The Growing Gap in the Numbers

Wendy Dong, Sean MacDonald, and Ian Stewart

On October 7, FiveThirtyEight came out with an election update article titled “AreTrump’s Polls Getting Worse?” which discussed Trump’s decreasing and Clinton’s increasingnumbers in the polls. In FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only model, Clinton’s chances were 55% beforethe first debate and 72% after, as of October 3rd. Likewise, the polls-plus model shows Clinton’schances increasing from 55% to 68% after the debate as of October 3rd, and 76% as ofOctober 7th. Needless to say, there is no denying that the first debate moved voters in Clinton’s favor.


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Around two weeks later on October 21, FiveThirtyEight came out with another discussingthe “4 Ways This Election Can End”, three of which involve Clinton winning. Based onFiveThirtyEight’s polls-only model, Clinton currently has a 6.6% lead in the popular vote and a87% probability of winning the Electoral College. In the polls-plus model, numbers went up to84% for Clinton. According to the article, this leaves four possibilities for the outcome of theelection:

1. Trump wins, which includes cases in which he loses the popular vote and winsthe Electoral College
2. Clinton wins, but by a narrow margin in which she wins the Electoral College, buteither loses or only wins the popular vote by 3% points or less
3. Clinton wins the popular vote by 4-6% points (same margins Obama won with in2008 and 2012) and is therefore certain to win the Electoral College
4. A large Clinton victory in which she wins the popular vote by 8% points or moreand is therefore almost guaranteed to win the Electoral College.
An ABC article noted the trend that the candidates are creating some separation andsought to provide some explanations. They claim that the polls are “boosted by broaddisapproval of Donald Trumpon two controversial issues: His treatment of women and hisreluctance to endorse the election’s legitimacy,” Likely voters in a 69-24 vote, disapprovedTrump’s response to questions about his inappropriate behavior regarding women. 63% ofAmericans, including ⅓ of Republicans, believe that Donald Trump has committed sexualassault in the past. The conservatives who were believed that he committed sexual assault, butwere still going to vote for him used a common response. They claimed that they are not asconcerned with what Trump did in the past, but they are thinking more about what he will do aspresident. Along with this, 59% of likely voters think Trump needs to stop calling the election“rigged,” and 65% of likely voters believe that he needs to accept a Clinton victory as legitimate.Some of the recent specific issues surrounding Trump include:
● Trump claimed that he will sue every sexual assault accuser after the election is over.He said this as part of his plan for his first 100 days in office.
● Evan McMullin, who has strong support in Utah, criticized the Republican Party for tryingto force their party ideology on the country when he believes that the interest of thecountry lie elsewhere.
● Donald Trump continues to claim that the Democratic Party is placing people in Trumprallies with the goal of inciting violence.It sounds like people have had enough of Trump claiming that everything is against himand they just want him to focus on the issues our country is facing. If he can switch his focus,maybe he can start to close the gap again.
But is there a possibility this current prediction could change before election day? Recenthistorical precedent suggests no. Vox suggested in an article in Augustthat polls can beconsidered pretty accurate as early as August a few weeks after the conventions (the photobelow is from Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezienshowing a jump in confidence frombefore to after the convention). In the past 16 elections, the candidate ahead during that Augustperiod has won the popular vote. In August Clinton had the lead, and though polls have shownsome close numbers between then and now, Trump has never held a solid lead over her in thepolls, and her current lead suggests it will be difficult for Trump to come back by election day.
At this time in 2008, Obama had a similar large lead over McCain and not much changedto make the race closer in the last couple weeks. According to the Washington Post, at thispoint only 6.8 percent of voters are undecided, meaning there is only a small margin for thesenumbers to change. Many have already voted, and CNN reportedearly voting shows promisingsigns for Clinton. All of these factors shows that not much is going to change to give Trump asudden boost (unless there is some large national or international event that changes this). Hestands a small chance, and the fivethirtyeight four scenarios should hold steady in these lasttwo weeks with not much change in the polls between now and election day.
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