Just eight days to go and too close to call

Face-off: Trump welcomed the FBI’s decision, but Clinton said the timing was ‘pretty strange’.

A week ago it seemed Clinton had victory sewn up. Then the polls started to narrow. Then the FBI announced a new inquiry into her misuse of emails. Now some are predicting a shock Trump win.

It was going so well for Hillary Clinton. One poll put her 12% ahead of Donald Trump in the race for the White House.

There were signs she might win deeply Republican states such as Georgia and Texas. Trump was dogged by allegations of sexual assault. Pundits wondered not if she would win but by how much. And whether her Democratic Party could take control of Congress.

She herself was riding high. ‘I don’t even think about responding to Trump any more,’ she said on October 23rd.

How much difference a week makes. All last week the polls tightened. Then on Friday the FBI re-opened an investigation into her use of a private email server to store classified information. Yesterday many were openly wondering if she would lose the vote.

Could Trump cause an astonishing upset? Alan Lichtman, who has correctly predicted the outcome of every election since 1984, thinks so. This weekend an artificial intelligence system which predicted the outcome of the last three elections agreed. And a significant majority of Americans believe the country is on the ‘wrong track’: bad news for Clinton, who represents the ruling party.

Trump could benefit from two phenomena — and both would mirror patterns seen in the UK’s 2015 general election and 2016 EU referendum. His voters may not wish to admit their intentions before polling day. ‘If you perceive that a particular voting choice is socially unacceptable, you may be reluctant to declare your views,’ says British polling expert John Curtice.

But the pollsters’ own deficiencies may be more significant. Polling numbers reflect the expected turnout among different demographic groups. Trump is likely to benefit if more white working class voters participate than expected.

Most polls still point to a Clinton win. ‘At best, Trump is hanging in by his fingernails,’ said Curtice this weekend. Yesterday The New York Times put Clinton’s chances of victory at 90%. But Trump’s unusual candidacy and both major candidates’ unpopularity make it too close to call.

Trumped up

Trump will win, say some. The Clinton campaign and many liberal commentators have complacently misjudged America’s mood. Many people want to kick the established order, as Brexit voters did. Clinton is uninspiring and now under FBI investigation. Her poll lead will also work against her: people will vote for Trump out of protest.

Unlikely, others reply. Clinton is much the better qualified candidate, and the prospect of a female president inspires many. The email scandal is nothing new. Trump is an incoherent bully and a misogynist with vague and unworkable policy ideas. The American people will make the only sensible choice available to them.

You Decide

  1. Would you vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?
  2. Who will win the US election and why?

Activities

  1. Write down 10 questions you would ask American voters in order to understand who will really win next week’s election. Discuss as a class.
  2. Find out more about an election — from any democratic country you like — in which the result was unexpected. Prepare a three-minute presentation to your class explaining why the predictions were wrong. Are there relevant lessons for Trump v Clinton?

Some People Say...

“It actually doesn’t matter much who is president of the USA.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Trump and Clinton — are they not just two powerful people squabbling over who gets to be in charge?
There are similarities between them. Clinton even attended Trump’s wedding in 2005, so they move in similar circles. But they have very different worldviews. Clinton is more liberal and internationalist; Trump is protectionist. They also represent very different people. Trump has the overwhelming support of white working class men; middle class women with college degrees are much more likely to vote Clinton. This election will have an important impact on causes and people you may care about.
But should we not wait for the result?
Political science helps to give us an insight into the motivations of people around you, what inspires them and what they are really thinking. The result is important, but the reasons behind that result can teach you a great deal about human nature and Western societies too.

Word Watch

Congress
Congressional elections will also take place next Tuesday. Republicans currently control both houses, so they have been able to dilute the agenda of Barack Obama, a Democrat.
Tightened
A week ago Clinton’s average lead was 7.1%, according to Real Clear Politics. By Friday it fell to 4.4%.
Classified
This relates to her time as secretary of state during President Obama’s first term.
Lichtman
This professor has a system of 13 ‘keys’. If six go against the incumbent party, he says it will lose. See the video under Become An Expert.
System
The MogIA robot, developed by Sanjiv Rai, made this prediction, largely based of the amount of attention Trump gets.
Wrong track
An average of 63.1% of the American public think the country is on the ‘wrong track’, according to Real C; 29.9% say it is going in the ‘right direction’. Pundits see this as a crucial barometer in election years.
Reluctant
Some say ‘shy voters’ also help to explain the surprise victory for the Conservatives in the UK’s general election and the unexpected vote for Brexit.
Turnout
The proportion of those eligible to vote who do so.