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Postpone the Poll Panic


Seems all it takes is Donald Trump doing well in a poll or two and it’s like the sky is falling.

Trump is ahead in Ohio and Florida in 4-way polls that include Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green candidate Dr. Jill Stein. These results are suspect for a couple reasons:

  * They do not, thus far, represent trends held up by other polls. (Of course, future polls may back up a trend.)
  * Third-party candidates are typically overrepresented in pre-election polls and tend to do much worse on Election Day.

Something to keep in mind when it comes to all this pre-election polling is that individual polls don’t mean much. If you have a dozen polls and one of them shows a unique result–say, that Trump is ahead while Clinton is ahead in the other 11–you’re probably looking at one bad poll. Don’t trust outliers.

The point about third-party candidates is often overlooked, too. They almost always poll much higher prior to the election than they end up performing in November. It seems to be a fairly consistent phenomenon. It’s not unusual for a third-party candidate to get 5% or so in polls, but on Election Day their results are typically around 1% or lower. The reasons for this are not hard to discern. It’s easy to tell a pollster you’ll go with a third-party candidate when it’s a hypothetical and not a choice you have to make right now. Once you’re actually in the voting booth, however, with all the weight of that decision upon you, a less risky choice tends to win out. Few people actually like throwing their votes away.

All that said, we’re in the middle of September with a lot of events in motion. Anything can happen. Clinton’s team isn’t doing her campaign any favors when it comes to their response to Clinton’s pneumonia. Most of it looks like bad organization and poor information management. When Clinton had to prematurely leave the 911 memorial event, it was initially attributed to her being “overheated.” Soon after, a diagnosis of pneumonia was revealed–a diagnosis she’d apparently had since the previous Friday. Then, questions about what Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine knew of her condition and when he knew it emerged.

Is there a scandal here? No. But it makes the campaign look inept, like key people within it don’t know what’s going on, and don’t adequately control the information that’s disseminating out of the campaign. Part of why the media responds so poorly to these events is also because reporters were kept away from Clinton after she collapsed and while she has been convalescing. Keeping the media at arm’s length is a long-standing Clinton strategy, one justified mainly by the press’ poor treatment of the Clintons in the past. Unfortunately, it ends up being a vicious cycle: bad press makes the Clintons shy away from them, which generates more bad press that insinuates they’re hiding something. This is not a new phenomenon at all, either, just another round of the infamous Clinton Rules.

Bear in mind that we’ve not yet had any debates. The first is on the 26th of this month. Clinton will likely spend most of the next 10 days preparing for it. With luck, Trump will be in for a serious trouncing. And now that there’s more serious reporting coming out about Trump’s various and seemingly inexhaustible supply of scandals, he may begin to take a hit in the polls. Time will tell. But we are coming into the point in this campaign where mistakes compound. You can’t afford gaffes and missteps now. There’s simply not enough time to recover from a major screwup. Consider Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comments, which came out September 17th of 2012. These dealt a major blow to his prospects. And while he had one good debate performance, it was not enough to reverse the damage.

Obama, for contrast, had only one major misstep: his poor debate showing in Denver. In the end, this worked out in his favor–his powerful counterattacks in the third and final debate gave him a great comeback story. He ended up beating Romney handily.

Clinton has no such edge over her opponent, even though she is objectively the superior candidate. This is certainly galling, but it can’t be helped. This is the reality we’re living in–we don’t get the reality we wish we had. This means that Clinton must come back full-force from her bout with pneumonia, and demonstrate that is as strong as ever. She must smash Trump in the debates, make him look foolish, embarrass him by his lack of knowledge and inability to engage with complex thoughts. She has a strong policy platform; she needs to call attention to it as much as possible.

In the meantime, my position is what it was a number of months ago: don’t despair. November isn’t that far off, and yet it’s not very close at all. Elections can still be flipped in October, after all. Don’t freak out over a couple outlying polls.

If we’re heading into the middle of October and Trump is pulling ahead of Clinton in key states while she’s on the down trend, then it would be time to worry. Rather, probably time to make sure you can escape to another country.

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