Democratic Pollster Said The Dam Is About to Break On Hillary, But Has It?

Posted: Nov 08, 2016 1:12 PM

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On Halloween, former Democratic pollster for President Jimmy Carter Pat Caddell said that he was the one who told the then-president that he should probably be looking for a new job on the eve of the 1980 election because Ronald Reagan was going to win. Indeed, he was correct; Reagan won in a landslide. Caddell reiterated this election anecdote with Fox Business’ Stuart Varney, where he said, “There never had been a presidential election since we’ve had polling that went into the last weekend close and came out a landslide. The reason is once the dam broke, on the economy, because both candidates, although nothing like this year, were viewed unfavorably.

“You think the dam is about to break?” asked Varney.

“I’ve been looking at the data people who are unfavorable to both, what I call the volume mix, which is 12-15 percent of the election. That electorate—that was before Friday [FBI announcement on 650,000 Clinton-related emails from Huma Abedin] they are massively against…all those things I said structurally you could see them moving against the status quo; the incumbent who is essentially Hillary Clinton,” replied Caddell. Adding that he felt this latest FBI announcement could be the event necessary to see the levees break for Trump, as he saw it was already moving in that direction. So, did that happen?

We have to be honest here. Yesterday the FBI said it reviewed the emails from top Clinton aide Huma Abedin and no indictment would be recommended. So, the air has been deflated there, though the momentum towards Trump, especially in the latest Pennsylvania polls, was gathering behind the GOP nominee before Comey's announcement. Second, the latest polls still have Clinton ahead. Caddell said that Carter was down two days before Election Day, then ten on the eve of ballot casting. Guy wrote about Monmouth saying that Clinton had reached 50 percent support, leading Trump by six—though he stated it was an outlier. The last Washington Post/ABC News poll had Clinton up four over Trump 47/43, which hasn’t realty deviated from polling in the last six weeks of this election. If anything, everyone is saying that the dam has broken, but against Trump. The LA Times poll gave Clinton 352 electoral votes, despite having Trump ahead from one-to-five points (more of the latter) in their tracking poll. Emerson College is predicting a 323 electoral landslide for Clinton. And Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball has Lady Macbeth winning 322 electoral votes. So, does this mean the game is over?

No. If there’s one thing about this race is that Trump has been able to surprise us time and again. Also, a four-point advantage isn’t unassailable—and there were plenty of times in the 2014 midterms where a lead that small actually was a lot larger in the final results. That being said, it’s possible Trump could get more people to vote for him today, or Clinton runs away with it. Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit noted that the averages at Real Clear Politics (RCP) called 49 out 50 states correctly in 2012. With no toss-ups, Clinton wins, albeit by a slim 272-266 Electoral College victory over Trump.

Even David Byler, an election analyst at RCP, noted that the polls going into Election Day aren’t always right, but an indicator of who has the advantage. If Clinton performs at her current rates, she wins, but there are still paths for Trump to win:

The candidate who leads in pre-election polls typically has the advantage heading into Election Day -- which makes Hillary Clinton the favorite (but not a lock).

For example, Obama led in the RealClearPolitics average by 0.9 points heading into Election Day 2012 and went on to win the White House by 3.9 points. The RCP national average also put Obama ahead by 7.3 points in 2008, and he won by 7.6 points. George W. Bush led by 1.5 points in the 2004 RCP national average of polls, and he won by 2.4 points. I could go into elections that predate RCP, but the point is that a polling lead typically indicates an Election Day advantage. If Clinton and Trump perform at their current polling levels (or if Clinton over-performs) she will win.

There are still possible paths to a Trump victory, however.

It’s possible that there is some late movement toward him that the polls haven’t fully picked up on. Good pollsters often survey voters over multiple days, so if movement occurred very late in that time frame it’s possible that public pollsters won’t fully detect it before Nov. 8.

The polls could also systematically underrate Trump by misestimating the composition of the electorate. In the 2014 Senate elections, polls in the final week underestimated Republican candidates by about three points on average. And in the 2012 presidential election, national polls showed Obama leading by one point, and he won the popular vote by four points (although state polls were more accurate than national polls in that race). So it’s possible that the polls could be off and Trump could win the presidency. But it’s impossible to know ahead of time if the polls will err -- and if they do err, it’s impossible to forecast whether they might be biased toward Trump or Clinton.

Alas, the axiom of every election, especially one with Trump in the mix; we don’t know. I am also hedging that there are shy Trump voters who haven’t been polled and who will vote for Trump. Also, the last of the remaining undecideds, who—if the RNC or the Trump campaign is able to turn out—could lead to an even greater tightening in swing states. Granted, that’s scraping at the bottom of the barrel, I did mention that the number of undecideds was around eight percent; it’s actually two—but that could make up the margins in some of these battleground states, given that these on-the-fencers lean Republican.

So, as you vote today, remember that whoever you’re supporting, it’s a pick your poison when it comes to the polls. You see landslides and close calls. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight noted that there could be a breach in Clinton’s electoral wall. She fell below 270 in CNN’s electoral map, while RCP put Pennsylvania in the toss-up column. If this race is close, and I’m going to hedge that it’s closer than we all think (again, I could be very, very wrong), then it all boils down to which candidate can take New Hampshire, whose polling has been all over the place. The state hasn’t gone Republican in 16 years. As for Mr. Caddell, he had this to say on Election Eve, which is that the momentum towards Trump was starting before the Comey announcement, and that the uprising against the political class has only just begun:

Voters were then asked the same two questions of each candidate: Which is closer to your opinion if (Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump) wins: the political elites and special interests win; the political elite and special interests lose.

By 65 percent to 35 percent voters said that if Hillary Clinton wins the political elites WIN. And by an opposite margin, the majority of voters said that by 57 percent to 43 percent the elites LOSE if Trump wins.

Significant numbers of Clinton’s own voters believe that her win is a victory for the unpopular elites and special political interests.

So the question is, if these attitudes are salient in the voters’ minds as they vote on Tuesday it could produce the biggest surprise of all in 2016.

But regardless of who wins on November 8 this uprising of the American people has just begun.

This is a debate for another time—and one that the major parties, especially the Republican Party, has to ponder should they lose the presidential election tonight, given that this neo-populism has coalesced around Trump. Debate this amongst yourselves, but for now— stay tuned for election results later tonight.