In modern history, there’s never been another presidential candidate like this. He’s been disowned by half his own party. His leaked returns show he’s paid no federal income tax in 18 years, despite his enormous wealth. We’ve heard him bragging about sexually assaulting women, then, when alleged victims have come forward—there have been 11, so far—he has called them simply hungry for publicity. Most shocking of all, he’s been accused of raping a minor, for which he’s soon due to appear in court. It’s taken all these recent developments, all these scandals and more, for Trump to drop just five points below Clinton nationally.
Republican strategist Liz Mair, no fan of Trump herself, has observed that such is Clinton’s unpopularity, “any other candidate would be polling 15 points ahead” of Trump at this point. Amongst men, Trump still leads by a comfy margin. Putting into perspective just how unpopular Clinton is, at the end of July, after he had already called Mexicans rapists, insulted veterans living and dead, referred to women as “pigs” and “slobs,” pledged to ban Muslims from the US and let slip that he had never even heard of America’s nuclear deterrent, Trump actually found himself ahead of Clinton nationally.
Trump has seen his popularity recover from poll slumps and scandals before. But regardless of that, now Trump is behind again with a fortnight to go, and the pundits say Clinton has already won the White House: CNBC and the National Review have both called a Trump victory “impossible”; “Relax, Trump can’t win,” went the headline in The Nation; The Guardian, meanwhile, has said that not only will Trump not win, but that the US could be on the “brink of a liberal renaissance.” SNL has joined the press in expressing its certainty, with recent sketches in which Kate McKinnon’s Hillary has been introduced as “President Clinton.” It has been reported that even Clinton herself is so confident of a win that she doesn’t “even think about” Trump anymore.
Anyone watching from the UK will understand not just how foolish, but how dangerous it is to call an election before the votes are cast. We also know to no longer treat polls as gospel. In the run-up to our last general election, the press, the voters and even the politicians themselves were preparing for the formation of another coalition government. Based on the polls, it looked like Labour could do it with the Liberal Democrats, Greens and the SNP by their side, while best case scenario for the increasingly unpopular Tories was another Conservative-Lib Dem partnership. In the end, it turned out the polls were off by a long way, and the Conservatives returned to power into a majority government.
As everyone post-election tried to figure out what the hell had happened, one thing was immediately clear—political polling wasn’t as reliable as we originally assumed. It soon emerged that the polls had failed to take into account a swell of so-called ‘shy Tories’, Conservative voters unwilling to admit to pollsters their preference because of the social stigma. There’s similarly been speculation that polls in this American election may be skewed for Clinton because of a number of Trump supporters who choose to stay silent. If they exist, it may be that Clinton’s current five-point predicted lead is less sound than pundits presume. No one should forget that polling guru Nate Silver observed how primary and caucus candidate match-up polls in 2012 were consistently off by about four points, or that the ‘outlier’ LA Times poll—which has consistently shown Trump in the lead during the 2016 presidential race—was actually one of the most accurate at the last election.
Still, as long as polling averages continue to show a lead for Clinton, the generally pro-Democrat media will continue to speak of HRC’s presidency as a foregone conclusion. And that’s a problem too. When a result is deemed inevitable, there’s less urgency for voters to turn out on election day. It breeds complacency, and the side most likely to lose out in that scenario is the one that assumes it’s already won. Look, again, to Britain.
In June of this year, the UK held a vote on whether to leave or remain in the European Union. Polls taken just before the vote showed that Britain would opt for Remain. It was accepted even by Nigel Farage, one of the key architects of Brexit, that the British people were going to vote to stay. Ultimately, Leave won by more than a million votes. A win for the establishment seemed so obvious, many who had no quarrel with the EU voted Leave merely as a way of showing their dissatisfaction with the status quo. Here’s a handy video of Brits upset that their ‘protest vote’ actually helped tip the balance for Brexit.
In this race, we know that even liberals are planning to vote Trump because they believe their own protest vote will send a message to the establishment. Trump has positioned himself as the change candidate, the one who will shatter the status quo, while Clinton has promised to continue much in the vein of her divisive predecessor. To many Americans, Clinton represents a system that could stand to be shaken, while to many others Trump is the one to do the shaking. A vote for revolution, especially in a time of crisis, often generates more enthusiasm than a vote for relative stasis. Passion gets the vote out, and Trump’s supporters—like the followers of the Brexit cult—certainly have that.
Clinton’s campaign, on the other hand, has suffered from low favorability ratings and low enthusiasm from the start. Notice how every time a prominent individual encourages you to vote against the Republican nominee—see Joss Whedon’s celeb-packed anti-Trump ad, or recent rants from Robert De Niro and Glenn Beck don’t tend to recommend you instead vote Clinton? Many it would seem are anti-Trump but not necessarily pro-Clinton.
Try to forget the polls. Ignore a press that cares more about turning this election into a spectator sport than what might be best for the country. Every vote is still as crucial as it was back when Trump was winning in the polls some three months ago. Right now it seems unlikely that he could recover before November 8th, though nobody can say it’s impossible. Trump was five points behind Clinton in June. The following month, he’d taken back the lead. This is a candidate that’s been underestimated every step of the way, and according to RealClearPolitics, already the gap between he and his Democrat rival is shrinking again.
Maybe those allegedly devastating Apprentice outtakes starring Trump as a racist, sexist oaf will leak before November, ending his chances for good. Or maybe a huge Clinton scandal will drop, putting Trump back on top. We know nothing about what will happen between now and election day. At this point, Trump has lost nothing. Take it from us in the UK: there’s nothing smart about calling a race before it’s over.