Monday, October 10, 2016

The Black Swan is a Phoenix

I watched the second presidential debate last night, and I thought Trump won it convincingly. He was most effective toppling Hillary from her high horse as she droned on about the impropriety of his "locker room banter." Trump did this by pointing to women in the gallery, three of whom had been victims of Bill Clinton's sexual violence. The fourth woman, Kathy Shelton, a child rape survivor whose attacker Hillary defended in court, said Hillary had laughed in her face:
Shelton joined Twitter on Saturday, and immediately started firing off messages targeting the Clintons. 
'I may be Hillary Clinton’s 1st female victim. She ruined my life; defended my rapist & blamed me. I was 12 yrs old. Then she laughed at me,' one message read.
Trump repeated this at the outset of the debate. From then on Hillary was on her heels.

Trump won big on foreign policy -- Aleppo, Libya, Mosul -- and he scored impressively on Hillary's email abuses. Trump brought up WikiLeaks and scored big when Hillary attempted to blame the Russians.

Nate Silver didn't see a big Trump win ("The Second Debate Probably Didn’t Help Trump, And He Needed Help"). He saw a modest victory for Hillary that might end up turning into a Trump win after the electorate has a chance to digest the debate over the next few days. Silver's larger point is an important one I think: Even if we erase the Billy Bush Access Hollywood tape and last night's debate, Trump is in rough shape:
CNN poll of debate watchers found that even though most voters thought Trump exceeded expectations, 57 percent of them nevertheless declared Clinton the winner, compared with 34 percent for Trump. A YouGov poll of debate watchers showed a much closer outcome, but with Clinton also winning, 47 percent to 42 percent.
These instant-reaction polls actually do have a correlation with post-debate horse-race polls: The candidate who wins the former usually gains in the latter. Perhaps Clinton’s win was modest enough that this will be an exception, especially given that the sentiments of pundits and television commentators (which sometimes matter as much as the debate itself) were all over the map.
So suppose that we call the debate a draw. Suppose, furthermore that the tape the Post published didn’t damage Trump. Instead, let’s say the polls look about the same a week from now as they do today, with Clinton holding a 5 or 6 percentage point lead. Maybe Clinton’s numbers were a little inflated after the first debate and Trump has even gained a point or two, somehow.
That’s still a fairly awful position for Trump with time running out, undecided voters getting off the sidelines, early voting already taking place in many states and little or no ground game to help provide a strong finishing kick. There’s the third debate, but without an extremely strong performance in that one, Trump is probably left hoping for an “October surprise” or a big polling error (not impossible, but it would have to be larger than the 4-point margin by which Brexit polls missed).
Or, obviously, things could get worse for Trump. And some “October surprises” — such as further leaks of tax returns or embarrassing comments caught on tape — could work against him. (They also wouldn’t be that surprising.) His attempt to make an issue of Bill Clinton’s past, which his campaign seems determined to pursue, could also backfire. 
I thought Hillary convincingly won the first debate. Trump convincingly won the second debate. Will he get the kind of bounce that Hillary got after debate #1? At the very least he saved his candidacy.

Hillary should refuse to participate in the last debate. She does better when Trump is left to his own devices and the mainstream media is gang-tackling him.

One interesting possibility that Silver does mention is the black swan: The polling error could be even bigger than the Brexit forecast.

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