed Clinton as generally ahead in national polls she may be.

The big issue is how undecided voters will break this weekend. This election reminds me of 1980 when in the last 72-96 hours undecideds broke for Reagan over Carter, preferring change over the status quo because of their disgust with current politics. I see many of the same conditions here now and could see lots of voters either not voting or throwing caution to the wind and breaking for Trump. Often undecideds break for the challenger and against incumbents when they do not like the status quo. This election is really close but I can see possibilities for a Trump or Clinton win, a split between the electoral and popular vote, or even a 269-269 tie that sends the election to Congress to decide.  Do not rule out these possibilities, especially a popular and electoral college split.

 On election night I am looking at North Carolina. If Clinton wins that state it is all over because it will be mathematically hard for Trump to win without NC.

So what happens if the election melts down and the candidates challenge the results?  as I point out in a recent Huffington Post piece, don’t necessarily count on Congress or the Supreme Court to fix this election if it is contested or challenged.  Those institutions too are broken by partisanship.

Finally, for both candidates a major mistake is that neither of them are ending their campaigns with making the case for their election by offering a narrative for governance.  Both are sill running for office by declaring they are not as bad as their opponent.  Neither candidate will have a mandate to govern when they take office.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think either one has ever described a narrative for governance. I am nearly 67; I have never experienced an election as dispiriting as this one.

    Professor Schultz is right; neither has a mandate. The new president cannot stand up at the inauguration and say, "Follow me because enough people voted against the other candidate."