A high-water mark for Trump?

Okay, maybe this is just my liberal bias talking, but I cannot help wondering if we’re not pretty close to a high-water mark for Trump right now.  Like, maybe come November 9th, we’ll all go, “remember mid-September when liberals and sane people all freaked out because they thought Trump was going to win?”

To be clear, I’m not saying this is a high-point for Trump, I just think there’s a genuine chance it might be.  I just really don’t see where he picks up any more votes.  As for Clinton, I see a pretty clear place where she picks up more votes– young voters who are currently supporting Johnson or Stein in amazing numbers.  Vox’s Tara Golshak addresses the dynamic:

Third-party candidate Gary Johnson, the Libertarian from New Mexico, is doing better than most minor party candidates do at this point in a presidential election — he’s currently pulling about 8 percent of the vote in national polls.

One apparent reason for this — as outlined by Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight and Matt Yglesias here — is that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are two uniquely unpopular candidates. In other words, voters hate the leaders of the major parties so much that the idea of casting a ballot for the “lesser of two evils” candidate is too much an ask for some of them.

But there seems to be another factor in play, as YouGov pollster Will Jordan pointed out on Twitter: Far more third-party and undecided voters think Clinton will win than think Trump is going to win. Fully 50 percent of those voters say they think Clinton will win, while only 15 percent say they think Trump will (with the rest unsure)…

This point supports another theory behind Johnson’s relatively strong performance so far, as Andrew Gelman, a statistician and political science professor at Columbia University, shared with me in August:

“Perot in 1992 received 19 percent of the vote but won zero states. That election was not close, which perhaps made people feel more free to vote for a third party. I’d guess that the opportunity for third-party success in 2016 is again if the election does not seem like it will be close,” Gelman said.

Back in August, Clinton had a comfortable lead over Trump. But now that the polls have narrowed — some even have Trump leading in key swing states — it’s possible these voters will start thinking their votes really matter again, and will choose a major party nominee.

But if the sentiment that a third-party candidate vote doesn’t matter persists, it could pose a particular challenge for Clinton.

But here’s the thing, these polls keep showing an essentially tied race and it’s hard to imagine much of a widespread belief persisting that these third-party votes don’t matter.  Sure, it’s possible lots of disaffected Bernie voters and such stay with Johnson/Stein and swing the race to Trump, but I honestly do think it more likely that the longer the race seems truly close, the more this false confidence fades and these voters break in large numbers for Clinton.  Of course, time will tell.

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Photo of the day

From National Geographic Found:

A man stands next to the cross section of a giant redwood tree in California, 1909. Photograph courtesy U.S. Forest Service

A man stands next to the cross section of a giant redwood tree in California, 1909.PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY U.S. FOREST SERVICE

The most unpopular candidates ever!

Now Donald Trump surely is the worst human being and least qualified person to be a major-party nominee in modern times, but Hillary Clinton strikes me as a flawed, but certainly not historically so, candidate.  I’ve been thinking that is more than just these two individuals that are at work in all the “most unpopular candidates ever!” we’re always hearing about.  Lee Drutman to the rescue with a nice structural explanation for what’s going on:

The standard explanation for their dismal ratings is that they are both flawed candidates. Certainly they have their problems. But take a moment to do the following thought experiment: What if Republicans had nominated Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio and Democrats had nominated Bernie Sanders? Would any of these candidates have had high favorability rankings at this point?

I’m pretty sure the answer would be no. And here’s the reason: We are at an unusual moment in American politics, in which the coalitions underlying both parties are falling apart and divisions among competing factions are growing. In such a moment, it’s hard to conceive of either party finding a truly unifying candidate, a candidate who can garner the enthusiasm of the entire party.

And in the absence of such a candidate, a party has only one strategy left to it: Blast the hell out of the other party’s candidate until fear and hatred make the choice clear. You might not love your team’s candidate, but the other team’s candidate is a true menace.

This lack of affirmative consensus means the parties can only unify in the negative, in opposition to the other party. No wonder neither candidate has enthusiastic support. In that, both Trump and Clinton are products of this particular moment in political history. For all their problems, their biggest weaknesses may be that the parties they represent both lack a meaningful consensus in what they should stand for.

Yep. That all makes a lot of sense.  Plus, Trump is pretty much the worst candidate ever :-).

The latest polls

This race is way tighter.  No doubt about it.  A couple things I find interesting in here:

With less than eight weeks before Election Day, Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton are locked in a tight contest, with both candidates still struggling to win the confidence of their respective bases, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll finds.

Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has the support of 46 percent of likely voters nationwide, to 44 percent for Mr. Trump, the Republican, including those who said they were leaning toward a candidate. Looking more broadly at all registered voters, Mrs. Clinton holds a wider edge, 46 to 41 percent.

In a four-way race, Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are tied at 42 percent each. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, has the support of 8 percent of likely voters, and the Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, takes 4 percent.

The third-party candidates draw their strongest support from younger voters. Twenty-six percent of voters ages 18 to 29 say they plan to vote for Mr. Johnson, and another 10 percent back Ms. Stein…

This is the first Times/CBS News poll of the election cycle to include a measure of likely voters. The nationwide telephone survey reached 1,433 registered voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. To achieve a sample that reflected the probable electorate, these voters were weighted by their responses to questions about voting history, attention to the campaign and likelihood of voting.

First, it would seem clear that– at least for now– Johnson is drawing more from Clinton than Trump.  One of the reasons that third party candidates support tends to decline as election day approaches is that the side that stands to lose more attacks that candidate hard to get those votes in the two-way race.  One of the reasons Perot did so well in 1992 is that neither Clinton nor Bush really attacked, because both sides thought Perot hurt the other one more (the idea that Perot prevented Bush’s re-election is a complete myth).  At some point, HRC may go hard after Johnson.  And lets be clear, if you generally support Democratic policies but plan on voting for Johnson, you have no idea what you are doing.  And as for Stein, she won’t even be on the ballot in many states.  No way is she ending up at 4%.

At the moment, the media is giving Clinton a way harder time than Trump.  That may be, in part, a function of them being sure she’s going to win (Seth Masket with a nice piece on this).  If that is no longer the case, the pattern of scrutiny may well change.

It’s also worth noting that Clinton is definitely doing worse with the likely voter screen (and good for the NYT for being nicely transparent on it).  This may very well reflect reality.  But not necessarily.  In 2012, Gallup ended up being led far astray by its likely voter screen.  I’m not at all saying that Democrats should start complaining about “damn likely voter screens” but just that this is something interesting to watch.

As a person who cares about the future of our country am I especially scared now?  Hell, yes.  That said, the Political Science in me thinks that 1) as election day approaches Clinton will reclaim many of the young voters currently supporting Johnson and Stein; 2) if the polls stay quite close, Trump will start getting more tough media coverage; 3) the debates are likely not to do him any favors.

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