Hillary Clinton probably spoke for a lot of Americans with a joke she told at Thursday night’s Al Smith dinner, an annual charity fundraiser in New York.
In less than three weeks, she said, the country will get the news it’s been wanting to hear: “This election will be over very, very soon.”
By most accounts — polls, the behavior of elected officials in both parties, reporting from key states — the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Is it, really?
Good afternoon, I’m David Lauter, Washington bureau chief. Welcome to the Friday edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, in which we look at the events of the week in the presidential campaign and highlight some particularly insightful stories.
COULD THIS BE ‘BREXIT’ REDUX?
For years, the surest sign that a candidate was losing has been the ghost of Harry Truman popping up in campaign-rally speeches. To keep up the spirits of their supporters — and perhaps themselves — underdogs love to trot out a reminder of the 33rd president, standing with a triumphant grin on his face, holding up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune with its infamous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline.
“Brexit” is the new Truman.
“I don’t believe the polls any more,” Donald Trump proclaimed to the crowd at a rally earlier this week in Colorado Springs. “Believe me folks, we’re doing great,” he said. “This is another Brexit.”
Could he be right?
Upsets do happen. Sometimes longshots do win. But the analogy to Brexit has two big flaws: It misrepresents what happened in Britain and misreads what’s taking place in the U.S.
Brexit — the British referendum on whether to exit the European Union — passed in June, 52%-48%. The result caught many in Britain by surprise, including financial-market traders who had bet heavily on Britain staying in the EU after two late polls showed the “Remain” side winning.
Since then, a narrative has taken hold that the polls were wrong. They weren’t, at least not in any big, consistent way. About half the polls in the final month showed the “Leave” side winning. The polling average on election eve showed a near tie, and the trend line showed Leave steadily gaining ground.
The real lesson of Brexit is not that the polls were wrong, it’s that opinion leaders and market traders refused to believe the surveys that showed their preferred side losing and bet on the ones that told them what they wanted to hear.
So, what about the current U.S. polls? There are some, most notably our USC/Los Angeles Times “Daybreak” tracking poll, that show Trump and Clinton in a near tie.
As I wrote at the end of August, the Daybreak poll, because of the way it’s designed, “presents something of a best-case scenario for Trump — one in which he succeeds in getting large numbers of previous nonvoters to cast ballots for him.” When your best case is a near tie (a lead of 0.7 percentage points as of Friday morning), that’s not much to go on.
And, of course, the Daybreak poll is very much an outlier among surveys. Here are some frequently asked questions about the poll and why it differs from other surveys.
Being an outlier doesn’t mean a poll is wrong, but in the vast majority of cases, the average of polls provides the most accurate forecast. On average, polls currently show Clinton leading by about seven points.
It’s also notable that the poll shows a large majority of respondents believing that Clinton will win. That question about voter expectations is often more reliable than the standard one about which candidate people plan to support. The group that believes Clinton will win includes a lot of Trump supporters who have begun to predict their candidate will lose.
Taking the long view, a seven-point Clinton lead has been the norm in this race since Trump secured the GOP nomination. The exceptions were two stretches — the period immediately before and after the GOP convention and the week in mid-September that was dominated by stories about Clinton’s health.
Since scientific polling of U.S. elections began, there’s no example of a presidential candidate coming back in the final weeks from the sort of deficit Trump now faces. Could it happen? Sure. But, if it does, as Truman said, it will be “one for the books.”
DON’T FORGET THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
As our interactive electoral map shows, Clinton currently leads in more than enough states to secure the White House. She could end up getting more than 350 electoral votes, based on current polls. We’ve updated the map to reflect the latest information on where the states stand.
Now you get to play political strategist and try out as many scenarios as you like.
THE BATTLE FOR CONGRESS
With the presidential race seemingly increasingly out of reach, Republicans are shifting resources to try to hold onto control of Congress. The party’s hold on the Senate is particularly endangered.
In Nevada, Lisa Mascaro took a look at one key race, in which Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is making a last stand before he retires, doing all he can do ensure that the successor he picked, Catherine Cortez Masto, wins the election.
Mark Barabak looked at a neighboring state, Arizona, a traditionally Republican place that is now a toss-up in the presidential race, although not in its Senate contest, where John McCain seems to be holding on for reelection.
The rising number of Latino voters is one reason why Trump polls badly in Arizona. But Barabak looked at another, less examined, key to the state: Trump’s weakness among Mormon voters. Aversion to Trump among Mormons also may cost him a defeat in Utah, as well, and could tip the balance in Nevada.
Here’s an overview of where the race for control of the Senate stands.
STORIES NOT TO MISS
This was the week of the final debate, of course. Here’s how we scored it, round by round. The 90 minutes were dominated by a single sentence from Trump in which he pointedly said he would not pledge in advance to accept the results of the election. As Cathy Decker wrote in her analysis, that one line totally overshadowed what was otherwise Trump’s best debate performance.
Beneath such theatrics lie some powerful demographic realities that are shaping U.S. politics. Those were on clear display this week, particularly in dueling rallies by Trump and First Lady Michelle Obama, as Decker explained.
From New York, Barbara Demick reported on the travails of affluent Manhattan residents who have discovered that this year, living in Trump Tower comes with a side of controversy.
Matt Pearce took a deep look at Trump’s history of real estate deals in Southern California. He frequently has tried to close a big deal in the L.A. area, but has never quite managed to do so.
Trump has been warning his supporters constantly to be on the lookout for signs of election rigging. As Noah Bierman and Mike Memoli reported, the problems he warns about mostly have election officials rolling their eyes.
But as David Savage reported, the election system still has lots of flaws. Pennsylvania is one state where a truly close election could be problematic because the state’s 1980s-era voting machines don’t provide a paper trail that could be verified in case of a dispute.
Finally, while Clinton is winning the race, one area in which she has consistently lagged is in building a network of small donors. Chris Megerian and Mike Memoli reported on how her finances have developed and her continuing reliance on big contributors.
QUESTIONS ABOUT TRUMP, CLINTON? WE’VE GOT ANSWERS
Where they stand on issues, what they’ve done in their lives, their successes, their failures, what their presidencies might look like: We’ve been writing about Clinton and Trump for years, and we’ve pulled the best of that content together to make finding what you want to know easier. So check out All Things Trump and All Things Clinton.
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That wraps up this week. My colleague Christina Bellantoni will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in the 2016 campaign with our Trail Guide, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.
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