These are not the best days for Hillary Clinton. Some Democrats, as well as certain professional Republicans who want Clinton to beat Trump but can’t say so, are beginning to get nervous about the closeness of the election. Is Clinton still a comfortable favorite, and we’re just in the midst of a down moment? Or is the race officially settling into toss-up territory? Slate’s Jim Newell and Jamelle Bouie discussed this over Slack on Wednesday morning.
Jamelle Bouie: So it’s the middle of September and depending on where you look, this presidential race is either a toss-up (FiveThirtyEight) or one where Clinton holds a varying lead. Sometimes it ebbs and sometimes it flows. I just looked at the averages, and her average lead varies from plus-2 (RealClearPolitics) to plus-4 (HuffPo).
Right now I’d say we are at an ebb for Clinton.
Jim Newell: Yeah, I think we’re in for a bad wave of polling news for Clinton. The Bloomberg Ohio poll—which gives Trump a five-point lead in that battleground state—is one. (It was taken Friday through Monday, which means that “basket of deplorables” and the 9/11 wobble are factored in.) The LA Times tracker poll is mostly useless in terms of the actual numbers, but it does seem to pick up well on meaningful overall trends—Trump’s and Clinton’s respective convention bumps, for example. And if you look at it the past couple of days, it’s blowing up for Trump. No single snapshot should be treated as the way it’s going to end, but I do wonder where this bottoms out and where the equilibrium is.
I do think that the consensus posture that this race is Clinton’s should be … reconsidered.
Bouie: I’d say that the posture that Clinton is guaranteed to win—or that it’s not worth focusing on the possibility of a Trump win—is bad.
But if someone said, “All things equal Clinton should be considered a moderate to heavy favorite to win,” I think that would be right.
Which gets to where I think the equilibrium in this race is. Right after Trump won the nomination but before the Democratic primary fight got genuinely ugly, Clinton held a lead of four points.
That’s where I think things may ultimately fall.
Newell: What I’m doing now is white-knuckling my desk until more polls of Pennsylvania come out. Clinton doesn’t need Ohio or Florida. If she wins either of those, it’s over. But she’s maintained real strength in Pennsylvania. I want to see how well that holds up if indeed there’s a bad wave coming. What are you looking at most, statewise?
Bouie: I guess I’m looking most at Florida. If that begins to decisively move in her favor, that’s probably the ballgame.
What’s a bit hard about this election is that the state polls show competitive races in places like Arizona and Georgia. And if those races are competitive, then Clinton is probably doing decently nationally.
I kind of think that, at this moment, we are witnessing a cratering of Democratic enthusiasm. Which is probably why the Obamas will stay on the trail nonstop until November.
Newell: We need more Georgia and Arizona numbers, though. Those halcyon days for the HRC campaign, when she was in striking distance in places like Kansas or South Carolina, are now long gone, and the latest figures there have her trailing by double-digits. She was never going to win those states and those polls may have been outliers, but I think the race is starting to look more traditional. Uncomfortably traditional.
Also: Trump’s favorability numbers seem to be meaningfully improving! He’s minus-7 in that Bloomberg poll, and Clinton’s minus-17. Are people really buying this relatively more disciplined Trump?
Bouie: I honestly have no idea on that score. This might just be Republicans warming up to him. I find it hard to believe that undecided or more marginal voters would conclude now that Trump isn’t so bad.
But then, this election has reminded me of the degree to which I just don’t get some voters.
Newell: In sum: Should Clinton supporters, or more generally people who are terrified of a Trump presidency, feel sanguine now or start to sweat?
My view is that people who are terrified of a Trump presidency should feel fully terrified at all times, no matter what the polls say, and work from that posture.
Bouie: They should feel … neither? I don’t know. I don’t see the utility in panicking, although I understand that things are too close for comfort.
I just don’t think anyone ever felt better after panicking. But if you are worried about Trump winning, go volunteer to do something that makes that possibility less likely.
Newell: Yes. Constructive panicking.