Yes, Comey did change the outcome

First,  James Downie on Comey:

So Comey understands that the FBI weighing in publicly on open investigations, when charges are still being proved, is unwise. Doing so puts those being investigated at the mercy of innuendo and rumor. Yet Comey ditched this rule when he notified Congress 11 days before the election that the FBI was looking into whether there were previously unrevealed emails from Hillary Clinton on a laptop belonging to her aide’s estranged husband. (It should also be noted that this followed months of anti-Clinton leaks from Rudy Giuliani’s friends in the FBI’s New York field office.)

Worse, the search warrant for the emails unsealed in December shows that, as The Post reported at the time, investigators “had no new evidence of actual wrongdoing” on Clinton’s part. Meanwhile, the Guardian reported Tuesday that the FBI thought the allegations of ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia credible enough that they sought a wiretap on four members of Trump’s team.

In other words, while Comey stayed silent about new accusations against Trump, he piped up about a big nothing-burger against Clinton.

Despite a second letter later clearing Clinton (again) of wrongdoing, the blow Comey’s letter struck against Clinton’s poll numbers is obvious, with clear declines across almost every major demographic group in the last two weeks of the election. The letter was the most decisive of several factors in Trump’s late comeback. To be clear, this is not to blame Clinton’s loss entirely on Comey. [emphasis mine] Clinton likely could have withstood the letter’s damage if she’d made a few different strategic decisions, such as shoring up so-called “blue wall” states like Michigan rather than campaigning in long-shot states like Texas.

Second, a summation of evidence in Vox:

The effect of Comey’s late intervention into the election is also clear in the national polls. As neuroscientist Sam Wang showed, Clinton’s margin over Trump falls dramatically in national polls directly after the Comey letter and never recovers. At the time, statistician Nate Silver noted that the Comey letter coincided with “a swing of about 3 points against her” — a massive swing in a tight election. These public polls are supported by internal polling from both campaigns suggesting that Comey was a massive blow to Clinton at a pivotal moment in the election…

The Comey effect dominated media coverage in a way few events did during the campaign, other than Trump’s famous “grab ’em by the pussy” Access Hollywood video. During the final days of the election major newspapers “published 100 stories, 46 of which were on the front page, about or mentioning the emails.” The tone and tenor of coverage shifted markedly against Clinton in the closing week of the campaign…

It’s true that there are other possible explanations for a late shift in vote intentions, but thus far there is no alternative explanation of merit. (The cyberhacks were surely important, but their effects would have been felt more steadily throughout the campaign.)

Instead, the evidence is clear, and consistent, regarding the Comey effect. The timing of the shift both at the state and national levels lines up very neatly with the publication of the letter, as does the predominance of the story in the media coverage from the final week of the campaign. With an unusually large number of undecided voters late in the campaign, the letter hugely increased the salience of what was the defining critique of Clinton during the campaign at its most critical moment.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Yes, Comey did change the outcome

  1. Mika says:

    Vox’s summation is excellent.

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    Testifying before a Senate Committee in the last couple of days, Comey stated in a strong voice that the FBI never comments on ongoing investigations, after a question from Independent Senator Angus King of Maine. Yes, he said “Never”.
    What a nerve! The Senator noted the irony in that statement.

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