Pollsters: FBI Director James Comey's Letter Probably Didn't Torpedo Hillary Clinton's Campaign

Matt Vespa
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Posted: May 05, 2017 5:00 PM
Pollsters: FBI Director James Comey's Letter Probably Didn't Torpedo Hillary Clinton's Campaign

The polls were wrong. They were off in 2012, they were way off in some races for the midterms, like Virginia’s Senate race, and they were off in 2016, though not the national ones. That’s one of the things from the polling autopsy on the last presidential election. The national polls were correct, but the state polls were off. Sort of an escape hatch, but that’s a debate for anther day. The real question of the day—and one that Democrats are obsessing about—is did the letter to Congress from FBI Director James Comey informing Congress that the bureau would be reviewing new emails eleven days prior to Election Day cost the former first lady the election. The answer from the American Association for Public Opinion Research is that the letter probably didn’t tip the election (via Politico):

In its effort to explore reasons for the large percentage of late-deciding voters who chose Trump, the report examines a central Clinton claim: that FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress on Oct. 28 of last year, stating that the bureau had discovered additional evidence related to Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state, might have tipped the race.

The report does not find evidence the Comey letter was determinative.

“The evidence for a meaningful effect on the election from the FBI letter is mixed at best,” the report states, citing polls that showed Clinton’s support beginning to drop in the days leading up to the letter. “October 28th falls at roughly the midpoint (not the start) of the slide in Clinton’s support.”

In fact, while the Comey letter “had an immediate, negative impact for Clinton on the order of 2 percentage points,” the report finds that Clinton’s support recovered “in the days just prior to the election.”

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver has a different opinion. The polling report also faulted sites, like FiveThirtyEight and The New York Times, for aggregating the polls and predicting who would win the election. Virtually all of them had Clinton winning. That obviously wasn’t the case.

So, it’s not an established fact that the letter cost Clinton the election. Clinton ignored millions of white working class voters, she didn’t campaign in the areas that would prove decisive on Election Day, her email fiasco and flippant attitude towards addressing it killed her on character issues, her big paydays from Wall Street contributed to her being viewed as inauthentic and out of touch, and it certainly doesn’t help when you call roughly half the country deplorable for simply supporting the Republican candidate. The FBI and James Comey wouldn’t have been a factor in the 2016 election if she didn’t have a private email system that wasn’t secure or authorized by the State Department to conduct official business. At the end of the day, Clinton blew the election and a letter from the FBI was the least of the reasons why.