So tonight is the final debate, and I’m already seeing hopeful Donald Trump supporters on social media praying (or in some cases predicting) that this will be the Big Finish where The Donald finally turns things around for the home stretch. Is it going to happen? Color me dubious. The first couple of debates clearly impacted the race a bit, but the rabbits have been pretty much pulled out of the hat at this point. Absent Hillary Clinton literally collapsing into a coma on stage or Trump ripping off his nearly lifelike rubber mask to reveal that he’s actually Ronald Reagan, risen from the grave like a character from the new Netflix series Glitch, it’s tough to see tonight’s battle resulting in a seismic shift.
Looking at more conventional indicators, this race is looking depressingly similar to the 2016 NFL season for most Jets fans. Sure… you never want to give up hope, but their dismal start doesn’t bode well at all. It’s a particularly sad analogy for many of us because Trump is the Jets and Hillary Clinton is the New England Patriots. It’s not that you really expected your team to win. You just really want the other guys to lose, even if it’s somebody else taking them out. But in the 2016 election scenario, the Broncos and the Panthers have been replaced by Gary Johnson and Jill Stein who probably couldn’t place first in a high school league.
So does this mean it’s over? According to Kathleen Parker at the Washington Post, not necessarily. She’s looking at some polling and other factors, all of which look dismal for Trump, but finds reason to believe that miracles still happen. (Though in this case, “miracle” is a very transitional term depending who you ask.)
Parker is reading The Upshot, a New York Times polling site which currently puts Clinton’s odds of winning at 92 percent. Math majors will quickly determine that this gives Trump an 8 percent probability. They describe the chance of Clinton losing as “about the same as the probability that an N.F.L. kicker misses a 31-yard field goal.” Parker finds it significant.
The Upshot is worth checking out, if only to feel statistically significant.
Or, perhaps to feel there’s no reason to vote. If the statisticians, prognosticators and risk-takers seem to have already figured it all out, why bother? Then again, models only work if people behave as they tend to and — crucially — if they tell the truth when polled, give or take a hedge here and there.
In a campaign season featuring daily tallies on which candidate is the biggest liar, why would everyday Americans feel any compunction about offering non-truths? More likely, voters may feel embarrassed by what they really believe.
So where is this remaining hope for a Trump victory? It’s a combination of two things which both sound like a swing for the fences approach in most political campaigns. One is the possibility that people are simply lying to pollsters or that their methodology doesn’t work in the Season of Trump or whichever other excuse you’d care to give. (The so called shy Trump vote.) It all boils down to a belief that the polls are wrong and Trump is actually at least tied, if not ahead. I don’t want to be too much of a wet blanket here, but that sounds suspiciously like the calls saying that the polls are skewed in 2012. How did that work out for you? This isn’t to say that polling can’t be experiencing a significant glitch in a year where Trump is breaking everything else in the standard china cabinet of politics, but that’s a major leap of faith to rest your hopes upon.
But intentionally or not, Parker briefly touches on another question which may prove to be a larger factor. Is there a significant current of depressed feelings out there which is causing people to ask, why should I bother voting?
There’s the question which still leaves the outcome of this election in doubt. How enthusiastic are people – particularly Democrats – feeling? Yes, Clinton holds a lead in the polls, but her own base isn’t exactly excited about her. And the endless stories of scandals, lies and policy positions which shift with the blowing of the wind can’t have her supporters champing at the bit. The disaffected Bernie supporters probably aren’t terribly enthusiastic either. I’m sure most of them would like to prevent Trump from taking the White House, but is that enough to get you up out of bed on November 8th and head to the polls? If the answer is no we might be in for a low turnout election, and when that happens all bets are off. Republicans do better in midterm and odd year elections precisely because voter turnout is low and the more conservative elements of the electorate show up more reliably every year. Would that be enough for Trump to slide over the finish line?
According to the experts, Clinton has the same chance of losing as the probability of an NFL kicker missing a 31-yard field goal. Let’s keep one thing in mind as you read my musings here: you’re talking to a Jets fan. Somebody misses that kick every week.