A notable bit of data by Gallup. The last thing Hillary Clinton wants voters thinking about as they go into the booth is, um, Hillary Clinton.
Average American now more likely to recall hearing about Clinton than Trump. One of few times Trump hasn't edged Clinton on this measure. pic.twitter.com/1bcZcJDQIb
— Frank Newport (@Frank_Newport) November 1, 2016
There are four periods in that graph where Clinton surged past Trump this year in terms of notoriety. One is early July, after Comey’s initial press conference about her emails. One is late July, when the Democrats held their convention. One is mid-September. And the other is now, a few days after Comey announced the email investigation had been reopened. Here’s the RCP average in the four-way race over the same period. How do they track?
She was north of 42 percent in June — then dipped below that mark after Comey’s presser in July, with no recovery until the convention. Her polling rose after the convention but dipped again in mid-September, until she and Trump were nearly even nationally. And now, as Clinton dominates the news again, Trump is steadily on his way up in the national average. Three of the four periods this year when she, rather than he, has dominated the news have been associated with polling downturns for her. The one exception was the convention, when the nominee invariably gets lots of flattering press. In one sense, this is perfectly straightforward: The Trump carnival has owned election coverage all year, so much so that it takes major bad news for Clinton to intrude. Naturally a candidate’s polling will drop in response to bad news.
Strategically, though, it cuts to the heart of Clinton’s months-long strategy and threatens to upend it at the last minute. She and her campaign know how disliked she is; to mitigate that, their plan all along has been to make the election a referendum on Trump. And Trump foolishly has complied, handing the media one shiny object after another to be outraged about — until recently. It hasn’t been noted much but he’s had one of his quieter periods on the trail lately. He’s not, shall we say, in “elder statesman” mode but he also hasn’t been his most cartoonish self. And suddenly Comey’s deus ex machina has turned the public’s attention to Clinton and her flaws, making the election a referendum (for the moment) on Hillary. That’s how she really could lose. She needs some oppo against Trump to get him back on the front page or she needs another major unforced error by him to make voters ask themselves, once again, “We’re not really gonna elect this guy, are we?” Neither has happened in the 72 hours since Comey’s announcement on Friday. I’m kind of surprised!
That’s the charitable explanation for why Trump has dominated the media’s coverage. The less charitable one is that he’s on the front page nine times out of 10 because the press is in the tank for Clinton and they want to make the election a referendum on him too. If you read Ed’s post earlier, you already know how most of the public feels about that. Only seriously splashy bad developments for Hillary can break through the Trump noise machine and get the press to focus their attention on her — but darned if the FBI didn’t come up with some. That said, the most interesting article on polling I’ve read today is this one by YouGov arguing that there’s an innocent explanation for most swings we’ve seen in Clinton’s and Trump’s numbers this year. When bad news drops for one of them, a small but meaningful percentage of their fans simply stops responding to polls. Why would a Trump fan want to answer a survey about the “Access Hollywood” tape or a Clinton fan want to answer a survey about Comey’s announcement? It’s too depressing. The deeper point, per YouGov, is that real votes aren’t changing because of this. It’s merely the polls that are changing as one side or the other becomes less amenable to being sampled. If that’s true, then Clinton’s supposed wide polling lead over Trump all last month was mostly just a mirage as dejected Trumpers began ignoring polls after the tape dropped. But by the same token, some of Trump’s surge now may also be a mirage as dejected Clintonites begin ignoring polls post-Comey. YouGov thinks the race has been steady most of the past month with Clinton up three to five points, with major polling swings little more than statistical noise. We’ll have an idea in seven days of how right they were.