Princeton Election Consortium

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Politics & Polls podcast #12 – How will debates move the race?

September 22nd, 2016, 5:00pm by Sam Wang


The first debate is Monday, Sept. 26, at 9 p.m. from Hofstra University in New York. This first debate could be the most-viewed in our history. (update: yup.) How might these debates influence voters? With presidential polls more favorable to Trump than their average for 2016, which way will they move afterward? Julian Zelizer and I chew the cud.

Tags: 2016 Election · President

19 Comments so far ↓

  • Rex

    Hi Dr. Wang, dumb question: Would it be ill-advised to take a weighted average of the probability of winning a state and the number of electoral college votes that state has? For instance: if you give Clinton a 29% chance of winning Ohio, then she could have an expected value of 18 votes * .29 for 5.22 votes, and the summing all these numbers for all the states?

    The reason I ask is because I tried this with the NYT table of percentages and the result was 293 votes for Clinton, not far off your current estimate.

    My thinking was that this might take into account and event like her winning NC, but losing, say, Florida. Is this method flawed due to the binary nature of election results?

    • Tom Gavin

      Interesting. How about a friendly amendment to that. Just do it for the swing states, and add that total to the base of secure states for each candidate.

  • Ed Wittens Cat

    encouraging to hear Julian bring up the asymmetry of the respective bases…but disappointed theres no discussion of the brainscience of the visuals.
    Clinton is much shorter than Trump and female.
    This is the first reality TV campaign season– i think the visuals are hugely important (telegenicity, “body language”) given h.sapiens americanus reliance on the visual cortex.

  • A New Jersey Farmer

    These podcasts are great. Thanks for doing and posting them.

    My take on the debate is that Hillary can certainly win, but in this case that means bringing Democrats back to her campaign. Trump’s poll numbers have improved because more Republicans have now decided that they’re going to support him. Hillary needs to use the debate to make her argument for why Bernie voters, and those who are considering Johnson or Stein, must vote for her.

    She doesn’t have to humiliate Trump or score decisive debating, rhetorical or memorable points. She only needs to reassure Democrats that a vote for her is a vote for a more liberal policy agenda. If she can do that successfully and appear presidential and assured, then she will win the election. She will not win over Trump voters, nor should she try.

    • Matt McIrvin

      I think you are right.

      In the end, voting-wise, this is probably going to look more like 2012 than most pundits realize. If it doesn’t, and particularly if Trump wins, it will be because Clinton’s margin was eroded by habitual Democratic voters going third-party or not voting.

  • Marco

    Liked the podcast too. As an academic myself, I like to hear a conversation between two people that have read, are aware and have developed an opinion based on REALITY.
    I agree: Clinton can “win” the debate only if Trump develops a “Deer in Headlights” moment and leaves the stage. Sigh…BTW, the metamargin went up by 0.4% last night!!! Catching up with the Uptick in the national polls?

    • Joseph

      I’m not so sure that the deck is quite so stacked against Mrs. Clinton. I for one have never seen Mr. Trump in a debate. I doubt if I am the only one. It seems to me that this is a golden opportunity for Mrs. Clinton to paint Mr. Trump as laughable. Nothing punctures a pompous ashtray as much as making them a laughing stock.

    • Sean

      @Joseph. The things that make Trump look like a laughing stock to some people actually make him look stronger to his supporters. I think it’s because he talks to them on their level. They can’t relate to specific policy plans etc. other than broad easy to understand statements like “build a wall”.

    • Jay Sheckley

      Yep. The podcast examines an essential topic. Yes Zellitzer is correct that the GOP disavows Trump despite the fact he, as Dr Wang elucidated, personifies a core portion of recent GOP policy and views. The podcast also suggests this well-kept, explosive secret:
      MONDAY, HILLARY IS THE UNDERDOG.
      Perhaps “reality TV” is about to swallow history.
      Trump’s not only a reality tv pro, he’s perceived as the underdog not just in the campaign but at this event. Trump’s spokesperson says he’s too inexperienced to be expected to deal with this. So the audience likely views with far more compassion than is appropriate: But Trump has been running for president for THIRTY years. Were he interested in policy, he’d know things about it. But undecideds [who are heavily interviewed during debate events] don’t care about that either. I’m reminded of Nixon vs Kennedy.
      What Trump is is a showman. In such faux debates, in “reality tv”, he’s a champion. And consider how public opinion went against Obama after he “debated” Romney. In this important event Hillary is the underdog.
      Clinton’s answers run long, inviting moderator interuption which won’t look presidential. Mind you, no one knows how to make a woman look presidential. Meanwhile, the other female candidate will getting arrested outside. What a situation for Secretary Clinton. Will she manage to surprise us? Already, Dr Wang points out, we can project the GOP domination of both Houses. I’m melting! What a world, what a world.
      See https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2016/sep/24/trump-clinton-presidential-debate-styles-video

    • SpecialNewb

      Not really an uptick. Looking at more of the polls out there are some that show Trump continuing to close.

  • Olav Grinde

    I can even see Donald J. Trump interrupting Hillary Clinton, shouting that she is a liar and a crook, before walking off the debate stage in protest.

    And the headlines the next day focusing on the veracity of Trump’s claim:

    “Is Clinton a Liar and a Crook?”

  • Violet

    I feel the same way. The media spin is never based on reality, but on expectation. Trump scandals are so much more awful than Hillary’s negatives, but everyone expects Trump to be dishonest, so everyone kind of shrugs at his antics.

    Same with the debates. His is clearly so much dumber and less prepared than Clinton, it’s a no win for her. If I played tennis against Nadal, and I managed to hit back a few balls, and even win one game, it would be all anyone remembers, even if he crushed me, because he’s supposed to.

    • Mark

      Saw this. This professor doesn’t consult polls at all. Instead, he looks at indicators like state of economy, which party currently occupies The White House, who controls Congress, etc. Here’s the key imo:

      “So very, very narrowly, the keys point to a Trump victory. But I would say, more to the point, they point to a generic Republican victory, because I believe that given the unprecedented nature of the Trump candidacy and Trump himself, he could defy all odds and lose even though the verdict of history is in his favor. So this would also suggest, you know, the possibility this election could go either way. Nobody should be complacent, no matter who you’re for, you gotta get out and vote.”

    • Roger

      Even under the model discussed, that report seems wrong. Per http://pollyvote.com/en/components/index-models/keys-to-the-white-house/ which explains the 13 keys, Clinton gets 8 for a 51.5% of vote prediction.

    • Chip

      According to the top Quora reply to a question about Lichtman, he said in an August video (which I noticed in a search but did not watch) that he thought Clinton had a 52% chance of winning, thus contradicting his most recent conclusion.

      https://www.quora.com/Is-Allan-Lichtman-wrong-about-a-Trump-win-in-2016

  • Edge Oforever

    She will win the debate. Then the media will spin it the opposite. Like every debate in the past – only more so, because Clinton rules.

  • A

    Really good podcast. A bit nerve wracking hearing you say that if the race were held today it would be a nail biter…

    Would have liked to hear your thoughts on the effect of early voting this year.

    Seems to favor Clinton big time due to her get out the vote machine…but perhaps I’m guilty of wishful thinking.