Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Assessing the Fallout From the Comey Effect

Well, I think a number of folks who liked Hillary may have second thoughts, and if that's as much as a percentage point or more in some states, it could make a difference.

But let's see.

Here's Larry Sabato et al., "The Comey Effect":

FBI director throws a curveball into the presidential race with a week to go; Clinton slips in ratings but retains clear edge.

The purest version of the “October surprise” is a political bombshell that no one sees coming. In the closing days of the craziest campaign in modern history, we have just been witnesses to an October surprise so pure it would qualify for an Ivory Soap commercial (“99 and 44/100 percent pure”). When FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to certain members of Congress about a new development in the long-running Hillary Clinton email mess, the resulting earthquake could be picked up by a seismograph.

There are very legitimate questions about whether Director Comey was right or wrong to do what he did. It’s indisputable that Comey broke normal FBI practice in order to comment publicly on an incomplete, ongoing investigation. Moreover, Comey violated longstanding FBI standards that prohibit announcements within 60 days of an election that would influence the public’s choice. Just 11 days before Nov. 8, Comey took an unprecedented step that could affect the outcome of an election for president and Congress. The vagueness and ambiguity of his letter to some senior members of Congress guaranteed a leak to the press within five nanoseconds, and invited the rankest speculation from Clinton’s opponents.

To the extent that Clinton loses ground this week, and falls behind in battleground states where she had been leading, we will call this “the Comey Effect.” Similarly, if Comey’s decision results in Republicans holding onto the Senate and losing fewer House seats because he has invigorated their “checks and balances” argument, we will also attribute this to the Comey Effect.

The all-emails-all-the-time media coverage has already had an impact on the presidential race. Polls were tightening a bit before this, mainly due to some reluctant Republican partisans returning home at the end to their party’s ticket. We also need to remember something that has defined this race: The candidate in the spotlight, except for the convention period, has generally suffered in the polls. After the conclusion of the third debate, the focus seemed to move back to Clinton, as negative headlines about the Affordable Care Act and the daily trickle of sometimes embarrassing emails from WikiLeaks’ John Podesta treasure trove accumulated. This took the focus off of Donald Trump and put it on Clinton — and the Comey Effect has kept the spotlight on her. That the Democrats have struck back so hard against Comey, with some even calling for his resignation, indicates the seriousness with which they are treating this new development in the race.

Republicans will thrill to the Comey Effect. Democrats will heatedly denounce it. Yet it is real and impossible to ignore, and the FBI director’s extremely controversial move must be noted in the Crystal Ball, and maybe even in the history books.

Still, Clinton remains the clear favorite in the race, and there were not immediate signs that the overall race dramatically changed as a result of the Comey Effect. However, the race may have been getting closer anyway...
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