Breathe deeply. The election will be over in 23 days. Well, unless there’s a recount.1 Or unless one of the candidates refuses to accept the results of the election, provoking a Constitutional crisis and undermining the norms that have made the United States the world’s leading democracy for the past 240 years or so. Hey, how about those Cubs?
But seriously: Let’s try to gain some perspective by stepping back and asking our collection of 10 questions about where the election stands. (Previous editions of this exercise were conducted on July 15, Aug. 15, Sept. 6 and Sept. 25.)
Hillary Clinton has a significant lead, although there’s some question about the margin. For instance, one major national poll released on Sunday morning, from ABC News and the Washington Post, had Clinton ahead by 4 percentage points. Another, from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, had Clinton up 11 points instead. Our forecast model falls in the middle and shows Clinton with a 6- or 7-point lead. That translates to an 86 percent chance for her to win the election according to our polls-only model, and an 83 percent chance per our polls-plus model.
Let me approach this question in two ways. First, there’s uncertainty as our model attempts to define it. The most important factors in that calculation are the number of days until the election and the number of undecided and third-party voters. Obviously, we’re getting closer and closer to Election Day, with early voting already underway in many states. But the number of undecided voters remains fairly high (although it’s declined slightly). In national polls, about 85 percent of the vote is committed to Clinton or Trump, as compared with around 95 percent that was committed to President Obama and Mitt Romney at this point in the campaign four years ago. Those unpredictable undecided and third-party voters are why our models show both a better chance of a Trump victory than most of our competitors and a better chance of Clinton winning states like Texas.
And in a more qualitative sense: Well, this election is totally nuts, with Trump now implying that Clinton is on drugs and alleging that there’s an international conspiracy to rig the election against him. As my editor put it, everything is on the table in terms of how the final three weeks could go, ranging from Trump taking advantage of very low expectations before the third debate on Wednesday, to his giving up on the election to avoid taking responsibility for what will probably be an embarrassing defeat. Our model’s relatively cautious approach seems prudent under these conditions.