As the final presidential debate looms like a Halloween piñata full of October surprises, voters may be less committed to one or the other candidate than the numbers suggest.
And this, my fellow sufferers, could bode better for Donald Trump.
Lest you suddenly seek the highest perch from which to hurl yourself, this is strictly my personal unscientific prediction, based on instinct, experience and conversations with hundreds of voters across the country. This isn’t to say Trump will win, but it might give pause to those insisting the election is rigged.
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By most accounts, the election is all but over. Poll after poll shows Hillary Clinton winning. The Upshot, a New York Times polling site, puts Clinton’s chance of winning at 92 percent, leaving Trump at just 8 percent. At this stage, according to the site, the chance of Clinton losing is “about the same as the probability that an NFL kicker misses a 31-yard field goal.”
The Upshot’s figures are reached through a complex melding of ratings from many polling groups and provides side-by-side comparisons of other forecasts that use different methodologies. Among them, for example, FiveThirtyEight uses statistical models; the Cook Report relies on expert opinion and reporting; and PredictWise uses data from betting markets. 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.
For the record, Trump wins at liar’s dice – by a long shot, according to PolitiFact. At last count, Clinton has told the truth 24 percent of the time, compared with Trump at 4 percent. Clinton’s statements have been “mostly true” 27 percent of the time compared with Trump’s 11 percent. In the “pants-on-fire” category, meaning not just false but a bald-faced lie, Clinton scores 2 percent to Trump’s 17 percent. At least he’s winning at something.
None of the above means anything to Trump’s true believers, who, apparently, can’t be lied to often enough. Similarly, Clinton fans can perfume any scent of corruption, including recent revelations about questionable relationships among the State Department, the FBI, Clinton charities and the candidate’s war chest.
Just days before a debate that has people buying Purell by the gallon, The Washington Post learned that a top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton’s emails. Although Clinton had left State by the time this happened, there can be little question that this was attempted to benefit the former secretary.
At the same time, USA Today revealed Tuesday that at least a dozen companies that lobbied the Clinton State Department also gave up to $16 million to Clinton charities. At least four of the lobbyists employed by these companies have also raised at least $100,000 each for Clinton’s White House bid.
The latter apparently is legal, while the former is still being investigated. But like Trump’s legal, if often shady, dealings, some of Clinton’s associations and loyalist interventions carry an odoriferous whiff. These sorts of high-level maneuverings are, besides, the provenance only of the wealthy and powerful – and would at any other time in modern history leave most Americans cold.
For now, “most” may be merely “many,” but these voters, assuming they vote, could create havoc in the corridors of commentary. They are people who deeply dislike both candidates equally, which is not the same as being an “undecided.” Undecideds are still waiting for some magical spark that will guide them to the Truth. “Dislikers” have formed their opinions but, given their obviously good character, could suffer a rush of conscience at the last moment, thinking: To not vote is to cede power to the extremists.
The Dislikers and the Undecideds together form the Unknowables – this election’s monstrous, unquantifiable X factor. Most of them, I predict, will fall for Trump – not because he’s the better candidate but because more than two-thirds of Americans think the country is galloping in the wrong direction, the usual remedy for which is to switch horses.
In other words, it’s a pretty good guess – and even NFL great Adam Vinatieri has missed a 31-yard field goal.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.