It is now one week before American voters head to the polls to elect their next president and the one thing that is clear is that both candidates are despised by 60% of the public according to numerous surveys. The choice on November 8, as the Wall Street Journal put it aptly, is between “a crook and a clown.” That two badly flawed candidates would make it to the finish line in the oldest democracy is proof that something has gone wrong in the American electoral system. It is to be hoped that the country’s political elites will realize this and reform it. If not, America is in for tough times. In the meantime, the elections will take place as scheduled and one of the two less than stellar candidates will become the next president of the United States and the most powerful person on earth. Which one is it going to be?
Conventional wisdom believes and has for some time now that Hillary Clinton is unbeatable. This has been especially the case since October 7 when an 11 year old videotape was disclosed in which Donald Trump said some pretty disgusting things about women. This led to top republican officials asking him to step down and gave Hillary’s campaign a shot in the arm. The republican speaker of the house, Paul Ryan, in fact said that he would not campaign for Trump, a rare and very unusual public rebuke. Clinton had been leading in the polls by a significant margin anyway and also enjoys a strong advantage in the electoral college. Nonetheless, the polls had been tightening for the past ten days with evidence emerging that republican and independent voters are returning to Trump after the shock of the sexually explicit tape wore off.
Then last Friday a bombshell announcement by FBI boss, James Comey, put the race into uncharted territory. Comey wrote to congressional leaders that the FBI is reopening the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal which was closed last July with the decision not to prosecute her. The ostensible reason was the discovery of thousands, perhaps as many as several hundred thousand, of relevant e-mails on the computer of Anthony Weiner, husband of Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin, who is being investigated for sexual transgressions against an underage girl. Unofficially, Comey is said to have been disturbed by a large number of letters of resignation by FBI officials unhappy that Clinton was not prosecuted even though she clearly broke the law.
What this means is that Hillary Clinton is now officially under criminal investigation for having broken the law one week before the elections. It has also become known that the Obama Administration in the person of Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, had tried to dissuade Comey from reopening the investigation. What is interesting here is why Lynch, who is constitutionally Comey’s boss, did not simply order him not to do that. The explanation is that doing so would have probably caused a scandal larger than the one we have and implicated the administration in manipulating the elections.
What the full impact of this bombshell on the race will be is not yet known, but it is already clear that it will be significant and it is helping Trump. Both of the widely respected tracking polls, ABC/Washington Post and Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP had the presidential race essentially even (Clinton 46:Trump 45) on Sunday morning from a four points Clinton advantage in the realclearpolitics.com average before the Comey announcement last Friday.
Several other aspects of the ABC/WashPost tracking poll are also of interest and need mentioning. While 63% of Clinton supporters said that the investigation will make no difference in their choice, 1/3 of the voters and 7% of Clinton voters said that they are less likely to vote for her.
Further, information in the tracking polls makes clear that there has been significant movement toward Trump over the weekend. Thus, 66% of republicans now say that they disapprove of Ryan’s decision not to campaign for Trump and his support among whites has increased to +15%, while Hillary’s support among non-whites at 68% is still below that of Obama in 2012 (80%). Trump now also leads among catholics by a solid margin of 57% to 36%.
Political commentators that still expect Clinton to win point out to her strong advantage in the electoral college as well as the results of early voting where she appears to be doing very well. Most observers, however, expect the results to be much closer than it looked like only a week ago and the possibility of a surprise Trump victory is no longer dismissed out of hand.
What many professional poll watchers are now focusing on is the possible effect of the Comey surprise on down ballot races. If the observable increase of support for Trump is also reflected in races for the House and the Senate, it makes the possibility of the GOP holding both houses of Congress very likely. This, of course, almost guarantees that a victory by Hillary Clinton, a president under criminal investigation, would be the beginning of another political war in Washington.
By Alex Alexiev