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August 5, 2016

Think This Election is Over? Five Things That Could Dramatically Flip the Polls


Don’t let anyone tell you they know what’s going to happen in November. Given the character of the two major candidates, all their baggage, the voters’ understandably sour mood, and the abundance of outside influences, the polls could still flip many times before the election is over.

Here are just a few of the developments that could turn everything upside-down.

A “black swan” economic event. On Monday, September 15, 2008, we learned that Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy protection and Bank of America had been prodded into buying Merrill Lynch before it tanked. Officials feared the U.S. financial system was teetering on the brink of collapse, and the economic downturn created a political downturn—for John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Last August, China unexpectedly decided to devalue its currency, sending already-jittery world financial markets into a tailspin. On August 17, the Dow was at 17,545; by August 25 it was 15,666—a nearly 2,000-point drop. The Dow recovered, but not until the end of October.

These are called “black swan” events, which Investopedia defines as “an event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict.”

Well, China’s economy is jittery again, as are U.S. investors, and the current bull market has run far longer than normal. A financial shakeup in September or October could severely hurt either one of the presidential candidates, but the damage is usually wrought on the party controlling the White House.

Domestic terrorist attacks. Terrorist attacks are occurring almost daily somewhere in the world, and it is likely that terrorists and the people they inspire will attempt more on U.S. soil.

Were we to see another Orlando-type incident in September or October, it could persuade voters to choose the candidate who they think is most likely to keep us safe.

More damning emails. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he will be releasing more Democratic National Committee emails. The previous dump led to a major DNC shakeup. Could the next one hit Hillary Clinton?

Will Bernie Sanders supporters stay with Clinton if it becomes even clearer that the party rigged the process in the nominee’s favor? Is there something in the emails that might even convince FBI Director James Comey that Clinton broke the law? And could Assange have Republican- or Donald Trump-related emails we don’t know about?

Stupid things politicians say. You never want to underestimate the ability of politicians to say really dumb or offensive things. And while Donald Trump clearly excels at that practice—often doubling down by continuing his barrage rather than trying to get past it—he’s far from the only one.

Right after Hillary Clinton was nominated at the Democratic Convention, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe reassured the public that she would indeed ditch her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. That assertion reinforced the public’s distrust of Clinton and the belief that she will say, and do, anything to get elected.

And then there was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s comment that Clinton struggles with getting the white male vote because of God, guns, and gays—echoing Barack Obama’s comments as a presidential candidate that small-town people “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”

Trump is the most likely candidate to say something so stupid—because he does it nearly every day. But it’s not too late for Democrats to top him.

Disgusted voters looking for competency. The most common sentiment I hear among voters is “Is that the best we can do?” A recent Rasmussen poll finds 28 percent have switched their presidential choice since the beginning of the year.

The widespread and growing disgust with both major party candidates may be driving large numbers of voters to the Libertarian Party, and possibly the Green Party, making the outcome even harder to predict.

Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 with only 43 percent of the popular vote because Ross Perot pulled 19 percent.

That type of victory—where an unpopular and distrusted candidate (whether Clinton or Trump) wins with much less than a majority of the popular vote—might rattle and divide the country even more than it is. Meaning that if this election is unpredictable, its aftermath may be even more so.


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