With campaign winding down, Clinton leads polls

More than 5 million people have already cast ballots in the presidential race through early voting in 34 states and recent polls show HIllary Clinton in the lead. For more election analysis, NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan.

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    For more analysis of the presidential race, I'm joined now by "NewsHour Weekend" special correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who joins us from Santa Barbara, California. So, Jeff, given the topsy-turvy nature of this campaign cycle and really that the news seems to be what happens off the trail not necessarily what they're doing as they campaign, are there still factors that could impact the election in the next couple of weeks?


    There are times when we've seen late-breaking events change the outcome. I think the one Reagan-Carter debate in 1980, which happened just a week before the election, helped turn that into a landslide. The campaign of George W. Bush has always argued that they lost the popular vote because of a late-breaking story about Bush's youthful drunk driving arrests that cost him, they think, a few million evangelicals.

    But, by and large, this is the period — debates are over — when the race stabilizes, which is why a five-point lead with one week to go means much more than a five-point lead with a month to go. So, the hope of the Trump campaign is that there are these people who have not told the pollsters they are going to vote for Trump. They point to the Brexit results. The problem with that is that the Brexit polls were actually very, very close.

    So, while it's possible, it's also possible that, you know, women who were on the fence may have been pushed to vote for Clinton by Trump's various comments. But by and large, you wouldn't want to bet the farm or even the chicken coop on a sudden late shift this late in the campaign.


    Is there a possibility for over-confidence on the Clinton side? I mean, they say that "we're not taking anything for granted," but given where the majority of the polls are leaning, where the probability prediction markets and so forth, and given that really the only poll that matters is the one that happens on November 8?


    Well, you know, I've never understood who is supposed to stay home if the polls show a clear lead for one candidate. Is that that candidate's supporters who think, "Well, why bother, we've won" or is it the trailing candidate supporters who think it's lost, why bother"?

    I think you also have to account for the fact that the ground game that we saw in the Obama campaigns and that is very much in evidence in the Clinton campaign, may counter that. That is, now that they believe that they have a clear lead, the Clinton campaign is going all out to pull out their voters for the down-ballot races — we're going to talk about that in a piece that will be on the air tomorrow. But it's very significant because the Clinton campaign knows that without the Senate in the Democratic hands, her role if she is elected president will be infinitely tougher.

    So, I don't think over-confidence is going to play much of a role on November 8.


    Without giving too much away about your piece tomorrow, how big is that coattail effect? How significant is that?


    I can give you a definitive answer — but sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. When Lyndon Johnson won a landslide in 1964, he brought tons of Democrats in on down ballots. Regan did the same thing in 1980. He helped control — get the GOP control of the Senate with 12 seats, won 33 seats in the House. But when Nixon won a historic landslide in '72, it had no impact. And my guess or theory if I want to fancy it up, is when an election is ideological it can have serious coattail effects because voters are saying we want a change in direction.

    I believe that if Clinton wins it is largely a repudiation of Trump, rather than some commitment to her agenda. But as I said, the other thing that we know — and we'll talk about this tomorrow — is people split their tickets less. So, a huge win for Clinton is likely it to have a significant impact, particularly in that Senate race and maybe even in the House as well.


    Is there going to be an event, at least up to this point, that helped define the race? I mean, whether it's debate performances or it's the leaked video of Donald Trump's comments or the paper cut after paper cut of WikiLeaks e-mails being released week after week?


    The general theory among academics is that campaign events don't have a kind of hugely consequential event. This year looks like it may challenge that conventional wisdom because the first debate really seems to have been the turning point. Trump had closed to within a point or two in virtually every poll, and once that first debate ended, Clinton's lead began to grow, and it has still grown and now stabilized up to this point.

    Remember, the fundamentals, the economic data and stuff, predicted a close race. So, this may be a case where an event actually had an impact.

  • One quick footnote:

    the economic fundamentals, Barack Obama's approval ratings have all moved in a direction in the last month or two that helps the Democrats. But I still think we're going to look back at that first debate as a critical factor.


    Jeff Greenfield, many thanks.