What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been: The Final Month of This Campaign

These are some observations given recent trends and what to expect in this final month.

Say What You Will, But Hillary is the Front Runner

The national polls, according to the RealClear average of polls, shows that Hillary Clinton enters the final month of the campaign with a 3 point advantage on Donald Trump.  Considering the debacle that is the Trump campaign thus far, being three points down is not that bad of a place to be.

According to Nate Silver at Fivethirtyeight, post-debate snap polls do indicate poll bumps  in the weeks following a debate and before the next debate.  He has determined that based on those snap polls, Hillary Clinton can expect a 2-4 point bump in the polls.  That would put her 5-7 points ahead of Trump nationally heading into the second debate on October 9th.

However, despite her front runner status, this Trump deficit is not that great and can be overcome.  But it should also be considered that at this time in 2012, President Obama had a 2.5 point average lead on Mitt Romney.  That would make the road harder for Trump this year.  As we know, national polls are all well and good, but we elect Presidents by the Electoral College- read on.

Trump’s Demographic “Problem”

Despite what Trump says, African-American and Hispanic support for him is either at or below recent historical norms.  In 2012, Obama garnered 93% of the black vote to Romney’s 6%.  Clinton would be hard-pressed to reach that 93% mark, but she will still win an overwhelming majority of the black vote.  However, since blacks make up 13% of the electorate, Trump’s failure or success over 2012 levels will have negligible effects on outcomes.  If Trump does better than Romney’s 6%, then he may make some races closer in traditional blue states like New York and Illinois, but he will not win them.  Conversely, if Clinton can get blacks out to vote in higher numbers and she can reach even 89%, she may make races closer in traditional red states like Georgia and South Carolina, but she will not win those states.

As for the Hispanic vote, Romney garnered only 27% of the vote compared to Obama’s 71%.  Even still, Romney won states like Arizona and Texas with large Hispanic populations.  According to some polls, Hispanic support for Trump stands somewhere near Romney’s with Clinton running around 60%.  That could be a problem for Clinton in states like Colorado and Nevada, or even New Mexico.  Given Trump’s sometimes incendiary rhetoric, it is hard to believe that he could exceed Romney’s 27% performance in 2012 with Hispanics.  Perhaps if he focused his message on the top two concerns of the Hispanic community- education and jobs- he may just make the race more interesting than it has a right to be.

Regardless, Voters Don’t Like Either Candidate

This is an election unlike others.  Both candidates have high unfavorable ratings- Trump at 58.4% versus 37.1 favorable and Clinton at 54.8% versus 41.4 favorable.  Some of this goes to demographics.  Consider the following chart:

Blacks 11 69 -58
Black females 9 65 -56
Hispanic 14 58 -44
Unmarried women 20 48 -28
Overall women 26 45 -19
White male 49 25 24
Whites 41 30 11

The chart illustrates each candidate’s favorability with respect to certain groups.  Perhaps the two most disturbing aspects for Trump given the fact that both are not really liked overall is the Hispanic and overall women categories.

And why don’t people like either?   Again, a chart will suffice for the reasons often given with respect to each candidate in rank order:

Untrustworthy Is racist
Is Corrupt Does not have adequate experience
Changes position for political convenience Untrustworthy
Out of touch with regular Americans Lacks knowledge of the issues
Says one thing but does another Changes position for political convenience
Does not share my values Has extreme political views
Is corrupt
Out of touch with regular Americans
Lacks experience
Is sexist

Although there is some overlap, the list of reasons to reject Trump is longer.  The most troublesome are the perceptions of racism/sexism and his lack of knowledge which he seems to confirm every day.

Given the high unfavorable ratings, these perceptions and numbers are pretty much locked in through November.  That does not bode well for Donald Trump.

There Will Be No Pivot and No “New” Donald Trump

Some speculated that Donald Trump would tone down the rhetoric once he captured the nomination and would “pivot” to the center like most candidates.  But, Trump is Trump and those people are/were fools.  He’s certainly had his chances.  The greatly anticipated speech on immigration reform delivered in Arizona actually forced Hispanic supporters away from him.  His attack on a Gold Star family left a sour taste in the mouths of others.  And his preparation for the first debate was to basically wing it on stage.

All these actions did nothing to change voter perceptions of him.  In fact, they reinforced their beliefs that Trump was a racist, that he has extreme views, and that he lacks knowledge on issues to be the President.  Throw in the apparent brag that he minimizes his tax bill and is proud of it, he reinforces the idea that he is out of touch with ordinary Americans.  Trump will be Trump; he cannot help it.  See the next category.

The Role of the Internet

Barack Obama redefined candidate use of the Internet to get his message out, garner support and raise funds.  Trump is using it a different way- social media messaging.  Trump has more Twitter followers than Clinton- 10.6 million to 8.1 million.  Trump retweets and uses the forum for short opinions- usually some disparaging comment about someone.  Trump likewise is killing Clinton on Facebook with 10 million likes to her 5.2 million.

In other areas, Trump slightly leads Clinton on Instagram while Clinton kills her opponent on YouTube with some 179 videos as of August 21st.  On the more tech-savvy sites like SnapChat and Linkedin, Clinton is the clear winner with Trump having no presence on the latter.

Although this may be a good real world experiment on the role of social media in swaying electoral outcomes, most of that analysis will come after the election.  Trump likes to cite online polls which are rife with pitfalls. Social media is not reality.

The Electoral Map

Donald Trump promised to expand the electoral map this year and predicted he would win states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that recently went to Democrats.  Although he was showing some improvement in these states and others he absolutely must win, that momentum likely slowed due to his first debate performance.  Perhaps the only state that he may flip this year is Iowa, although he is within striking distance in Nevada.

However, Clinton is within striking distance of Trump in Arizona and is ahead in key swing states like Colorado, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.  Furthermore, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina are all up for grabs.

 Trump has to play more offense than Clinton has to play defense.  That allows Clinton to focus on less states and even play offense in states like Arizona.  I would not be surprised if she made campaign appearances there in October.  If nothing else, it helps spread Trump thin.  If states like New Hampshire and North Carolina are called early for Clinton on election night, turn out the lights and go to bed.

Which is Why the Money Race is Important

Clinton has a clear lead on Trump in fundraising because he was so late to the game.  To his credit, very few PACs and special interests have donated to his cause although he does occasionally attend the big money fundraisers.  However, it is certainly not to the extent that Clinton does it as she sometimes leaves the campaign trail for days to attend them.

However, Trump entered the race vowing to use some of his alleged vast fortune to fund his candidacy.  To date, that promised bonanza has not materialized.  Trump has done better of late with small donors and online solicitations, but his war chest is considerably smaller than that of Clinton.

He promises a $140 million media blitz in October in key swing states.  He needs not only those states, but also others to win this thing.  Simply, Trump is too late to the advertisement game instead relying on the free airtime he gets because he is still the most-sought-after candidate interview.  And who needs to advertise traditionally when your most recent Tweet or statement at a rally dominates the news cycle for 48 hours?

Begrudgingly, however, you have to give Trump some credit for hanging in there relatively close using so little money doing so.  Another Republican candidate could not get away with it and would have to rely on more traditional methods.

But, This Makes Trump an Outsider

Pundits missed the anger and angst in the electorate when they dismissed the seriousness of a Trump candidacy.  Even his GOP primary rivals seemed to miss it.  There is a palpable concern in America against “politics as usual.”  Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump seemed to tap into that.

Which is interesting because every time those traditional political establishments like newspapers, Washington politicians, academics and pundits release endorsements of Clinton, or write letters and articles against Trump, they have little impact on the polls.  This confirms the view that Donald Trump is the last “outsider” standing promising not “politics as usual.”

The Arizona Republic newspaper recently endorsed a Democrat for President for the first time in history.  I doubt that will sway any voter in Arizona just as an issue of The National Review against Trump did not persuaded anyone, or a letter signed by 150 former national security officials.

The Residual Bernie Effect

One of the most preposterous aspects of the entire campaign is how young people age 18-35- the millenials- drifted to an old socialist curmudgeon like Bernie Sanders.  But, he spoke against that “politics as usual” dynamic and cloaked it in policy terms they liked.  Clinton is not doing so well.  If Trump had half a brain, he would mimic Sanders and at least hold those votes at bay against Clinton.  Regardless, the votes of young people are over-rated as everything indicates they actually don’t vote.  Plus, this year they have no skin in the game as they dislike both Trump and Clinton.  So they’ll either resort to form and sit it out or vote for a third party candidate.

The Remaining Debates Will be Important

There are two more presidential debates scheduled in October.  Given Trump’s performance in the first one, he has nowhere to go but up.  If one remembers, Obama dismally lost the first debate against Romney in Denver in 2012 and blamed it on the altitude and lack of sleep.  Trump, the ultimate whiner, blamed his performance on a bad microphone.

Whatever the reason, Trump fell for every piece of bait Clinton laid at his feet to dig a deeper hole for himself.  If he can right the ship in the second debate and land some blows and then slam dunk it in the third debate, momentum going into Election Day will be very important and he may just have it.

But remember- he’s Donald Trump.  If I were a Trump supporter, I would not get my hopes up.  Not being a Trump supporter, one just hopes he doesn’t hurt the GOP brand any further than he already has.

Relax GOP…There Is Always Congress

The Republican Party has too large of a partisan margin in the House for it to fall into Democratic control unless this is an electoral apocalypse.  The Senate is a little different although races once thought to be possible GOP losses- North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri- are either breaking in favor of the GOP or are predicted to be GOP victories.  The DSCC has already canceled some advertisements in Florida and Ohio suggesting they will concentrate on ousting Ayotte, Burr, Toomey (who is going hard at his opponent in ads) and picking up the vacant seat in Indiana.

Losing the Presidency and keeping Congress would be the best case-scenario with a Trump loss to Clinton.  However, because the GOP has to pay so much defense, their lead in the Senate will likely be diminished.  The Trump effect on down-ballot races will be interesting to watch.