When Gerald Ford was sworn into office after President Nixon’s resignation, he said, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” My guess is that a lot of people are looking forward to Election Day with the same feeling.
Hillary Clinton remains a solid favorite to win the presidency. The only question is whether she will win 272 electoral votes, just two over the minimum needed, or closer to 300 or 310. The difference would likely turn on Florida and North Carolina. If she loses both, she’ll just skate by. If she wins both, her total would clear the 300 mark. Not that national polling matters much right now, other than as an easy means to keep score, but pollsters in both parties think her lead over Donald Trump is between 2 and 5 points. The former cuts things a bit close; the latter would provide a very solid win given the clear divisions in the country today.
Democrats are still likely to come out on top in the Senate, but probably not with the kind of margin they would have had before the Clinton email mess resurfaced. Ten days or so ago, Trump was cratering. As a result, the enthusiasm of Republican voters had begun to flag and fewer were making it through the poll screens for “likely voters,” causing Democratic margins to increase. There has clearly been a shift since then. Perhaps it was simply a matter of Republicans coming home. Or maybe it was because FBI Director James Comey’s announcement last week was ice water that cooled the ardor of Democrats, not to mention independents who were starting to edge toward Democrats. Since then, GOP voters have reengaged and independents have begun easing back toward Republican candidates.
As a consequence, we are now more likely to see a Democratic net gain in the Senate of between four and six seats, not the five to seven seats of about a week ago. The best targets for Democrats remain Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. It is still quite possible that Johnson or Toomey could pull off an upset, but it is much harder to see that happening for Kirk. The next best opportunities for Democrats seem to be the races against Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and for the open GOP seat in Indiana, both of which are really close with maybe a slight edge for Republicans. Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri are still embroiled in very difficult races. Things may have edged very slightly in their favor, but the races could go either way. Sen. Marco Rubio is not going to win Florida by a landslide, but the odds of him winning are still very high. In the lone vulnerable Democratic seat, the momentum seems to have shifted away from GOP Rep. Joe Heck and toward Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto.
In the House, the over and under is about 15 seats. The odds of Democrats winning more than 15 are about the same as them winning fewer than that. In any event, the 30 seats needed to take control were out of reach even when Trump was tanking.
We have seen hundreds of polls come out in recent weeks, some of high quality, most of dubious accuracy. While I still suggest that aficionados focus more on the poll averages than on specific soundings, anyone determined to be guided by a single poll should stick to ones conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post, CBS News and The New York Times, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Fox News. As a general rule, surveys based on live telephone interviews should be given more credence than ones using online questions or robo-polls. Stand-alone polls are more steady and reliable than nightly tracking polls, which tend to be pretty erratic.
For example, the ABC/Washington Post poll is very reliable, but I would put more weight on a full-blown ABC/Post reading than on its nightly tracking poll, which showed a highly unlikely shift of 13 points in a little more than a week, from Clinton up by 12 points to behind by 1 (as of Thursday morning she was back up 2 points). The stand-alone CBS/NYT poll had it at 3, square in the range of where most private pollsters suspect the race to be.
My advice is for folks to ease off the caffeine, maybe watch less television news, take in a movie, play a round of golf, or do whatever lowers their blood pressure and preserves their sanity. This country has survived a lot, and it will still stand tall whatever happens on Tuesday.