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Expert Comment: Trump, Clinton, polls and partisanship

0039 Dr Robert Busby Thursday 29 September 2016

Senior Lecturer in Politics Dr Robert Busby discusses the performance of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, following the first debate in the US political race.

With the first debate concluded, the prospective outcome of the US election is an unclear as ever. Two different outcomes are evident from the event considered now, with the inclusion of streaming media and portable devices, to be the most watched television debate of all time. In keeping with the contemporary need for instantaneous information, the snap polls taken during and immediately after the debate suggested that Trump had fared well, indeed he was quick to cite a range of polls on his Twitter feed to endorse the view of those who had taken to online polling options. For Clinton’s part the mainstream media (Washington Post, NYT) declared her performance to be significantly better than that of Trump and she received praise for being one of the first candidates in the presidential cycle to highlight the policy deficiencies in Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ agenda. CNN, normally one of the most credible source for debate outcome scoring, found significant support for Hillary’s performance, declaring her the winner by 62 per cent to 27 per cent.

However, in looking at online and mainstream poll outcomes there exists problems. The online material is not scientific, indeed anyone could cast a vote, from any country, and votes could be cast multiple times. The poll sample on the Drudge Report website looked enormous, over a million votes cast, favouring Trump strongly by 82 per cent to 18 per cent, but it is a highly partisan source and attacks Clinton on a daily basis. At first sight the CNN poll looked more credible, however the partisan allegiance of those polled leant Democrat and may have gone some way to give a distinctive slant to the outcome. Trump supporters call it the Clinton News Network.

Clinton’s camp has been buoyed by the debate, dismissing past claims that she was not fit for office in terms of physical wellbeing or on account of past performances. They claimed that it demonstrated her command of aspects of policy detail and it produced tentative suggestions of a small poll bounce which appear to benefit her ahead of debate two on the 9th October. Trump, true to form, has perceived the debate as a success. He has received significant financial contributions following the debate, has declared that he will be more forceful in the second, and his team has called into question the impartiality of the moderator – Trump got one follow up question after another – Clinton got none. This criticism may help in shaping the format of the second meeting.

The underlying political problem is that for all the national poll outcomes the race is not a national vote. It is the vote in each state that counts and, as Al Gore found to his cost in 2000, being ahead in the national poll stats can mean little. Trump still has a chance to win the presidency and in the battleground states is neck-and-neck with Clinton. This race will revolve on turnout and the most effective campaign targeting of swing states. It boils down to which camp can mobilise its base to go to the polls and where it can achieve this. The debates count, but it is getting people away from the television and into the polling booths that will decide this presidential race.

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