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Michael A. Cohen

Panicked liberals are petrified

Hillary Clinton spoke at the 29th annual symposium of the Black Women’s Agenda on Friday. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!

Oh, look; it’s my Panicked Liberal Friend again. How are you doing, friend?

Make it stop! Trump is going to win. We’re all doomed, doomed I tell you. AHHHHH!

Well, it sure looks bad, doesn’t it?

Wait what? Your job is to reassure me. What are you saying — do you now think Trump is going to win?

No, but it definitely has been a bad few weeks for Clinton. There’s no question the polls have tightened.

Why? Why is this happening?

Clinton has gotten some bad press over the past few weeks. It started with some really context-free reporting on the Clinton Foundation, which fit into the Crooked Hillary narrative that Trump has been pushing. Then it got worse with her “basket of deplorables” comment and health concerns over her near-fainting on Sept. 11. These things happen — no candidate has a perfect run. Four years ago, after a lackluster debate performance, President Obama saw his lead over Mitt Romney evaporate — though obviously he still won by a comfortable margin.

So does that mean the polls are correct – has the race really tightened?


I think it definitely has, but one thing that’s happening — and this always happens when a candidate has a bad run of news — response rates to pollsters from his or her supporters go down. This might be affecting Clinton’s numbers and perhaps showing the race closer than it really is.

I’ve completely stopped answering the phone and just spend all my time on the couch watching MSNBC.

Sure, I can see that. At the same time many pollsters are switching to a likely voter screen, which tend to favor Republicans. A CBS/New York Times poll out Thursday had Clinton up 5 points in a head-to-head match-up, but only 2 points among likely voters. Personally I’m very skeptical that Trump has an advantage with likely voters.


The thing that is strange to me about some of the results is that you have Clinton doing much better than Obama did in 2012 with white voters (especially white women) and largely holding the same advantage as Obama with non-white voters — and yet still neck-in-neck with Trump. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but those results are unusual.

That’s kind of a long way of saying that the race is close; Hillary’s post-convention bump is gone, but you should take all polls with a grain of salt and don’t obsess over them.

It feels like the campaign has shifted and Trump has all the momentum. Is it now his race to lose?

Um, no. First, even with Clinton’s obvious slippage in the polls she is still the favorite. In the latest Pollster.com average, she has a lead of 3.5 percent. That’s smaller than it was a month ago, but still fairly significant.

But the bigger issue is the Electoral College. Let’s say that Clinton were to lose every single swing state — Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada, as well as red states like Georgia and Arizona, where she’s tied with Trump. As long as Clinton wins in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Virginia as well as the solidly blue states, she wins the election, albeit narrowly. And in all those states she has a significant polling lead over Trump. Now I don’t think this is going to happen — and it’s also true that the polls in states where Clinton is currently ahead could tighten — but I bring this up because it shows how much more difficult the path to victory is for Trump than it is for Clinton. He has to draw the political equivalent of multiple inside straights.


OK, but what about Gary Johnson and Jill Stein — aren’t they going to take votes away from Clinton?

I’m surprised that Johnson and Stein are hurting Clinton more than Trump. I thought they would have the opposite effect. But if there is one iron clad rule with third parties, it’s that their support fades as you get closer to the election. Voters decide they don’t want to throw away their vote on a candidate who can’t win. Clinton is doing better in head-to-head matchups against Trump, but worse in polls where Johnson and Stein are included. When support for these candidates begins to erode, it will likely give her a small boost.

But what if Clinton supporters don’t show up at the polls? I keep hearing that there is an enthusiasm gap.

Enthusiasm is overrated. Excited votes count the same as indifferent ones. More important is the question of how effective campaigns will be at getting out their voters, even the ones who need to hold their nose before they cast a ballot. Here Clinton has a huge advantage, because of her ground game and money edge. Trump, on the other hand, has few offices and doesn’t seem to be using data to pinpoint his supporters. And with early voting in so many states, a good ground game is even more important. Will that have a huge impact? Probably not. But it could potentially give Clinton a one-point, maybe two-point, boost.


OK, I’m starting feel a little better, but don’t people really dislike Clinton?

They do. There’s no way to sugarcoat that. They don’t think she is trustworthy and honest. They dislike Trump a lot more, but Clinton has issues here. Still there was a poll out last week that showed 62 percent of Americans think Clinton is qualified to be president and 61 percent think Trump is not. We’ve never before seen numbers like Trump’s. If I were the Trump campaign, I’d be more concerned about that than even his sky-high unfavorabilities.

The bottom line is that the basic narrative of this race hasn’t changed. Trump has huge problems with non-white voters, who will likely make up 30 percent of the electorate. He has serious problems with white women and white college grads, and he starts the race at a deficit — because the last GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, lost by 5 million votes. Trump needs to persuade voters who either didn’t vote in 2012 or voted for Obama then to back him. Clinton needs to mobilize her supporters. If she does that, she wins.

Wow, that’s pretty good. Suddenly I feel a little better, but I am still petrified.


Well of course you’re petrified. I don’t call you the Panicked Liberal for nothing.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.