Everything is always obvious in retrospect, but in retrospect it’s obvious that with a week to go in the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton’s lead at the national level over Donald Trump — 4.7 percentage points — had shrunk enough that Trump had a very real shot of winning.
Beyond that top line number, Clinton had a bunch of other problems:
She had high unfavorable numbers, nearly as high as Trump’s. (It’s worth noting here the remarkable fact that Donald Trump has never been viewed favorably by even a bare majority of the American voting public, even though he was elected president and has “served” in that office for nearly four years now. That’s our version of democracy, oops sorry a Republic).
The electorate featured a relatively large number — given the overall level of political polarization — of undecided voters, and if a solid majority of these people went for Trump in the swing states, Clinton could lose.
District-level polling revealed that Clinton was doing very badly with white working class voters, and if these people turned out, she could again lose just enough votes in the Big 10 region to cost her the election, even if she won the national popular vote by millions.
All of this was clear to certain observers at the time. Here’s Dave Wasserman (the best Twitter election analyst follow) in the week before the 2016 election:
Then why was Clinton’s loss so stunning? Part of the reason is that confirmation and optimism bias tend to make most people overconfident in their predictions, but the bigger reason was that, at some level, many people — I include myself in this category, even though I was predicting that Trump could win both the nomination and the election at a time when this view was considered absurd — didn’t want to believe that this country had sunk so low that it would actually elect Donald Trump president.
I mean you can talk all you want, and you should, about the absurdity of the Electoral College, the outrageous behavior of James Comey, the ubiquity of Republican voter suppression, and so on. All that is true and yet: the political culture of this country is degenerate enough that it allowed the election to be close enough for New York Times editors and Daddy Republicans to throw it to Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Four years later, I still don’t really believe it.
Are we falling victim to similar biases this year, as we contemplate the even more horrifying possibility that the election might be close enough for a combination of the Wisdom of the Framers and the open bias of Republican judges to steal it again?
Here’s the argument that we’re not:
Biden’s national top line lead is approximately twice as big as Clinton’s — around nine or ten points, and there are no signs that it’s slipping. (If 160 million people vote, which seems like a realistic estimate at this point, and two percent of the vote goes to minor party vanity wanking, a ten-point win translates to a 16 million vote margin for Biden nationally.)
There are far fewer undecided voters this time around.
Biden has a net positive favorability rating — just barely, but it is positive. Trump’s remains as it always has strongly negative.
Crucially, per Wasserman and others, the high quality district-level polling used by the campaigns themselves, and largely unavailable to the public, doesn’t reflect any of the vulnerability that this same polling revealed about Clinton’s chances with a week to go in 2016.
This year’s EMAILZ sequel went nowhere.
Nearly 65 million people have already voted. The total number of votes that will be cast in some way other than in person on Election Day is likely to approach 100 million. This will be the first presidential election in American history that will have been conducted in major part before Election Day itself.
You can be sure that Republicans will try to use this fact to flip the election itself via the SCOTUS, citing Article XXXII’s little known you can’t change how elections are conducted if that leads to right wingers losing clause. If the margin is as large as looks to be right now, that won’t work. As I’ve mentioned before, the refs are being worked and some of them have been outright bought, but not enough to literally fix the game itself. The game has to be close enough to steal, and this one likely isn’t.
The critical thing is that if the Dems take the trifecta there’s a short window available to treat the Republican party, and all its works, and all its pomps, with the extreme prejudice it has so fully earned. They’re doing everything they can to flat out steal this election, and if they fail, they must NOT be allowed to be in a position to do it again. That means fundamental reforms of both the electoral and judicial systems.
Those reforms will of course be met by squeals of outrage from Republicans themselves, but they will also be resisted by the many many Even the Liberal types, who will claim that the fact that a authoritarian party, trending strongly fascistic and theocratic, didn’t manage to actually steal the election after all means that . . . wait for it . . . The System Works.
No it doesn’t. No system that elected Donald Trump and his congressional enablers, and kept them in office for four years, “works.” Liberal democracy may survive for the moment, but it very well may not the next time.
And there will be a next time, more than soon enough. In the meantime, we need to take off and nuke the site from orbit.