Running mates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine faced each other in the vice-presidential debates on Tuesday night, October 4. They both had their talking points prepared, they both got in some good barbs, and while Kaine succeeded in putting Pence on the defensive about whether Pence could defend Trump’s behavior and assertions, Kaine also made himself look rude, especially in the beginning, by interrupting Pence again and again.
In a lot of ways, I found the debate to be a brief return to politics as usual. After all they are both regular politicians. Pence boasted that the economy of Indiana improved while he was governor while the economy of Virginia took a nosedive when Kaine was governor; fact-checkers later pointed out that they were governors at different times and that their states reflected what was happening with the economy in the country at large. That’s politics as usual. Politicians usually take credit for things that aren’t their doing, and blame opponents for things that aren’t their doing. So the whole debate gave the election a brief semblance of normality.
For that reason, I was fully expecting Trump’s position in the polls to get a boost. Just to review something, as of Friday night, September 23, the fivethirtyeight blog gave Hillary Clinton a 60% probability of winning. (That was when I asked students whether they would feel comforted knowing that they had a 40% chance of their house burning down in the next year.) But for as precarious as that figure may have been, by Sunday night and Monday morning, Sept. 25 and 26, the figures weren’t even that good for Hillary Clinton: they showed Trump pulling up to her, even pulling ahead by some measures.
Then came the presidential debate, the night of September 26. Since then, Hillary Clinton has been steadily rising and Trump has been steadily falling, in the measures of probability. Battleground states that were leaning toward Trump are leaning toward her now. (North Carolina and Florida are the main examples, as well as Iowa sort of, and Ohio almost.) Pennsylvania, which was leaning toward her, is closer now to being securely for her.
And now comes my point. It is a day and a half after the VP debate, and it really looks as if the VP debate has done absolutely nothing to reverse Hillary’s rise in the polls. At this present moment, her probability of winning is given as 78% in the polls-only measure, 74.1% for polls-plus, and 84.9% if the election were held right now. Again, these are not projected vote counts, but rather, estimates of the probability that she will win.
The VP debate did not give Trump a boost. I doubt that either of the two remaining presidential debates will do that either, because after all, in the presidential debates, it’s Trump himself that people are listening to. In fact, some have said that the town-hall format of the next debate (Sunday, October 9) may be the perfect setup for Trump to go off-script and really make himself look bad.
So, Trump can’t win and we’re out of danger of getting him for a president, right?
WRONG! If the election had been held on Monday morning, September 26, he would have had at least an even chance of winning it. If the polls could go there then, they still can again. Even now, the polls may be exaggerating how far ahead Hillary Clinton is, because (among other things) not all respondants tell the pollsters the truth when they call. But the biggest thing is, if anything happens close to the election that causes Americans to feel as if they are under siege and need a strong, dictatorial commander to take charge and protect them, that could affect the outcome.
There’s still the question of which party will have a majority in the Senate to talk about; I’ll be posting about that sometime soon.