I agree with Scott that polls taken a couple of days after a convention mean almost nothing in regard to predicting who will win an election that’s still more than three months away. I also agree with him that Clinton should still be considered a solid to heavy favorite because Trump appears to be both a uniquely awful and incompetent candidate (he still has nothing resembling a normal campaign organization, nor is there any evidence that he’s raising real money).
Still, we now have several recent polls which show Clinton and Trump essentially tied in regard to the national popular vote. And although this fact has in itself very little predictive significance, it’s still plenty depressing for other reasons.
There’s a famous garbled anecdote, misused by right wing pundits as a supposed example of out of touch left wing intellectuals failing to predict elections, regarding how Pauline Kael said she couldn’t understand how Nixon beat McGovern when everybody she knew voted for McGovern. OK, but . . . Donald Trump??? How is it possible that he’s polling even with Clinton at present? Potential explanations, from least to most disturbing:
(1) A general anti-establishment mood in the electorate, that’s hurting uber-establishment candidate HRC. To the extent this explains Trump’s popularity, then it’s like that somebody like Warren would be killing him.
(2) Low information partisan responses. Relative to the average person who posts or comments on political blogs, most people pay essentially no attention to the details of day to day politics, or the actual positions espoused by particular candidates. On this account, Trump’s support has little to do with anything about him other than that he’s not the Democrat Party’s candidate.
(3) Hatred of Clinton specifically. Part of this is a product of 25 years of GOP hysteria with its endless fake scandals, etc. Part of it is no doubt old fashioned misogyny. Part of it is that Clinton has shown poor judgment/a political tin ear on a number of issues, such as taking millions of dollars from banksters for giving a few speeches on the eve of her presidential run. I think one reason people swooned for Kaine so much on Saturday was simply that he wasn’t Clinton, and a lot of people are suffering from Clinton fatigue, for both bad and good reasons.
(4) Ethno-nationalist nativism, soft version. “I’m not a racist but . . .” (I hate PC, immigrants are taking our jobs, I hate the bilingual signs at Home Depot, yeah Trump says some bad things but Hillary” etc etc).
(5) Ethno-nationalist nativism, hard version. “I believe in white supremacy. If that makes me a racist then I guess I’m a racist.”
Obviously all these things are factors in the astonishing fact that at the moment nearly half the American electorate (and fully half of the electorate once you toss out votes for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein) is made up of people who say they’re going to vote for Trump. The extent to which the factors at the top of the list predominate determine whether something other than deep pessimism about the overall political situation is warranted. What that extent actually is I have no idea.