538: Hillary could still lose

FiveThirtyEight.com, one of the best poll analysts around, did an analysis yesterday of the recent historical comebacks during presidential elections, and concluded that Hillary Clinton could still lose the election.

Now, yes, Hillary currently has an 88% chance or so of winning. She’s doing very well. But as many have noted, it’s only the middle of August — the election is in November. Things could change between now and then, and historically, they have changed in several elections.

538’s first point is that the economy always influences the election (a good economy favors the incumbent party), and our economy is decent but not great. That means the polls should be expected to tighten between now and the election, if you buy the theory that the economy influences the election.

Second, 538 notes that there have been elections in which the person who’s behind made up a 6 to 8 point deficit in the polls — exactly where Trump is right now. They note that in 1980, Carter and Reagan were tied after the conventions — but Reagan won the election by nearly 10% points. And Trump is doing better at this point in the campaign than Reagan was.

For also pulled off a huge comeback, but ultimately lost.

Then there’s Nixon:

Perhaps the most interesting potential precedent for the 2016 campaign is 1968.3 Richard Nixon was up by 8 percentage points and opened an even larger lead in the fall. But Hubert Humphrey was able to consolidate a previously divided Democratic base (as Trump needs to do with Republicans) and cut into Nixon’s lead. Humphrey was also aided by President Lyndon Johnson’s rising approval ratings and the original October surprise (an announcement by Johnson that the U.S. was halting the bombing in Vietnam). Humphrey ended up losing in the second-closest presidential election of the 1900s. It’s not too difficult to imagine Republicans rallying behind Trump — perhaps Clinton is hit with a scandal or WikiLeaks drops an October surprise.

538 isn’t saying Hillary is going to lose. They’re saying that even though she right now has an 88% chance of winning in November, things can change — and they have before.

Andrew Breitbart, photo by Gage Skidmore.

Andrew Breitbart, photo by Gage Skidmore.

One final point: Breitbart.

Trump announced yesterday that he was making Stephen Bannon the new head of the Trump campaign. Bannon runs Breitbart, the far-right, alt-right, some say “white nationalist” (according to CNN’s Brian Stelter) Web site. Breitbart, for those unfamiliar, is basically a really bad blog. Think H.A. Goodman on steroids. Think Ann Coulter, with even more chutzpah and more racism. It cannot be overstated how nutty Breitbart is. They’re conservative bomb-throwers, but of the conspiracy wing of the GOP. Even most Republicans don’t like them or respect them.

If you thought Trump’s campaign was over-the-top and offensive at this point, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

And that worries me. From the beginning, my biggest concern about Trump was that he was willing to say things that no decent presidential candidate would dare. For example, he brought up Monica. And while to date Trump’s outrageousness hasn’t helped him in the polls, it’s still a wild card.

In the end, I’ve seen enough elections change in the final few months or even weeks. It’s great that Hillary is doing well, so far. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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27 Responses to “538: Hillary could still lose”

  1. Rufus T. Firefly says:

    If he dropped out in September, it would be a disaster for the GOP. They would have to assemble some of the top leadership and choose another person. Who would it be and what criteria would they use? If it’s the candidate with the next highest number of primary votes, that would be Cruz. Can you imagine all the Trumpsters jumping on THAT train, after what he did (or didn’t do) at the Republican National Convention? They would either stay home, vote for Gary Johnson or write in Trump’s name (if allowed in their states). Whoever they chose, they’d have to start all over again and it would be entirely too late.

    The GOP is screwed no matter what they do. Or don’t do.

  2. LesbianTippingHabits says:

    Don’t forget: Tip generously for good service. Tips are good karma. And karma never lies.

    Thank you.

  3. walterhpdx says:

    I don’t want to sound like a tin-foil hat type, but honestly I’ve been thinking this would happen, probably sometime in September. If he goes into it seeing he’s losing based on the polls, what would he do? It’s honestly not unheard of…

    Let’s see if he makes it to and through one of the debates.

  4. Google Phantom Censor comments says:

    Why would Trump leave the race?
    He’s now within the margin of error of Hllary, it’s still anybody’s game and a lot of Trump voters are not going public due to the Left demonization but they will be voting Trump on November 8th when nobody is watching.
    No reason to drop out of the race at all.

  5. Google Phantom Censor comments says:


  6. Google Phantom Censor comments says:

    But, Hillary doesn’t have nowhere near 88% chances of winning, she’s the Establishment candidate in year of insurgency. This is also the 8th year of a very bad Democratic Administration and a Republican year. The odds are on Trump’s side.. especially considering Hillary is an awful uninspiring candidate. She could definitely lose on November 8th, she shouldn’t take things for granted.

  7. Google Phantom Censor comments says:

    It’s done.

  8. HandsomeMrToad says:

    I assume a 100% chance of dying!

  9. Rebecca Gardner says:

    Hillary can still lose, and I can still get married to Albert II, Prince of Monaco.I don’t think either are going to happen.

  10. Ocqueoc says:

    Good points for keeping us grounded. However, a leopard does not change its spots. If need be, I’m sure the Dems have archived the dozens and dozens of hateful, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, and downright bizarre statements and actions Trump has produced, and they just have to play them … over and over and over. The goal in most elections is to make it (negatively) about the other candidate. While the GOP intended to make it about Hillary, the Dems and Donald himself have made it about him.

  11. Rufus T. Firefly says:

    If you follow the polling trends from July 2015 through today, the only significant lead Trump has ever had over Clinton was during and right after the RNC, for about three days. (See http://www.realclearpolitics.com.). Then it nosedived. Intersecting that dive was Clinton’s post-convention bump. It was inversely sharp, heading UP and is still holding good ground after three weeks. It’s not like polling from the past couple of decades or so, where the candidates continually flip between plus and minus in relation to each other. (Look at 2004, where Bush and Kerry were swapping popularity levels all the time.) Picture the graph as two airplane altitude measurements over the course of a journey. Which would you fly in? The one that
    appears buoyant overall or the one that looks like a
    sputtering,unreliable device that is drawn to gravity? Hillary’s home is above the clouds and Donald’s is below it.

    All these big Republican figures start coming out, saying they’re either voting for
    Hillary or simply not voting for Trump. (No Democrat has come out and said they’re support Trump.) Then Trump has the Khan
    situation, which I personally think was the nail in the
    coffin for him. You can’t shake something like that.

    The Dems are running circles around him with getting the electoral map numbers higher and higher. They’ve been advertising in battleground states for MONTHS while Trump is just getting started. The Clinton campaign has framed Trump’s image in the public’s eye and anybody who knows anything about sociopolitical warfare knows that successfully framing your opponent before the starting gate even opens is probably the most important part of your work.

    Even if there were a terrorist attack or market crash before election day, who would people want to handle the situation? Trump? After his temperament and weak grasp of economics has been on full display for months and is a severe public liability right now? Really?

    I’ve tried to imagine a scenario where Trump wins and I can’t.

  12. churchilliscool says:

    God help us if the Trump campaign reveals the awful truth about the nefarious and corrupt Hillary Clinton.

  13. Bob says:

    Kocal – Absolutely right. Reagan and Nixon should have been hanged. Bush and draft-dodger Cheney (War Criminals) should have been strung up for killing 4,500 Americans in Iraq looking for WMDs they knew didn’t exist. Then they deleted more than 2 million E – Mails. WHY? If the media will just give Orange Head another 2 Billion dollars free coverage, he’ll hang himself even HIGHER!

  14. Nicholas A Kocal says:

    Of course bot Reagan and Nixon did commit treason before the election which helped them. Nixon by sabotaging peace talks with Vietnam and Reagan by convincing the Iranians to hold the hostages after the election.

  15. Did they not ever grab the 538 address?

  16. Well, it depends. The point is that 12% chance in elections sound like “it’ll never happen.” But we’d never assume a 12% chance of dying. We’d assume that the 12% isn’t insignificant. But in election terms, we do think it’s insignificant, never gonna happen.

  17. Ha! That’s a really good point.

  18. BeccaM says:

    These things aren’t really equivalent though, are they?

  19. Hue-Man says:

    Our intuitive sense about probabilities fails us; we look at the 88% probability of Trump losing and say “Wow, that’s almost a sure thing.” Conversely, would any of us get on an airplane if we were told that the probability of it crashing was 12%?

  20. BeccaM says:

    Apparently naked Trump statues have been appearing all over the country today.


    Besides showing a decidedly corpulent and flabby life-sized rendition of the man, they are also equipped with a very teeny peeny and no balls at all.

    The statues have been seen in Manhattan, LA, Seattle and elsewhere.

  21. Adam says:

    Two quibbles. 538.com is not a valid address. But if you’re referring to fivethirtyeight.com, they are not a pollster. They do provide a (meta-)analysis of polls and certainly appear quite knowledgeable of the industry.

  22. BeccaM says:

    Oh, and with respect to the proverbial ‘October surprise’? We had one in 2000, with the release of George W Bush’s drunk driving arrest records AND the leaking of his draft-avoiding National Guard records which did pretty clearly indicate at some point he just said “fuck it” with respect to his remaining term of enlistment and went AWOL.

    It did nothing for his numbers. In fact, the entire narrative was turned around and made about the alleged perfidy of the leakers. In the end, poll numbers weren’t budged at all.

    Even now, the Wikileaks/Assange/Russia connection hasn’t been able to get traction at all about the content of what they’re leaking. The narrative in the news has been “look at these foreigners and foreign governments trying to interfere with America’s election.” If anything, more people are now asking, “Why does Russia want Trump to be America’s next President, to the point of committing acts of cyber-war against us?”

  23. Jimmy says:

    I think there’s reason to be hopeful, but people who are saying this election is sewn up because of this or that piece of political history are getting ahead of themselves. Clinton has a lot of scandal associated with her — much of it lies, much of it overblown, but it’s there — and we have no idea what that snake Assange is going to toss out right before the election. My thought is we can be hopeful because right the political map is working in Clinton’s favor, but don’t stop being diligent or preparing for a knockdown, drag out fight in the next few weeks. There is still a lot of damage Trump and his new team can do to Clinton.

  24. BeccaM says:

    While the events themselves are all true, I have been becoming more confident Trump is not going to turn around the death-spiral he’s in. If anything, the statements and actions he’s been making which have caused him to hemorrhage support are accelerating.

    Take the hiring of Steve Bannon for example. Yes, the guy is the force behind Breitbart and it’s extreme far right radicalism. Other than rabble-rousing Trump’s already enthusiastic white supremacist supporters, what else does he bring to the table which isn’t negative? Nothing, really. In fact, it’s all negative. Bannon has zero experience running or even participating in political campaigns. He is the definition of the unreconstructed bigot of exactly the blatant over-the-top type which has been causing Trump to shed sane-conservative and moderate supporters for weeks now. He’s a promoter of manifestly insane conspiracy theories. Whereas someone like Lewandowski or Manafort would’ve told Trump to shut the hell up about the Gold Star parents, the Khans, Bannon would encourage Trump to go even further despite the millions of Americans being repulsed and alienated. Bannon is like the bully’s lieutenant and rather than saying, “Hey man, maybe you shouldn’t do that” will instead encourage and inflame Trump’s worst impulses. “No, man, you really should throw that brick and set the store on fire. It’ll be a hoot.”

    What I’m seeing now is a common trend when an egomaniac like Trump begins getting the sense he’s not as popular among people as he’d like to believe: He surrounds himself with Yes Men. Donald doesn’t want to be told it’s a bad idea to say certain things…so now he’s hiring exactly those from whom he got his crazier ideas in the first place. And those whose support for him never wavered. And those who will insist he’s never made a mistake, ever.

    When you’re screwing things up in the first place, it doesn’t help to get rid of all those who can help you fix your mistakes. Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be told to moderate his behavior or to change anything about himself. So he’s hiring sycophants and enablers and reality-deniers.

    There was an upside to Trump’s narcissistic personality disorder, a gift for self-promotion and ‘gilding the lily’ even when others said it was a mistake or, in the case of Trump U, a likely criminal act and unquestionably morally bankrupt. This is the downside, the inability to take correction or criticism even when it would be very much to his benefit in the longer run.

    Remember how frightened we all were about Paul Manafort? “He’s the guy who can make tyrants seem reasonable!” Yeah, well, Trump doesn’t want to seem reasonable, because ‘reasonable’ is boring and doesn’t generate the media and audience attention to which he’s become addicted. So Manafort is effectively gone. Plus, like I just said, Manafort no doubt regularly committed the sin of telling Donald to behave himself.

    In short, could Clinton still lose this race? Absolutely. There isn’t a single real-world scenario where her (or anybody else’s) chances of winning effectively reach 100%. However, nothing Trump is currently doing approaches an effective strategy for closing the gap. He refuses to moderate his behavior and statements. He refuses to hire competent campaign people. He still isn’t opening state offices. And he’s doing the opposite of what Humphrey did in ’68, which is to unite the party behind him. In fact, Trump is going out of his way to alienate them, almost as if he actually wants the party to cut him and his campaign loose, for the RNC to disavow and stop supporting him at all.

    At this point, the RNC’s general elections apparatus is Trump’s last safety net, and Trump is going after it with a Bowie knife.

  25. gratuitous says:

    When the Republicans lose in November, they will retreat to Fallback Castle, their redoubt of last resort, and claim that while Clinton blew the Trump campaign to smithereens, she lacks the requisite legitimacy to be president. This is the position Republicans used against Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, with mixed results, but they won enough news cycles to keep doing it.

    Unfortunately, the popular media need to feed their addiction to horse-race political narratives and the appearance of balance. They will make sure that lunatic pronouncements are given a full airing, time and again, no matter how ludicrous they are on their face. As Les Moonves of CBS observed earlier this year, the political media recognize exactly what they’re doing, but it garners ratings, and that’s all that matters: being able to sell advertising time and fatten their bottom line. It doesn’t matter one bit to the media outlets that such destructive and ruinous narratives damage the country; they’re getting paid.

  26. I know, I kind of wondered about him leaving the race too. It’s the kind of thing he’d do.

  27. heimaey says:

    If Trump’s campaign really implodes and he leaves the race, well that could be a big change and could throw things. I’d imagine HRC would have a harder time against almost anyone else – she has no real competition now. There are other factors to be taken into account of course like what kind of consequences would the nominee leaving after such a fiasco have? It may be too late for that to have an impact but this election cycle is unique.

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