Relax, America: We’ll Survive the Election

It’s been a bruising stretch, but Clinton still looks like the winner, and the Senate is still up in the air.

Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally at Pitt Community College in Winterville, N.C., on Thursday.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Nov. 3, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

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.

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