July 12, 2016
Let’s begin with my normal warning not to read too much in to any one survey. Let’s remember the election is still four months away, that neither major party nominee has chosen their VP, nor held their convention. The electorate saw their summer slumber interrupted by the killings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas last week.
Between those brutal events, the FBI decision to pass on pushing for indictment of Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump being himself, there’s plenty for a voter to process. However, we have very limited polling over the past week, with the most recent national surveys being pre-Dallas, and before the full impact of James Comey’s takedown sans indictment of Clinton.
The Real Clear Politics average currently sits at Clinton +4 and change, with or without adding Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. But again, that’s old data. If Trump is still trailing by four points or so at the moment, that’s not good news. Short of recommending indictment, Comey went as far as possible to pull the rug out from Clinton’s explanations for her email conduct.
Only a faction of Republicans and a group of die-hard Berners expected an indictment to actually happen. One needed to think she was worthy of indictment, the FBI would recommend it, and the Obama administration would push forward with it. It’s possible by refusing to recommend prosecution, Comey actually managed to convince a larger amount of voters Clinton did something wrong.
If he had requested indictment, the question would have moved to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, she of the private plane conversation with Bill Clinton. If she had pushed forward, Hillary would be done and we’d start thinking about a Trump-Sanders or Trump-Biden matchup. But again, that wasn’t likely. If she decided not to indict, Republicans would have gone nuts. This would have pushed Democrats to do whatever they could to defend her and the administration. A mess.
The way it played out, few Democrats wound up involving themselves. President Obama stayed quiet. So did Uncle Joe Biden. Elizabeth Warren was mute. Bernie Sanders didn’t say much. Bernie was likely hoping for an indictment, but certainly not expecting one, and was busy fighting for a $15 minimum wage in the Democratic platform.
Instead Comey found himself criticized by Republicans who were upset he managed to lay out the justification for taking action without recommending any. Instead of having the full support of the GOP and being torn down by the entire Democratic establishment, he was ripped by some Republicans and completely left alone by everyone else.
Clinton attempted to push back a bit herself, but that doesn’t count. She had zero surrogates. Her attempt to argue Comey was wrong was undercut by his seeming lack of partisanship and some very inconvenient sound bites and clips. As this was going on, Trump wound up spending days talking about the Star of David on a money pile tweet.
At the time this seemed idiotic, another example of Trump letting Clinton off the hook by dragging out an issue, refusing to apologize, and doing a very good impression of a racist. It was Judge Curiel 2.o. It was failing to repudiate David Duke, all the things that keep the heat away from Hillary and make John Kasich voters (there aren’t many but Trump needs a few) sick.
But apparently, the combination of distraction along with next to zero pushback against Comey’s conclusions allowed a consensus to sink in. That Clinton handled her emails very badly and is lucky she wasn’t prosecuted. To a majority of voters, she lied, was incompetent, or both. That’s a current Trump line, and it matches the feelings of any voter who could ever consider voting for him, whether because they like him or just think he’s the lesser of two considerable evils.
A new Monmouth survey from Iowa is an early indication the past couple weeks may have gone worse for Clinton than believed/assumed. To begin with, she’s trailing Trump 44/42. The poll was taken from 7/8 to 7/11, so it covers any and all of the chaos of the past couple weeks. It’s one of the better measures we have of where things stand before VP choices and conventions.
Two weeks prior, a Loras College Iowa poll found Clinton ahead by 13 points. It’s always dangerous to treat surveys from different pollsters like they’re interchangeable, and Loras showed a definite pro-Clinton lean during the caucus polling, but even with adjustments, that’s quite a switch. The 15 point gap in results is in excess of anything we’ve seen on the national level.
Even if you figure some of the difference is due to polling methods, there was still some movement. Of the two, FiveThirtyEight ranks Monmouth a vastly superior pollster, so if you were going to weigh one more heavily, you’d definitely choose the newer survey from them.
To win, Trump needs to turn a couple/few large or several small states won by Obama in the last two elections. Some of his target states have gone Democrat every year from 1992 forward. While a couple new surveys are showing Trump doing almost as “well” with Latino voters as John McCain and Mitt Romney, many observers think Trump’s victory path goes through the Midwest, flipping light blue states from Pennsylvania to Iowa and taking Ohio back for the GOP.
Iowa isn’t getting the coverage that Pennyslvania does. Trump won the Keystone State easily, while losing the Hawkeye State to Ted Cruz. He didn’t do very well in most of the states immediately surrounding Iowa either. Even if Trump fails to win Florida, and falls short in Virginia, an Iowa victory would likely accompany other positive news on Election Day.
It’s not like Iowans are suddenly pro-Trump. Only 33% have a favorable view. But only 32% like Clinton. A full 43% think she acted criminally in the email scandal, while another 32% say it was bad judgment. Combined, 75% of Hawkeyes would subscribe to liar or incompetent, at least in this one measure.
It’s not like Hillary is trailing because Trump is doing a better job of rallying his base. Both are keeping most registered voters of their party on board. He has 87% of Republicans, she has 86% of Democrats. Any wayward Berners are among the Indpendent voters who favor Trump by 4% and have a much higher incidence of supporting Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or none of the above.
This is a look at how Trump wins in November. By narrowly winning Midwestern states like Iowa that tend to lean Democrat. By being slightly less loathsome than his opponent. FiveThirtyEight still has Clinton as a more than 70% favorite to win the general election. It’s going to take more than a single Monmouth poll to make Trump even money on the betting sites.
It is a reminder Clinton has plenty of weaknesses of her own, and there may be nothing Trump can do to cover over them for her. Monmouth also surveyed Nevada and found a 4 point advantage for Clinton. The breakdown was similar. Both candidates had favorability ratings in the mid 30s. The gender gap was a little smaller, and the far larger percentage of non-Caucasian voters pushed Clinton ahead.
If Trump does well in places like Iowa, Clinton can’t afford to fall short in Nevada. If this survey is any indication, she doesn’t have much room for error there either. Obama ran ahead of his national numbers in the Silver State, Clinton is sitting roughly even with them.
We still need a few more data points, but from here it looks like the FBI and Comey have dealt Clinton more of a blow than we originally thought.