Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton 2016

Why Clinton Supporters Shouldn’t Panic

First the bad news for Clinton supporters.  The national polls have indisputably tightened since Clinton’s peak post-convention bounce in early August.  On August 8, the HuffPost aggregate polling had her up by 8.4%, 48.3%-39.9% over Trump, consistent with pundits’ predictions that this would be a blowout election.  As of today, however, her aggregate lead is down to 5.4%, a loss of about 3% in the aggregate polls during the last month.  Picture1

The RealClearPolitics poll of polls shows a similar trend, with Clinton’s lead dropping from 7.2% to 3.9% in the same time period.

Now for the good news.  This race was always going to tighten, as I have been telling audiences for my election talks for the past month.  Those who point to 1964 or 1972 as electoral precedents in which an ideologically extreme candidate got crushed are misreading history.  As Andrew Gelman points out, the results in those two elections were likely driven more by the economic fundamentals than they were by Goldwater or McGovern’s ideological extremism.  Gelman’s point is consistent with recent research that suggests ideological extremism in candidates contributes only marginally at best to presidential election outcomes. To this I would add two points.  First, it’s not clear to me that voters consider Trump an ideologically “extreme” candidate. For what it is worth, I’ve been surveying Republican delegates who attended the national convention, and they routinely place Trump to the ideological left of where they place the average Republican voter – that is, closer to the center of the ideological spectrum. Granted, their views are likely colored by their own more conservative attitudes, but nonetheless this is not consistent with the argument that Trump is an ideological extremist.  The second point is that in both 1964 and 1972, the race included an incumbent seeking a second term in office during a time of relative economic prosperity, which likely worked in the incumbents’ electoral favor.  Obviously, no incumbent is on the presidential ballot in the 2016 race.

Consistent with this argument, the political science forecast models that are just coming out almost uniformly indicate that this will be a close popular vote, with most forecasting a final two-party popular vote margin of 4% or less. A plurality of the models that I have seen give Clinton a slight edge in the popular vote, but some of those with excellent track records, such as Alan Abramowitz’ Time For a Change model, are forecasting a Trump victory.

Wait, you ask: why is a forecast that this will be a tight race good news for Clinton?  To begin, as I noted in my last post, Trump is – so far – still slightly underperforming the models.  Yes, he’s closed the gap – but not yet to where the forecast models suggest the generic Republican candidate should be. Consider as well that Clinton has largely ceded media coverage to Trump for the last few weeks as she has focused on raising cash through at a series of big-ticket fundraising extravaganzas and, evidently, spending time preparing for the debates as well.  Moreover, her absence has coincided with a flurry of bad media coverage driven by the release of the FBI interview notes regarding her emails, as well as allegations that she was engaged in a pay-to-play contribution scheme involving donors to the Clinton Foundation.  Although her surrogates have been out on her behalf trying to beat down these stories, they haven’t gotten nearly the coverage that Trump has attracted – coverage that he has utilized to highlight Clinton’s email and Foundation stories.  As a result, her favorable/unfavorable gap – already in negative territory – has grown by about 5% since early August, and is now only about 5% better than Trump’s.

Moreover, polling remains volatile; we’ve seen the polling gap close in similar fashion at least twice before since both nominees clinched.  Since May, Trump has closed to within 4% of Clinton on at least two occasions in the HuffPost aggregate polls, only to see her subsequently widen the gap again.  And this latest polling flurry hasn’t boosted Trump above his post-nomination clinching high-water mark of about 42% support.  So there’s not a lot of evidence that Trump is expanding his coalition these last few months.  Instead, what the recent spate of negative media seems to have done is make some who recently might have been predisposed to vote for Hillary to reconsider their support for her, but there’s not much evidence they are moving over to back Trump.

It is true that, as Drew Linzer documents, between those who remain undecided or express support for a third party candidate, such as Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein, we are seeing a historically high number of potential voters who aren’t committing to either major party candidate at this point.

And there’s some evidence that this group contains slightly more potential Trump voters (although as I noted in my last post other survey evidence suggests Clinton may have a slight advantage among undecideds).

But in the aggregate, the difference in the number of undecideds leaning Republican versus those leaning Democratic isn’t going to be enough to put Trump over the top – he has  win a substantial number of the “pure” independents as well.

So where does that leave us? If I were a Clinton supporter, I would be more worried if Trump’s gains in the polls were occurring while Clinton was in full-blown campaign mode, out making her case to the voters.  Right now that’s not the case.  However, let’s see where things stand in mid-September – which is historically about two weeks after the final convention has ended.  If Trump has closed to, say, 2%, then Clinton supporters can panic. As of today, however, they should ignore the polls and instead head to nearest swimming hole to enjoy this gorgeous summer weather.  That’s where I’m going.



Just Another Brick in the Clinton Delegate Wall

Last night was another good night for Hillary Clinton, as she continued her steady slog toward the Democratic nomination. At last count, she took home 87 delegates, widening her lead over Bernie Sanders, who won 69, to 760-546 in pledged delegates. (Her lead increases to 1,221-571 if you throw in the super delegates who have endorsed the two candidates so far.) With super delegates, she is more than halfway to clinching the nomination.

Of course, you might not realize this based on today’s media reports, which have focused heavily on Bernie’s “surprise” victory in Michigan, in which he eked out a narrow popular vote victory over Clinton, 49.8% to 48.3%, and in delegates 65-58. But the media narrative really says more about how bad the pre-election Michigan polls were than they do about the strength of Bernie’s victory. While Sanders’ win in Michigan will give his supporters a much-needed psychological boost heading into still another Super Tuesday on March 15, when almost 700 delegates will be at stake, the reality is that last night’s results do not suggest Bernie has widened his support to the degree necessary to win this nomination. The fact is Michigan is a state, with its traditional manufacturing base, that was tailor-made to Bernie’s economic message, particularly his opposition to trade agreements, and his emphasis on addressing income inequality. Exit polls suggest these themes played particularly well in a state that was hard hit during the economic recession. Among the 27% citing income inequality as the most important issue, Bernie won 61% of the vote. Almost 60% of voters said trade takes away from American jobs (as opposed to creating them) and Bernie won 58% of their vote.

Bernie also benefited from two others aspects of the Michigan primary. First, it was an open primary, and Bernie crushed Clinton 71%-28% among the 28% of voters who called themselves independents. He also benefited by the lower non-white turnout in Michigan compared to the southern states Hillary has used to build her large delegate lead. Although she again handedly won the non-white vote last night, 62%-35% (which is not quite the dominating performance for her among these voters that we have seen in previous contests), they only constituted a third of the vote, not quite enough to overcome Sanders strong performance among white men. Finally, Bernie was more effective than Clinton at tapping into support from the 70% who were dissatisfied or angry with the federal government, winning these voters 54%-45% over Clinton.

To be sure, this wasn’t simply the case of Bernie capitalizing on a demographically-friendly state. The evidence from exit polls suggests his supporters turned out in greater numbers than we have seen in many previous Democratic contests. Self-described liberals (“very” and “somewhat”) constituted 56% of the vote, a higher proportion than in many previous primaries, and they went strongly for Bernie. The youth turnout was also surprisingly strong and it largely negated Clinton’s strength among older voters, who did not vote in quite the proportions she has come to expect. Sanders also did surprisingly well, at least to me, among unmarried women, who constituted 27% of the vote, matching the proportion of married women, and who went for him 53%-42%, which again cancelled out Clinton’s edge among the latter group. Sanders’ ability to turn out these crucial voters bodes well for him looking ahead to next Tuesday’s contests in Ohio and Illinois, which between them will award 299 delegates, and which share a somewhat similar demographic profile as Michigan. Illinois, moreover, is an open primary, and Ohio has modified voting rules for its primary – both good news for Sanders given his demonstrated ability to draw independent voters.

But we shouldn’t sugarcoat the road ahead for Sanders. Given his delegate deficit, and the fact that all five states voting next week, including Missouri, Florida and North Carolina, award delegates proportionally, merely reprising his Michigan performance is not going to be enough to catch Clinton. He needs to start winning states, and winning them by large margins, as Clinton did yesterday in Mississippi, where exit polls indicate the overwhelmingly black electorate (71%) went heavily for Clinton over Sanders by 89%-11%. That massive level of support fueled her dominating victory over Sanders in the popular vote 83%-16.5%. Looking ahead to the next Super Tuesday, it is hard to see any place where Sanders will exert that type of political dominance. Instead, early polling (and Michigan reminds us that polling isn’t always accurate!) has Clinton leading in Florida and North Carolina by 20% or more, and in Ohio by 15%. Yes, I expect Sanders to cut into those leads (assuming the polls are even accurate), but even if he ends up running even with Clinton in those states, or better yet eking out narrow victories, that won’t be enough for him to cut into her substantial delegate lead to any great degree.

So, yes, I expect to see a flurry of articles noting the warning signs for Clinton in yesterday’s Michigan results. And yes, Sanders is likely to pick up a batch of delegates next week, particularly in the Midwest states of Ohio and, perhaps to a lesser degree, Illinois. But it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Last night was a win for Clinton, and it serves as a reminder that Bernie Sanders is fighting an uphill battle for delegates, and for the Democratic nomination. In that respect, nothing has really changed. Together, Michigan and Mississippi represent just another brick in the Clinton delegate wall.  The sooner the #FeelTheBern crowd realize this and fall in line, the better off everyone will be.

Bernie Sanders’ Very Very Bad Week

When the polls close shortly in South Carolina at 7 p.m. eastern time, and the race is called for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders won’t be around to offer her congratulations. Instead, he’s likely to be in the air, flying from Texas to Minnesota in preparation for Super Tuesday. Sanders’ surrogates, meanwhile, have been downplaying expectations in South Carolina for some time now, as the aggregate polls show him trailing her by some 20%.  In my limited time crossing the state last week, I saw very little on-air presence for Sanders, although that might have reflected the timing more than a week before the Democratic primary. In my admittedly non-scientific samples of residents in the Myrtle Beach area, there didn’t seem to be that much buzz for the Vermont Senator and he had very disappointing crowds even at colleges where he normally packs an audience. At this point, Sanders is hoping to keep the margin in single digits, thus claiming a moral victory.

None of this is surprising, of course. For months we have been talking about Sanders’ inability to draw support from African-Americans. In 2008 they comprised 55% of the voters in the S.C. Democratic primary. Early exit polls, which of course must be adjusted in light of final turnout numbers, indicate that the proportion of African-American voters might be even higher today.  Last week in Nevada entrance polls suggest Clinton won more than 70% of the African-American caucus goers. I see no reason why Sanders will do any better among this group today. The early exit polls have more bad news for Sanders, with only 19% supporting a change to more liberal policies, while 70% advocate a continuation of President Obama’s policies. Of course, Clinton has all but wrapped herself in the mantle of Obama’s presidency, much to Sanders’ growing frustration. (Again, these numbers are likely to be adjusted somewhat after the polls close.)

But Bernie’s problems don’t end in South Carolina. On March 1, Super Tuesday, Democrats will hold 12 nominating contests that collectively will award more than 1,000 pledged delegates. Many of those states have substantial African-American populations. In 2004, African-Americans were 47% of the Democratic primary vote in Georgia, 33% in Virginia, 23% in Tennessee and 21% in Texas. In 2008, the numbers for those states were 51%, 30%, 29% and 19%, respectively. If you throw in Alabama, which had 51% African-American turnout in the 2008 Democratic primary, and Arkansas at 16% (I don’t have exit poll data for those states in 2004), it becomes clear that Sanders’ faces an uphill climb to win votes next Tuesday among some voters. Collectively, these states award almost 600 delegates alone. Sanders will have to try to make up for that with strong showings in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses, and in more liberal states like Massachusetts and, of course, Vermont. He will also try to over-perform expectations in Oklahoma.  Collectively, however, these states only award a bit less than 300 delegates. Based on current polling, it would not be a surprise if Bernie only wins in his home state next Tuesday. In short, this could very well be the worst day he will have in this campaign – even worse than today.  (That assumes that the current South Carolina polling is accurate!  We should know in 10 minutes or so.)

The reality, then, is that Bernie is likely to come out of Super Tuesday trailing substantially in the delegate count – and this doesn’t include Clinton’s significant super delegate advantage. It’s not immediately clear how he can make that deficit up. And if he trails in the pledged delegates, there’s really very little incentive for super delegates to break his way, as I suggested in this previous post

Today is shaping up to be a very very bad day for Bernie Sanders. But next Tuesday might be even worse.

Who Won? Clinton or Sanders?

After any debate, I always tell my students, “There is the debate you watched, and then there is the debate that the pundits will tell you that you watched. The two are not usually the same, and how they differ reveal important clues regarding how the debate’s impact is being disseminated by opinion makers.” With that caution in mind, I want to briefly review what the pundits are saying about last night’s Democratic presidential debate, and then focus on what I saw, drawing on my own comments during the live blog of the event last night.  (And thanks again for all who participated despite the technological glitch that slowed down the initial feed.)

At this point, less than 24 hours since the debate’s conclusion, there seem to be two sets of judgments circulating within the punditocracy. According to one group, who I label the “traditionalists”, there was a clear winner last night, and it was Hillary Clinton. Based on the traditional measurements – impressions of debating skills, point scoring, lack of gaffes, and the candidate’s stage presence, among other factors – Clinton removed any doubts about her front-runner status. As one pundit put it, “Republican and Democratic strategists found common ground on one point on Tuesday night: Clinton was the runaway winner.”  It was, according to another, “the best day of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.” From this perspective, Clinton was poised, knowledgeable, made very few mistakes and generally commanded the stage.

From a second perspective, however, Sanders supporters have reason to claim their candidate won. A variety of social media metrics – increase in twitter supporters, google searches, hash tag mentions – indicates Sanders clearly sparked the most interest last night. His angry outburst telling the media that “the American people are sick of hearing about [Hillary’s] damn emails” instantly prompted a trending #Damnemails hashtag and was likely the most tweeted comment of the debate (never mind that Hillary benefited from Bernie’s tirade).

How do we choose between these two perspectives? In looking at my comments from the live blogging last night, which have the benefit of not being influenced by the post-debate spin, I think Hillary did exceptionally well. She clearly came prepared to address her most vulnerable spots – the vote to authorize war against Iraq, which cost her the 2008 nomination, the Benghazi controversy, and of course the emails, which Bernie bailed her out on. And when it came to targeting her main rival on his weak spots – gun control comes immediately to mind – she didn’t miss her target. She did issue a couple of clunkers – the remark about how she told Wall St. to cut it out, and her defense of her delay on deciding on the Keystone pipeline come immediately to mind – but on the whole it was an impressive performance.

On the other hand, I tend to put less stock in the social media metrics than do a lot of pundits. My guess is that the main explanation for Sanders’ boost in google searches is that a lot of viewers were seeing him for the first time in a sustained setting, and were simply trying to find out more about him by going online. It is also the case that the skew in social media trends reflects the deep generational divide in Clinton’s and Sanders’ supporters – his are younger, more passionate and, most importantly, far more comfortable with using social media as their primary platform of communication than are Clinton’s more seasoned supporters. (One of the reasons I continue to rely on live blogging is that a lot of my older audience simply isn’t on social media at all.) For these reasons, I tend not to rely on the social media metrics as an accurate  measure of relative support for the two candidates.

This is not to say Bernie didn’t do well. My students, who are predominantly Bernie supporters, left last night’s events generally pleased with his performance, as well they should be. Bernie was Bernie, particularly when the conversation centered on his touchstone issue: economic inequality. As I noted during the debate, “Bernie is at his best when he’s indignant – no one does outrage better than him. Crowd eating it up here at Bernie central.” He also generated strong applause when citing climate change as the greatest threat to national security. The problem, however, is that these positions, while applause generators with the #FeeltheBern crowd, aren’t necessarily going to broaden his support, particularly because Clinton is strategically placing herself just to the right of Bernie on almost every economic issue. As I noted very early on in the debate, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Hillary’s strategy in general was to say “I agree with Bernie’s objectives, only I’m not batshit crazy.” That strategy was most clearly visible in their exchange regarding social welfare programs. As I told my students, Bernie’s “I am not a capitalist” statement was without a doubt going to be used against him during the debate, and Anderson Cooper turned to it very early on in the evening. As expected, Bernie didn’t give ground, arguing that when it comes to social welfare programs like universal health care and family leave, the U.S. could learn something from the Scandinavian countries: “Those are some of the principles that I believe in, and I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.” Clinton, however, was clearly ready for this, and pointedly noted that “We are not Denmark,” followed by an implicit defense of capitalism and a swipe at Bernie when she argued that “We would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.”

My point here is not to criticize Bernie’s policy stances – they are what makes his progressive followers so passionate for him. But it’s a real question whether he leaves himself vulnerable to the charge that his “democratic socialist” views are outside the Democratic Party mainstream and thus make him less electorally viable than Clinton. As James Webb acidly remarked in response to Sanders’ call for an overhaul of the U.S. economic system, “there isn’t going to be a revolution.” Moreover, Sanders didn’t do much beyond some basic talking points to show that his single-minded focus on economic inequality really addresses the concerns about institutionalized racism that drive the BlackLivesMatter movement. At the very least, in his concluding remarks, why not add a reference to racial inequality to his recitation of the other inequalities? Clinton, in contrast, still seems much more comfortable talking about racial issues.

Let me conclude with a final point. For many pundits, one major takeaway from last night is that Hillary’s strong performance removed a justification for Vice President Joe Biden to enter the race. But in my view that is a complete misreading of the electoral dynamics leading up to the debate. In truth, there was never any reason for Biden to get in beyond the pundits’ deep-seated but misguided belief that Clinton’s candidacy was in trouble. In reality, by almost every metric that political scientists use to judge the state of the race – polling, endorsements, money raised – Clinton is the clear Democratic front runner. It was possible, but not likely, that Sanders might pull an inside straight flush by winning Iowa and New Hampshire, thus generating enough media momentum to cast doubt on Clinton’s viability and perhaps lead Joe to enter the race to save the Party. However, as I’ve repeatedly told my students, barring a smoking email that leads to an indictment, it is hard to see how she can lose. In short, there was never any viable reason for Biden to enter before the debate, particularly given his issue stances, which generally match hers, and his previous record of electoral futility pursuing the presidency. What Clinton’s performance last night did, I think, was finally make the pundits understand this.

That is, at least until the next Clinton Benghazi email story makes the headlines.

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Hillary’s Emails: The Return of a Vast Right-wing Conspiracy?

We probably should have seen this coming. As Hillary Clinton’s email troubles continue to dominate her news coverage, her faithful husband Bill, aka The Big Dawg, has jumped into the fray to fight back against what he believes is unfair media coverage. In this interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this past weekend, Clinton resurrected the specter of the “vast right conspiracy” as an explanation for the media’s fixation on his wife’s emails. In so doing, however, it’s not clear whether the Big Dawg has really helped his wife, or instead has reopened old wounds dating back to Clinton’s struggles with the press during his own run for the presidency. Here’s the interview with Zakaria. As you can see at the start of it, when Zakaria asks Clinton, whom Zakaria suggests is “the most skilled student of politics” in the U.S., about the roots of Hillary’s current struggles, Clinton references an incident dating back to his own run for president in 1991. Roll the tape:

As it turns out, that unnamed member of the George H. W. Bush White House that Clinton references at the start of his interview with Zakaria is Roger Porter, Bush’s chief domestic adviser. We know this because Clinton told this story in much greater detail in his lengthy (almost 1,000 page!) 2004 memoir My Life (and on several other occasions). As Clinton recounts the story, he received a phone call from Porter in 1991, at a time when Clinton had not yet committed to a presidential run. Porter, according to Clinton, called to see whether the Arkansas Governor had made up his mind whether to throw his hat in the presidential ring. After a few minutes of conversation during which Clinton discussed issues that concerned him, Porter reportedly interjected, “Cut the crap, Governor.” A startled Clinton then listened as Porter told him that because Clinton was viewed by the Bush White House as the strongest potential Democratic candidate, “they would have to destroy me personally.” As Clinton remembers, Porter lectured him, saying “Here’s how Washington works…The press has to have somebody in every election, and we’re going to give them you.” Porter went on to describe the press as “elitists” who could be easily duped into believing tales “about backwater Arkansas.” Porter concluded ominously, “We’ll spend whatever we have to spend to get whoever we have to get to say whatever they have to say to take you out. And we’ll do it early.”

In his memoirs, Clinton says that Porter’s threats actually made him more likely to run. But he also makes it clear that he believes Republicans made good on Porter’s promise, aided by a willing press corps. “In the campaign and for eight years afterward,” Clinton writes, “the Republicans would make good on theirs [threats] and as Roger Porter had predicted, they got lots of help from some members of the press.” As Clinton suggested to Zakaria – the Whitewater real estate scandal, which led to the appointment of the independent prosecutor, which led to Monica Lewinsky and impeachment – all of it can be traced back to Porter’s phone call.

Not surprisingly, Clinton’s story raised more than a few eyebrows when it was published back in 2004. Porter instantly denied it. Here’s an account of their back-and-forth, as published in the Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper.  For what it is worth, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward investigated this story years ago when he was writing The Agenda, his account of the first years of the Clinton presidency. Contacted on Monday by Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty, Woodward called Clinton’s tale “preposterous.”

But the Big Dawg is standing by his story. And, if he is to be believed, the current media focus on Hillary’s emails is simply a reprise of the Republican-driven smear tactics used against him during his presidential campaign and while in the White House. Not surprisingly, after Zakaria’s interview aired Porter was contacted yesterday and once again he denied Clinton’s account, reminding the reporter that Clinton’s “association with the truth is often a really tenuous one.” He also joked that if the Bush administration was going to send a message of this type to Clinton, they wouldn’t have sent the famously low-key Porter to do the job.

Obviously, either Clinton or Porter is “misremembering” what happened, although both claim this is not the type of conversation either would forget. I have no independent evidence to add that might help choose between the contradictory stories. But I will say that I co-taught the American Presidency course at Harvard with Porter for many years, and I find it completely unbelievable that Porter would ever say the word “crap” even if he was sitting in a pile of it. It’s not in his vocabulary. Indeed, I find it extremely hard to believe that Porter, a famously buttoned-down, “mild mannered” person (as Tumulty describes him), would be the one chosen by the Bush White House to send a message threatening to break Clinton’s knee caps. It seems entirely out of character for the man I knew from sharing a classroom with for so many years. You might as well tell me Mother Theresa beat her dog and cheated at church bingo.

On the other hand, the man accusing Porter of making the threats also is famous for declaring…..well, see for yourself.


Of course, that adamant denial was followed by this:

Is this proof that the Big Dawg is lying about what Porter told him? No, but I can tell you which person’s version I’m more willing to believe!

The bigger issue, however, is not which man is telling the truth about an event that purportedly happened in 1991. It’s whether Clinton’s decision to resurrect this controversial story from his own campaign, and with it the specter of the infamous “vast right wing conspiracy” touted by his wife during the Big Dawg’s Lewinsky scandal, is really the best strategy for helping her campaign. It’s true that the email story has probably made Hillary seem less trustworthy to many potential voters. But as I’ve noted in a previous post, the whole trustworthy issue is being overplayed; history suggests it’s not likely to have much of an impact on her electoral support. Still, this doesn’t mean it makes sense to resurrect a story that is certain to feed into the media frame that the Clintons’ always have something to hide.

This is not the first time that Bill’s effort to protect his wife may have backfired. In the 2008 Democratic nomination fight, he infamously attacked press coverage of Barack Obama as a giant “fairy tale” and later, heading into the South Carolina primary, noted that Jesse Jackson had won that state’s primary twice, which many critics interpreted as a thinly-veiled insinuation that Obama would do well there because of his race.  At this point it’s too early to know if Clinton’s latest remarks will trigger a similar negative fallout.  It will be interesting to see if some of Sanders’ surrogates pick up on the story and how much media play it gets.  Certainly Hillary was very careful, when asked on Sunday’s Meet the Press about the Big Dawg’s comments, not to blame her email woes on the press or the opposition party.

Zakaria may be right that Bill Clinton is the most skilled student of politics in America. But somehow I can’t help but notice that those skills often seemed far more useful in furthering his own political career than they have in helping his wife’s.