October 10, 2016


The Second Debate Probably Didn't Help Trump, And He Needed Help (Nate Silver, 10/10/16, 538)

The second presidential debate on Sunday night was a strange one, with Donald Trump appearing to be on the brink of a meltdown in the first 20 to 30 minutes and then steadying himself the rest of the way. But here's the bottom line: Based on post-debate polls, Hillary Clinton probably ended the night in a better place than she started it. And almost without question, she ended the weekend -- counting the debate, the revelation on Friday of a 2005 tape in which Trump was recorded appearing to condone unwanted sexual contact against women, and the Republican reaction to the tape -- in an improved position.

At times during the past two weeks, but particularly on Saturday afternoon as prominent Republicans were denouncing or unendorsing Trump one after another, it has seemed like Trump's campaign is experiencing the political equivalent of a stock market crash. By that I mean: There's some bad news that triggers the crash, and there's also an element of panic and herd behavior, and it becomes hard to tell exactly which is which. At some point, the market usually finds its footing, as the stock has some fundamental value higher than zero. But it can be a long way down before it does.

At roughly the 20-minute mark of Sunday's debate -- about the point at which Trump said that he'd appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton and that she'd "be in jail" if someone like him had been president -- it seemed prudent to wonder whether Trump's campaign was over. I don't mean over in a literal sense (it would be almost impossible to replace Trump on the ballot). But over in the sense that we knew the outcome of the election for all intents and purposes, to a higher degree of confidence than FiveThirtyEight's statistical models -- which gave Clinton "only" about an 80 percent chance of winning heading into the debate -- alone implied. (The polls -- and therefore the models -- have not yet had time to capture any effect from the Trump tape revelations.) [...]

 A CNN poll of debate watchers found that even though most voters thought Trump exceeded expectations, 57 percent of them nevertheless declared Clinton the winner, compared with 34 percent for Trump. A YouGov poll of debate watchers showed a much closer outcome, but with Clinton also winning, 47 percent to 42 percent.

These instant-reaction polls actually do have a correlation with post-debate horse-race polls: The candidate who wins the former usually gains in the latter. Perhaps Clinton's win was modest enough that this will be an exception, especially given that the sentiments of pundits and television commentators (which sometimes matter as much as the debate itself) were all over the map.

Posted by at October 10, 2016 10:25 AM