Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Will the Early Vote Save Hillary's Bacon?

It's come down to this: with one week to go before the election, the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is now a tossup. Yes, Clinton still holds a two point lead in the RCP average, but the latest polls ostensibly show the race tied.

Clinton still has a clear edge in the battleground states, but that edge isn't as sharp as it was a week ago. Her once impervious firewall is showing cracks. Huge leads in Pennsylvania and Colorado have eroded considerably. While both are still in the lean column for Clinton, neither is a slam dunk. North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada are all within the margin of error and all could conceivably go to Trump. In that event, Clinton would win with 272 electoral votes, hardly the landslide Democrats were eying a few days ago.

While it doesn't appear James Comey's October surprise has had the devastating impact some thought it would, it has helped shore up Trump's support among squeamish Republicans who now appear to be coming home. That's the main reason for this race tightening. Trump is now polling around 43 points, up almost five points from just ten days ago.

So where does this leave us? Who is more likely to prevail next Tuesday? Before answering that, it's important to note that I don't think we're done with this trend. I suspect we'll see more slippage with Clinton. It's entirely possible that come election day, we could be looking at 45-45, or perhaps Trump with a one point lead in the RCP average.

This is what happens when your main message throughout the campaign has been to demonize the other side instead of building a positive case for yourself. Sooner or later, voters start to tune out. The saturation point gets reached and people go, "Been there, heard that, move on." P.S., that's also the main reason why Clinton hasn't tanked over the Comey announcement.  People are simply, as Bernie Sanders put it best, "tired of hearing about the damn emails."

So, to get back to the original question, who is likely to prevail next week? Let's say, for the sake of argument, that on election day both Clinton and Trump get an even split in the popular vote. Let's go even further. Let's say Trump gets slightly more votes than Clinton on November 8. Is that game over?

Not necessarily. That's because of the early voting going on in many states. At present, Democrats enjoy a 15 point lead in ballots that have been cast so far. Now it's uncertain whether all of those Democratic votes went for Clinton. It's clear she has struggled with blue-collar voters who have almost always voted Democrat. She is bound to lose some of them, especially in Ohio, which I would be surprised if she won. But Trump has had his own problems with moderate Republicans, especially in the suburbs, long a Republican stronghold. That's why he's still trailing in Pennsylvania. If I had to guess, I'd say both will lose an equal number of voters from their camps.

If you're looking for a ray of sunshine in this monsoon, you can take solace in what happened in 2012. Four years ago, Barack Obama had a slim .7 point lead over Mitt Romney in the RCP average going into election day. But Democrats banked a ton of early votes and parlayed that into a 3.9 percent winning margin. Obama ended up with 332 electoral votes, including 29 from the Sunshine State, which he won by less than a point.

Will history repeat itself? The odds look good. Team Clinton certainly has a huge advantage in the ground game. My only concern is turnout. Put succinctly, Hillary has to get her base to the polls, all of it. If she does, she wins; if she doesn't, Trump could steal this thing.

Democrats have a built in advantage over Republicans in registered voters. But, as we saw clearly in the 2014 midterms, it's only an advantage if those registered Democrats go to the polls. As of now, the percentage of African Americans voting early is down from where it was four years ago and that is very disconcerting. And then there's the lingering grumbling coming from the far Left. The Bernie or Bust crowd could still fuck things up royally before they're through.

I guess what I'm saying is I wouldn't go betting the kids tuition on what happens next week. Face it, we have two very unpopular candidates on our hands here. The winner will likely be the one the voters find the least repulsive. The heart says that's Clinton, but the head has had a major migraine for days now.

What I wouldn't give to go to sleep and wake up November 9.

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