Why Clinton Can’t Pull Away From An Opponent As Awful As Donald Trump

clinton-trump-nytimes-cbs

Donald Trump has said one idiotic thing after another. He has been found to have bribed an attorney general to avoid prosecution for his scam university, among other scams he has been involved in. He clearly has no understanding of the issues. Yet he is now now in a virtual tie with Hillary Clinton, with many Democrats struggling to understand why. Will Democrats ever figure out that the nomination of someone as unfit to be president as Hillary Clinton was one of the biggest political blunders in history (ranking with the Republicans’ blunder in nominating Trump)?

Many Democrats have resorted to responses which do not help matters. They deny that she is corrupt and dishonest, despite overwhelming evidence that she is, and ignore the seriousness of her scandals. This only turns independents more against partisan Democrats who make such claims.

Clinton doesn’t help herself when she repeats the same lies over and over, even when the fact checkers repeatedly call her out on it. She didn’t help matters when she answered Anderson Cooper in a dishonest manner this week, claiming to have been transparent about her health and her email,  when he pressed her on her lack of transparency. pointed out:

…almost everything that Clinton has disclosed in this campaign has come under duress. The reason we have thousands of her emails is because she was forced by the State Department to turn them over. The reason we know about her pneumonia is because of her stumbling incident on Sunday in New York City. Forced transparency isn’t all that honorable

The most common argument from Clinton and her supporters is to argue how terrible Donald Trump is. While they are right, that does not help Clinton when they cannot provide positive arguments to support her. Many agree about Trump, but do not think Clinton is any better.

At least one Clinton supporter,

…her 4256 favorable/unfavorable split in national polling is truly, freakishly bad. Political junkies have probably heard the factoid that Clinton is the least-popular major party nominee of all time — except for Donald Trump. But conventional dialogue still underrates exactly how weird this situation is. John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Bob Dole were all viewed favorably by a majority of Americans on the eve of presidential elections that they lost, and Mitt Romney was extremely close.

It is totally unheard of to win a presidential election while having deeply underwater favorable ratings, and it is actually quite common to lose one despite above water favorable ratings.

Since there are only two major party nominees in the race and they are both far underwater right now, it’s pretty likely that precedent will be shattered. But we are in a bit of an undiscovered country in terms of the underlying opinion dynamics.

RealClearPolitics’ four-way polling average shows Gary Johnson at 9.2 percent and Jill Stein at 2.7 percent.

If those numbers hold up (which of course they might not), they would make Johnson the strongest third-party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992. That’s a big deal. Stein’s strength is, however, even more unusual. She is polling ahead of where Ralph Nader did in 2000 and is the strongest fourth-party candidate we’ve seen in a 100 years, besting both the Thurmond and Wallace tickets from the infamously four-sided election of 1948.

To find a fourth-place candidate polling higher than Stein’s current results, you need to dial all the way back to the 6 percent of the vote Eugene Debs earned in the bizarre 1912 election that saw the GOP nominee (the incumbent, no less!) finish in third place behind a third-party bid spearheaded by ex-president Teddy Roosevelt.

These two unusual quirks of the 2016 race seem to be linked.

Lambasting Trump while being unpopular herself would be a clear winning strategy in a zero-sum head-to-head race. But in a four-sided race, where the two lesser candidates aren’t receiving much scrutiny from the press or the campaigns, it tends to have the side consequence of pressing a lot of people to Johnson or Stein. The fact that there are two different third-party candidates in the race — one for people who think Clinton’s too left and one for people who think she’s not left enough — makes it really difficult to avoid bleeding voters…

It’s simply going to be very hard for Clinton to open up the kind of stable lead that her supporters think Trump’s awfulness deserves while she herself is so little-liked. September of a general election year is probably not a great time to turn that around.

But the fact remains that her basic problem in this race is almost painfully simple. Over the course of her winning primary campaign she became a deeply unpopular figure. And it’s hard — indeed, unprecedented — for such an unpopular person to win the presidency.

Both major parties have nominated candidates who are unfit to be president. There is little motivation for many voters to choose the lesser evil, as opposed to voting for a minor party candidate, when even the lesser evil is so evil this year. If the major party candidates were not both so awful, Johnson and Stein would be polling as low as minor party candidates usually do.

For Clinton, it is not only her lies. It is also her record, as Common Dreams recently discussed. In past elections, the Democratic Party received the support of many independents, as well as those on the left, due to the serious problems under George Bush. Instead of nominating a reform candidate such as Bernie Sanders (who consistently polled much better against Donald Trump), they went for the candidate most likely to institutionalize the horrors of the Bush administration. We need to end the state of perpetual warfare we have been in since 9/11. While Clinton admits that her vote for the Iraq war was a mistake (like her support for mass incarceration, various trade deals, and anti-gay legislation were mistakes), as described, support for interventionism was actually part of a pattern for her:

For years, Clinton has blamed Bush for misleading her into voting for the resolution. But an examination by The Washington Post found that her decision was based as much on advice from her husband’s advisers as from Bush administration officials. There were also significant gaps in her fact-gathering, most notably her apparent failure to read a classified analysis that other senators cited in voting against the resolution…

She continued that path when she advocated intervention in Libya as secretary of state…

Besides Clinton pushing for interventionism in Libya, Clinton repeated the same mistakes in Syria, advocating war based on logic as flawed as anything we have heard from Donald Trump. Her views on Russia place us at risk of an even more dangerous situation.

Kranish stressed how Clinton failed to read classified intelligence reports which were available, leading others to oppose the war. Unlike some Democrats who did initially vote for the war, Clinton also continued to support the war:

A year after the vote, Clinton defended it on CNN, citing “grave threats to the United States.”

As The Intercept pointed out, Hillary Clinton’s National Security Advisers Are a “Who’s Who” of the Warfare State. The Iraq vote was not a fluke. It is what we can expect if Clinton is elected.

Clinton desires to replicate the horrors of the Bush years in other ways. Besides perpetuating the warfare state, Clinton desires to expand the surveillance state and has a terrible record on civil liberties with views (minus the Islamophobia) which are comparable to Trump’s. As occurred under Bush, Clinton also has a long history of supporting an increased role for religion in public policy. The reality is that, no matter how much the point out Donald Trump’s flaws, Hillary Clinton already has a record of doing much of what Trump is accused of.

The Democratic Party establishment made a horrible mistake in acting to ensure that Hillary Clinton would win the nomination. While Clinton still has the edge, they might have to face the consequences of their actions if it leads to defeat and the election of Donald Trump as president.

Democratic Party Rules Should Clinton Leave The Race

David Shuster Tweets about Hillary Clinton following her collapse.

Hillary Clinton’s health scare yesterday has led to talk, probably premature, about what would happen if  a candidate was forced to leave the presidential race. It is quite likely that Clinton really does have pneumonia, and that she will soon recover. The manner in which the story was handled has led to continued speculation, such as by David Shuster on Twitter and  Cokie Roberts on Morning Edition, that the Democrats might be looking for a replacement candidate. Former DNC Chair Dan Fowler has also called for a contingency plan. While unlikely to happen, it is an intriguing question, and with the ages of both nominees it is not inconceivable that a candidate could be forced to leave the race. Politico did provide some information as to what would occur, with Fowler suggesting a more detailed process:

If Clinton could not physically continue her candidacy, she would have to voluntarily cede her nomination, creating a vacancy at the top of the national ticket. If she did, party procedures give the chair of the DNC authority to call a “special meeting” to vote on a replacement nominee. In this case, because chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in July, her successor, Brazile, has that authority.

“The locus of activity for all of those political questions would then move to the 447 members of the Democratic National Committee,” said Elaine Kamarck, a two-decade veteran of the DNC Rules Committee. “And it’s wide open, and all of the political concern would work out in the context of discussions among the members of the DNC.”

Fowler argued that the party would be wise to immediately set up an even more detailed process for those who might seek to be Clinton’s successor — from a signature-gathering requirement to a process for receiving nominations during the DNC meeting. All of which, he said, would help ensure confidence in the process and lead toward a broad coalescing around a successor candidate.

There is more on the topic here, here, here, and here. The key facts are that Clinton would have to agree to give up the nomination. The Democratic National Committee would then chose her replacement. The later it occurs, the more chaotic matters would be because of missing deadlines to change the candidate in various states. This may or may not matter in different states as it is possible that in many states Clinton’s name would still remain on the ballot, but electors would then vote for the new Democratic nominee in the electoral college.

The DNC could conceivably choose Bernie Sanders as the second place candidate after the primaries, but I have my doubts that the Democratic establishment would do that. After all, if not for the  Democratic establishment tilting the race towards Clinton in the first place, it is very likely that Sanders would have won the nomination. Joe Biden is the most likely replacement due to his name recognition and popularity. Other plausible choices include John Kerry and Elizabeth Warren.

If Clinton were to leave the race, the timing could also make a huge difference in what occurs. At this point I doubt Tim Kaine would be the choice as so far the vice presidential candidates have not had that much exposure. However, if Clinton should leave the race after the Vice Presidential debates, and should Kaine have an outstanding performance, he might also be considered.

The timing could also have a tremendous impact on the election results. Under normal circumstances a party losing its nominee would be placed at a disadvantage. In this case, running against a Republican candidate as awful as Donald Trump, a late entry could still have an excellent chance.  A different candidate might actually do better than Clinton considering how unpopular she is.  The timing could also be important here. A different candidate would have a better chance if entering the race soon, when there is still time to campaign. Whether it occurs after the debates could also be crucial. Should Trump manage to appear credible in a debate against Clinton, it would be harder for someone entering the race late to compete.

Again, this is all pure speculation. It is unlikely that Clinton will leave the race, but the unprecedented situation of a late change in candidates does make for an interesting story.

Former Adviser to Bill Clinton Suggests Hillary Might Not Be Democratic Nominee

Never Hillary

Many people hope that Hillary Clinton will be prevented from receiving the Democratic nomination, but I would have taken this prediction much less seriously if it wasn’t from a former adviser to Bill Clinton. Douglas Schoen writes, Clinton Might Not Be the Nominee.

A Sanders win in California would powerfully underscore Mrs. Clinton’s weakness as a candidate in the general election. Democratic superdelegates—chosen by the party establishment and overwhelmingly backing Mrs. Clinton, 543-44—would seriously question whether they should continue to stand behind her candidacy…

Another problem: In recent weeks the perception that Mrs. Clinton would be the strongest candidate against Donald Trump has evaporated. The Real Clear Politics polling average has Mrs. Clinton in a statistical tie with Mr. Trump, and recent surveys from ABC News/Washington Post and Fox News show her two and three points behind him, respectively.

Then there is that other crack in the argument for Mrs. Clinton’s inevitability: Bernie Sanders consistently runs stronger than she does against Mr. Trump nationally, beating him by about 10 points in a number of recent surveys…

Mrs. Clinton also faces growing legal problems. The State Department inspector general’s recent report on Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state made it abundantly clear that she broke rules and has been far from forthright in her public statements. The damning findings buttressed concerns within the party that Mrs. Clinton and her aides may not get through the government’s investigation without a finding of culpability somewhere.

With Mrs. Clinton reportedly soon to be interviewed by the FBI, suggesting that the investigation is winding up, a definitive ruling by the attorney general could be issued before the July 25 Democratic convention in Philadelphia. Given the inspector general’s report, a clean bill of health from the Justice Department is unlikely.

Finally, with Mrs. Clinton’s negative rating nearly as high as Donald Trump’s, and with voters not trusting her by a ratio of 4 to 1, Democrats face an unnerving possibility. Only a month or two ago, they were relishing the prospect of a chaotic Republican convention, with a floor fight and antiestablishment rebellion in the air. Now the messy, disastrous convention could be their own.

There are increasing rumblings within the party about how a new candidate could emerge at the convention. John Kerry, the 2004 nominee, is one possibility. But the most likely scenario is that Vice President Joe Biden—who has said that he regrets “every day” his decision not to run—enters the race.

Mr. Biden would be cast as the white knight rescuing the party, and the nation, from a possible Trump presidency. To win over Sanders supporters, he would likely choose as his running mate someone like Sen. Elizabeth Warren who is respected by the party’s left wing.

It is unprecidented to have a party embrace a candidate such as Hillary Clinton who is involved in such major scandals. It is as if the Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal broke.

So far Democrats do not seem all that concerned about nominating Clinton. If there weren’t enough reasons for the party to keep Clinton from being the nominee, the State Department’s Inspector General report should have put an end to her campaign.

Yesterday I noted a poll showing that seventy-one percent of Democras think Clinton should remain in the race even if indicted. While exact numbers from Rasmussen have to  be taken with a grain of salt, I have found that many Democrats do continue to defend Clinton and have no doubt they would continue to do so if indicted, or even if she was videotaped kicking puppies and babies.

While the chances are low, the possibility of stopping Hillary is far greater than in 2008, when Clinton speculated that Obama might not receive the nomination due to assasination. Sanders should continue to fight for every possible delegate to maximizes the chances that if Clinton is stopped he can win the nomination. In making the argument to both voters and superdelegates as to why he should be the nominee instead of Clinton, he should also stop limiting his campaign by refraining from talknig about the scandals.

Chris Cillizza refers to Sanders’ decision to not talk about Clinton’s email as the biggest mistake of his campaign:

That’s not to say that if Sanders had aggressively raised questions about Clinton’s email practices, he would have beaten her for the nomination; he still might not have. But rather than trying to seize on a primary in Pennsylvania or New York — both of which he lost — as the game-changing moment in the race, Sanders might actually have been able to prosecute a longer-term case against Clinton in a spot where she was (and is) clearly vulnerable.

Large majorities of the public — including the oft-touted independent voter — believe that the words “honest” and “trustworthy” don’t describe Clinton. The email story — even with Sanders virtually ignoring it — has helped erode those numbers over the past 14 months. The email controversy plays directly into many of the things that people — including Democrats! — don’t like or are wary of when it comes to the Clintons. The sense that the rules don’t apply to them. That they believe the world is out to get them. That they only keep people close who slavishly repeat back to them what they want to hear.

It Is Sad To See Some Sanders Supporters Acting Like Clinton Supporters & Republicans

Sanders Clinton CNN

We are accustomed to seeing Clinton supporters spread misinformation, ignore facts, and try to prevent those they disagree with from expressing their views. It is a shame to see some Sanders supporters using the same tactics.

There are many valid sources of information about Hillary Clinton which are relevant to the campaign. There are also right wing sources which spread misinformation which Sanders supporters would be wise to stay away from. I recently found a Sanders supporter spreading bogus claims about Clinton, claiming that being on Coumadin should disqualify her from being president.

The claims were written by Jerome Corsi, one of the writers who spread the Swift Boat Lies against John Kerry. The article they linked to was one of many on the same topic posted by him at World Net Daily. The source is a second reason for Sanders supporters to be skeptical.The article uses pseudo-science to make claims which are contrary to current standards of medical care. The source of the information is a quack physician who lost his license due to holding views which could jeopardize the lives of his patients.

As both a physician and long-time Sanders supporter I attempted to correct this misinformation after it was reposted in the Progressive BERN Party Facebook group. Besides noting the medical fallacies in the argument and how untrustworthy the source was, I pointed out that if Sanders had a medical condition which required the use of such a medication we would be defending his ability to still be president.

There are enough valid arguments against Clinton being president. There is no benefit in repeating  bogus claims from the far right. This is true of this particular argument, as well as many others from right wing sources which are sometimes repeated by Sanders supporters.

The reaction at the Progressive BERN Party Facebook group was to ban me from the group after pointing out the medical facts. That is certainly an intellectually dishonest and cowardly way to respond to being corrected on the facts. We might expect such thinking from Clinton supporters, and from Republicans. Unfortunately it is also seen in some Sanders supporters. Besides, if the goal is to really promote a new political party along the lines of Sanders’ views, and in opposition to Clinton’s views, what sense does it make to ban someone who has been promoting such views for quite a long time? Sanders supporters should be seeking to broaden their groups, not play games such as this.

The Hill Warns Of Chaos Scenario For Democrats With Clinton Server Under FBI Investigation

Clilnton FBI Investigation

One astonishing characteristic about this presidential race is that Democrats who were justifiably outraged about every violation of the rules and acts to obstruct government transparency under George W. Bush are willing to defend actions which were often worse when committed by Hillary Clinton. Even if they are willing to excuse her actions on partisan/tribal grounds, it is a risky proposition to nominate a candidate whose activities are under FBI investigation. It would be like the Republicans nominating Nixon after the facts about Watergate were known. The Hill considers Clinton’s problems in discussing The Chaos Scenario for Democrats:

It’s the scenario that Republicans dream of and Democrats believe is all but impossible: Hillary Clinton being forced to drop out of the presidential race due to criminal charges over her email server.

Any bombshell findings in the FBI’s investigation of Clinton could plunge the Democratic race into chaos…

In the event that Clinton stepped aside after winning the nomination at the convention, the Democratic National Committee could decide on the replacement on its own.

If an indictment came before the convention, the path would be more difficult.

Unlike the Republican Party, which binds most of its delegates to candidates regardless of delegates’ personal preferences, Democratic candidates have input on who represents them on the convention floor.

“There are no Clinton-bound delegates who would prefer voting for Sanders, for example,” delegate expert and University of Georgia professor Josh Putnam, told The Hill.

“Those folks are essentially hand-picked to be loyal. They are unlikely to stray.”

They discussed options including Sanders winning the nomination based upon his delegate strength, versus party leaders turning to a more establishment candidate:

“The superdelegates would flee first because they are politicians,” said one Democratic strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns.

“They are most likely to feel the pressure not to cast their ballots in favor of a nominee under indictment.”

If enough pledged Clinton delegates and superdelegates went to Sanders and delivered him 2,383 delegates, he would win the nomination.

But delegates could also coalesce around a new candidate not in the race. One likely fallback would be Vice President Biden, who came very close to running for president last year.

But denying Sanders the nomination could come with a heavy price, potentially alienating the millions of Democrats who cast ballots for him in the primary process…

Should the party be forced to leave Clinton, one thing that could work against Sanders is his late arrival to the Democratic Party. He’s spent his entire 30-year career in Congress as an Independent, and recently said he ran for president as a Democrat for media coverage.

“Most of these other politicians and political leaders in the community, they don’t really know Bernie Sanders because he’s never been a national Democrat,” the Democratic strategist said.

“They know Joe [Biden], they know John Kerry. It’s completely conceivable that they would turn from somebody they know and respect — Hillary — to somebody else they know and respect and bypass Sanders.”

This assumes a clear cut result should Clinton be indicted when there is time to chose another candidate. I suspect the outcome of the current investigations might not be so clear cut. The FBI could recommend indictment, but this does not mean that the Obama Justice Department would agree to prosecute. News of such an FBI recommendation would be huge if it were to come out. Is is quite possible that they might see Clinton as too big to prosecute, but she has three top aides in her campaign who also were involved in the handling of classified information under her at the State Department. Clinton might go on as the nominee if one or more of them were indicted, but it could greatly cripple her campaign.

It also must be kept in mind that, while the mishandling of classified information is the most dramatic complaint against her, with others prosecuted for doing less, this is only part of the entire scandal. Her actions included serious breaches of rules to promote government transparency, including new rules instituted under Obama in 2009 in response to the abuses under George W. Bush. Her claims, such as that what she did was allowed, have been repeatedly debunked by the fact checkers. She acted highly unethically in making decisions regarding parties who were either donating to the Foundation or paying unprecedented speaking fees to Bill. She also failed to abide by an agreement to divulge all donors while she was Secretary of State.

Reportedly the FBI has extended its investigation to such conduct at the State Department. Congress is also investigating, and I bet the Republicans will time matters to use this to embarrass Clinton during the general election campaign. It will not be as easy for her to respond to these legitimate concerns as it was to blow off the Benghazi nonsense from Republicans. All of this will provide a tremendous amount of ammunition for the Republican candidate this fall. If Donald Trump could destroy Jeb Bush by calling him low energy, imagine what he might do with actual evidence of unethical behavior by Clinton.

Democrats might wind up wishing that one of the scenarios play out early to allow them to pick a different nominee. Voters in the remaining primaries should also keep in mind that Bernie Sanders does better than Clinton against potential Republican candidates in the polls, and he is not under FBI investigation.

Past History Of Polls Before Iowa Encouraging For Bernie Sanders & Donald Trump’s GOP Rivals

National Polls Before Iowa

I’ve noted many times that polls prior to primaries are of little predictive value. Polls in December 2007 showed that Clinton had a huge lead over Obama. In December 2003, Howard Dean was pulling away in the polls. Eventual winner John Kerry was in sixth place with only 4 percent, even trailing Al Sharpton. While Clinton is certainly in a strong position this year, her leads in the national polls do not guarantee victory. Similarly, while Donald Trump seems to have a significant lead in the Republican race, it is premature to assume he will win unless he actually performs well in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Alfred J. Tuchfarber has looked at the December polls and has also demonstrated how little predictive value they have. In polls from November 2007, taken two months before voting, Hillary Clinton was leading the Democratic race. Rudy Guiliani was leading the Republican race, with Fred Thompson also ahead of John McCain. In 2011 Herman Cain was leading the Republican race, and had left the race by the time of the Iowa caucuses.

One reason for the poor predictive value of national polls is that whoever wins in Iowa and/or New Hampshire generally gets a huge boost in subsequent states. That doesn’t mean that the polls in Iowa are all that more meaningful as voters there typically don’t make up their minds until the last minute. Hillary Clinton was leading in the polls in Iowa and came in third place in 2008. In late 2007 Mitt Romney was leading the polls in Iowa, and came in second to Mike Huckabee. Herman Cain was leading in Iowa as well as the national polls two months before the Iowa caucus.

Polls also have limited predictive value as the pollsters do not know who will actually turn out to vote. If the Democratic caucus in Iowa is dominated by long time Democratic voters, then the polls are showing the race as very close. If those who haven’t previously voted but are showing enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders turn out to vote, there could be a big victory for Sanders. The much stronger degree of support seen for Sanders in social media is very encouraging, but no guarantee of votes. It might also be helpful for Sanders that the Iowa caucuses are later this year than in the 2008 cycle, when many college students were off on vacation. Even more might turn out for Sanders in this year than had turned out for Obama.

Similarly we will not know whether Donald Trump will easily win the nomination, or if a party regular will challenge him, until we see how the voters act.

Sanders Wins Mock Election In Landslide But Can We Believe This, Or Even The Conventional Polls?

Sanders Mock Election

The above electoral map prediction from Western Illinois University has received a lot of attention, especially among supporters of Bernie Sanders, for showing Sanders winning in a landslide. Some argue that we should take this seriously because the mock election model has been right in every election it was used in since 1975. The catch is that it was only used three times since 1975. They deserve some credit for correctly predicting victories for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford before many people had heard of Carter, and for predicting the election of Obama when many were (as with Sanders now) claiming he was unelectable.

While I would love for this to be true, it is also very hard to accept the results in specific states, such as Sanders winning Mississippi and Georgia but losing in Hawaii and Maryland. Of course the claims of being right are limited to the final results and not accuracy of state by state predictions. A victory for Sanders, even if closer and involving a different set of states, would still be welcome.

It is easy to dismiss this prediction, and I could not blame either Clinton or the Republicans for denying any meaning to it beyond the enthusiasm of college students for Sanders. The bigger question this year is whether we can believe the conventional polls, especially when they are being used to determine who qualifies for the debates, which can potentially influence the outcome. Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie have been eliminated from Tuesday’s main debate, along with George Pataki and Lindsay Graham being excluded from the undercard debate. Even some pollsters have argued that the polls should not be used in this manner.

One problem is that the Republican candidates are too close together to use the polls to separate them. Then there is the question of whether the polls are all that accurate in predicting a primary election well before the vote. I’ve followed the Democratic primaries far more closely, and have noted many times how little predictive value the polls have. This polling report from December 2007 described how Clinton had a huge lead over Obama. In December 2003, Howard Dean was pulling away in the polls. Eventual winner John Kerry was in sixth place with only 4 percent, even trailing Al Sharpton.

Among the problems with these polls, many voters in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire do not decide until the last minute. People are far more likely to switch between relatively similar members of their own party than they are to switch from a liberal Democrat to a conservative Republican in a general election. Pollsters also adjust the raw results based upon projections as to who will actually vote, but that is difficult to predict. Some polls this year are basing their prediction upon whether someone voted in previous Democratic primaries, but this excludes the people are who, at least from discussions on line, are saying they have just recently registered to vote Democratic in order to vote for Sanders. There is no good way to determine how many of these people, or how many who are turning out in huge numbers for Sanders events, will really vote. The results out of Iowa and New Hampshire could radically alter the results in subsequent states when the media covers the winners more favorably and voters see them in a new light.

Pollsters are having an even more difficult time. An article at The New Yorker described how much fewer people are even responding to polls:

The participation rate—the number of people who take a survey as a percentage of the population—is far lower. Election pollsters sample only a minuscule portion of the electorate, not uncommonly something on the order of a couple of thousand people out of the more than two hundred million Americans who are eligible to vote. The promise of this work is that the sample is exquisitely representative. But the lower the response rate the harder and more expensive it becomes to realize that promise, which requires both calling many more people and trying to correct for “non-response bias” by giving greater weight to the answers of people from demographic groups that are less likely to respond. Pollster.com’s Mark Blumenthal has recalled how, in the nineteen-eighties, when the response rate at the firm where he was working had fallen to about sixty per cent, people in his office said, “What will happen when it’s only twenty? We won’t be able to be in business!” A typical response rate is now in the single digits.

Another problem is that fewer people have landlines:

Even if more people could be persuaded to answer the phone, polling would still be teetering on the edge of disaster. More than forty per cent of America’s adults no longer have landlines, and the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act bans autodialling to cell phones. (The law applies both to public-opinion polling, a billion-dollar-a-year industry, and to market research, a twenty-billion-dollar-a-year industry.) This summer, Gallup Inc agreed to pay twelve million dollars to settle a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of everyone in the United States who, between 2009 and 2013, received an unbidden cell-phone call from the company seeking an opinion about politics. (Gallup denies any wrongdoing.) In June, the F.C.C. issued a ruling reaffirming and strengthening the prohibition on random autodialling to cell phones. During congressional hearings, Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon, who is the chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, asked F.C.C. chairman Tom Wheeler if the ruling meant that pollsters would go “the way of blacksmiths.” “Well,” he said, “they have been, right?”

Difficulties in polling people over a cell phone will also bias the poll toward older voters, as opposed to younger voters who do not have a landline.

With the accuracy of polls in question, perhaps it should not come as a surprise that so few candidates have dropped out. Any conventional Republican candidate can have hopes that outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson will lose in Iowa and New Hampshire, and that their chances are as good as any other candidate’s of being at or near the top.

Both Sanders or Clinton have reasonable hopes for winning the first two states. There is also the possibility that the Democratic electorate might turn more towards Sanders as he gets his message out due to a desire, as Greg Sargent has written in describing the research of Stan Greeenberg, “a reform agenda geared to reducing the influence of the wealthy, the lobbyists, and the special interests.” While Hillary Clinton can sound more liberal by copying ideas from Sanders and O’Malley during the nomination battle, voters should wonder about what happens if she is elected. Where will she get ideas from, how will she know how to respond to new issues, and what will keep her from expressing her naturally conservative inclinations?

While currently far behind in the polls, even Martin O’Malley, who has spent a lot of time in Iowa, might have a chance of doing far better that he currently polls in a state where organization is often what counts and upsets are common.

Joe Biden Announces He Is Not Running, While Continuing To Criticize Hillary Clinton And Having Praised Bernie Sanders

Joe Biden has announced he will not run for president, saying he no longer has the time to mount a campaign, and then proceeded to give what sounded like his campaign speech. I wonder if he wrote this speech before deciding, figuring he could use most of it regardless of his decision.

It is notable that he continued to take a few jabs at Hillary Clinton, as he has in recent days. The New York Times reports:

Without mentioning her by name, Mr. Biden criticized Mrs. Clinton’s assertion in last week’s Democratic debate that the Republicans are her enemies. “They are our opposition; they’re not our enemies,” he said, repeating a point he has made several times in the last 48 hours. “And for the sake of the country, we have to work together.”

Reading from a prepared text flashed on flat screens in the Rose Garden, Mr. Biden argued against the sort of hawkish interventionism Mrs. Clinton has championed in the Middle East and elsewhere. “The argument that we just have to do something when bad people do bad things isn’t good enough,” he said. “It’s not a good enough reason for American intervention and to put our sons’ and daughters’ lives on the line, put them at risk.”

Mr. Biden seemed to chide Mrs. Clinton for distancing herself from Mr. Obama lately, as she has done on trade, Syria, Arctic drilling and other issues. “Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record, they should run on the record,” he said.

While Biden declined to run in the primaries, it was clear he would like to have run if the situation were different, and he would like to be president. By criticizing Clinton and speaking like a candidate, Biden made it clear that if Clinton’s campaign should implode, which remains quite possible, he is ready to serve. With multiple investigations in progress regarding Clinton’s unethical behavior as Secretary of State, it is certainly a possibility that Democrats will wake up before the convention and realize how dangerous it could be running with her heading the ticket in the general election. If Sanders is unable to defeat her, it is easy to see the math play out where the Sanders delegates and the super delegates could outnumber committed Clinton delegates and create an open convention. If the news were bad enough, it is even conceivable that some of Clinton’s delegates would rethink their support.

Unfortunately the Democrats should probably change their symbol to the ostrich instead of the donkey as, other than for Sanders (until recently an independent), they seem oblivious to the trouble the party is in nation-wide. They might also take a few lessons from Justin Trudeau, as John Nichols discussed in The Nation.

Most likely Biden continued to express his reservations about Clinton in order to influence her behavior and to keep himself in a position to be the nominee if conditions change. There is another thought which also comes to mind. Is it possible that Biden does prefer Sanders? Biden would clearly support Sanders over Clinton in terms of ethical character of the candidate, but even the types of issues which Biden discussed sounded far more like Sanders than Clinton. (There are also certainly positions which Biden has taken in the past which are quite different, but today does not seem the day to discuss the negatives in Biden’s record.) While Biden has repeatedly criticized Clinton in recent weeks, he has also praised Bernie Sanders, saying, “he’s doing a helluva job.”

Seeing Biden continue to criticize Clinton today raises the question of whether he will continue to knock Clinton, hoping to increase the chances of her being forced from the race. Plus if he does prefer Sanders, would he ever openly support him over Clinton?

I don’t think it is very likely Biden would openly endorse Sanders, but if he did it would be a move comparable to when Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama. Both Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy endorsed Obama in 2008, citing the same types of faults we continue to see in Hillary Clinton. Such a move from Biden, this time endorsing Sanders, would provide a tremendous boost to Sanders’ campaign.

For now, the same media which has downplayed Sanders prospects from the start will promote the idea that Clinton is the inevitable winner. We must keep in mind that such media predictions have frequently been wrong in the past. While there is no doubt Clinton is the front runner, her nomination cannot be said to be inevitable months before a single vote has been cast. As I noted earlier in the week, the polls are not at all predictive in a nomination battle.This polling report from December 2007 described how Clinton had a huge lead over Obama. In December 2003, Howard Dean was pulling away in the polls. Eventual winner John Kerry was in sixth place with only 4 percent, even trailing Al Sharpton.

This race is far from over. While the media is dwelling on the Benghazi hearings this week, and this could have a bearing at how she is perceived, the real scandals which will harm Clinton in an election campaign are not based upon this Republican witch hunt, and are not going to go away. Bernie Sanders could pull an upset, like Obama in 2008 or Kerry in 2004, or the party might yet still call on Joe Biden.

Biden Drop Out

Bernie Sanders Again Shows That The Pundits Are Wrong–Improving In The Polls After First Debate

CNN Debate Sanders Clinton

The pundits who have been downplaying Bernie Sanders’ campaign form the start declared that Hillary Clinton was the winner of the first Democratic debate, despite the focus groups who considered Sanders to be the winner. As usually occurs, polls showed that after the fact the majority went with the pundits as to the winner (with many probably not having seen the debate). However the pundits did not predict what has actually happened. Voters are telling pollsters that Clinton won, but an increasing number want Sanders to win the nomination.

CNN reports Hillary Clinton wins debate, but Bernie Sanders rises:

With the first Democratic debate in the books, a new CNN/ORC poll finds most who watched think Hillary Clinton had the best performance of the night, but her strong showing hasn’t boosted her standing in the race for the party’s nomination…

Compared with pre-debate polling, Sanders’ support is up five points since mid-September, but no other candidate showed significant change.

Gravis Marketing similarly found that a majority thought Clinton won the debate, but also that Sanders pulled within eight points of Clinton nationally–overall a favorable outcome for Sanders. Clinton is welcome to accumulate debate points if Sanders is picking up voters.

One item of concern was that the Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll did show Clinton pulling even with Sanders in New Hampshire, but now the Franklin Pierce-Herald poll shows Sanders maintaining his lead:

Sanders holds a 38-30 percent lead over Clinton in the first-in-the-nation primary state, while Biden draws 19 percent in the poll of 403 likely Democratic primary voters conducted immediately after last week’s debate.

Sanders’ 8-point lead is essentially unchanged from the 44-37 percent advantage the Vermont senator held in a stunning Franklin Pierce-Herald poll in August — the first to show the former Secretary of State behind in New Hampshire.

The new poll also has Sanders holding an even bigger 10-point lead over Clinton if Biden isn’t in the presidential field.

The results suggest Clinton will have a tough time overcoming the deficit, as more than half of notoriously finicky Granite State voters now say they have made up their minds.

Seven in 10 Sanders supporters say they’ve made a “firm choice” to vote for him, a 26 percent increase from the last Franklin Pierce-Herald poll in August. And 62 percent of Clinton backers now report they’re firmly in her column, compared to just 40 percent in August.

This does show that the pundits who claimed that Clinton was once again unbeatable after the first debate got it wrong. Beyond that, I wouldn’t believe any predictions that the polls today will accurately predict what will happen when people turn out to vote. If you need an example of that, check out this report  from December 2007 describing how Clinton has a huge lead over Obama. In December 2003, Howard Dean was pulling away in the polls. Eventual winner John Kerry was in sixth place with only 4 percent, even trailing Al Sharpton.

Polls in a primary battle mean very little, and a single debate will not decide the nomination. Nothing is even close to getting settled until people start to vote, and ignore those pundits who tell you otherwise. A lead in the national polls is especially meaningless as these often change dramatically afte the results of the first contests are known. Strong performances by Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire can totally redefine the race.

The pundits also said after the debate that Clinton’s performance meant that Joe Biden was not going to enter the race. That argument never made much sense. Biden had said his decision was based upon personal matters. Even if he was watching the debate to decide, a strong debate performance by Hillary Clinton would not suddenly erase Clinton’s major flaws and weaknesses. If she could beat the other candidates in the debate, that might even be seen by Biden as meaning there is room in the race for him to challenge her.

Despite all the predicti0ns from pundits that the debate would keep Joe Biden out, the headlines on Monday were full of predictions that Biden might be announcing that he is running imminently. Whether or not he runs, the debate did not settle the matter.

The pundits are probably right about one thing–Jim Webb has no chance at winning the Democratic nomination. Now there is speculation that he might be planning to run as an independent. If he does, I’m not sure if he will take more votes from Democrats or Republicans, and if he can pick up enough votes to matter. Maybe he has a shot at receiving some votes, however few, if he is seen as a rational Republican, in contrast to those who are currently running.

Democratic Leaders Getting Nervous With Clinton Falling And Sanders Picking Up Support

Clinton Email

The email scandal has some Democrats looking for alternative candidates, according to The New York Times:

If Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new apology for her private email server fails to reassure jittery supporters, it could amplify the chatter among some Democrats who have been casting about for a potential white knight to rescue the party from a beleaguered Clinton candidacy.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Al Gore: Each has been discussed among party officials in recent weeks as an alternative to Mrs. Clinton if she does not regain her once-dominant standing in the 2016 presidential field and instead remains mired in the long-running email controversy, with its attendant investigations…

It is not just Mrs. Clinton’s weakness in the polls that has generated talk of other alternatives, but also the strength of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is routinely drawing huge crowds at campaign events. That has been disconcerting to Democratic officials who believe that Mr. Sanders, a socialist, is so liberal that his presence at the top of the party’s ticket in 2016 would be disastrous.

“If party leaders see a scenario next winter where Bernie Sanders has a real chance at the Democratic nomination, I think there’s no question that leaders will reach out to Vice President Biden or Secretary of State Kerry or even Gore about entering the primaries,” said Garnet F. Coleman, a Texas state lawmaker and Democratic national committeeman.

It also shows the shortsightedness of the Democratic leadership in not realizing that the best alternative just might be the candidate who is creating the most excitement among Democrats–Bernie Sanders, who has now taken a slight lead over Clinton in Iowa. If not Sanders, any of these four would still be better than Clinton.

From the Des Moines Register on Sanders taking the lead in Iowa:

A new poll finds liberal firebrand Bernie Sanders has jumped into the lead in Iowa – by one point.

The Vermont U.S. senator is the favorite choice for president for 41 percent of Iowa likely Democratic caucusgoers, while 40 percent say former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is their current favorite choice, a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found.

Another 12 percent pick Vice President Joseph Biden as their top choice for president in 2016.

In Quinnipiac’s last poll, in early July, Clinton had 52 percent, Sanders had 33 percent and Biden had 7 percent.

Younger caucusgoers are choosing Sanders in a landslide – 66 percent of those ages 18 to 34 pick him, versus 19 percent who choose Clinton.

And Sanders wins with caucusgoers who describe themselves as “very” liberal, with 59 percent support to Clinton’s 29 percent.

Sanders has risen from obscurity in Iowa to great fame. A recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics survey found that likely caucusgoers are sliding over to Sanders not because they don’t like Clinton, the longtime frontrunner, but because they really like Sanders, who thunders about righting injustices. That poll, taken Aug. 23-26 by Selzer & Co., showed Sanders seven points behind Clinton, 37 percent to 30 percent.

In the new Quinnipiac survey, conducted Aug. 27-Sept. 8, Clinton wins with women, beating Sanders by 14 points.

But Sanders beats Clinton with Iowa male likely caucusgoers by 21 points.

“Sanders and Biden have a higher net favorability rating than Clinton and higher ratings for honesty and empathy,” a Quinnipiac news release said Thursday morning. “Clinton has the best scores for leadership and temperament to handle an international crisis.”