Election 2020

Nate Silver: Dems Can Start Panicking in About a Week

Hey! Remember us? (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

So much for “inevitable”.

Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls has been declining for several weeks, and now we’re at the point where it’s not much of a lead at all. National polls show Clinton only 1 or 2 percentage points ahead of Donald Trump, on average. And the state polling situation isn’t really any better for her. On Thursday alone, polls were released showing Clinton behind in Ohio, Iowa and Colorado — and with narrow, 3-point leads in Michigan and Virginia, two states once thought to be relatively safe for her.

It’s also become clearer that Clinton’s “bad weekend” — which included describing half of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables” on Friday, and a health scare (followed by news that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia) on Sunday — has affected the polls. Prior to the weekend, Clinton’s decline had appeared to be levelling off, with the race settling into a Clinton lead of 3 or 4 percentage points. But over the past seven days, Clinton’s win probability has declined from 70 percent to 60 percent in our polls-only forecast and by a similar amount, from 68 percent to 59 percent, in our polls-plus forecast.

That’s not to imply the events of the weekend were necessarily catastrophic for Clinton: In the grand scheme of things, they might not matter all that much (although polling from YouGov suggests that Clinton’s health is in fact a concern to voters). But when you’re only ahead by 3 or 4 points, and when some sequence of events causes you to lose another 1 or 2 points, the Electoral College probabilities can shift pretty rapidly. A lot of light blue states on our map have turned pink, meaning that Trump is now a narrow favorite there instead of Clinton:

Silver then goes into his notoriously wonky and detailed polling explanations but the important thing to note is that he’s been consistently taking a “she’s got this in the bag” approach. Now he’s got a headline saying that the Democrats can only be comfortable for another week. If these polls stay like this, trouble is a-brewing in Granny Land.

The turnaround has been so abrupt that it’s almost difficult to remember that Hillary was enjoying leads in the double digits in many polls just about a month ago. While it’s true that polling can often be rather volatile heading into the home stretch, this year is obviously playing by a different rule book. Two candidates with such overwhelming negatives can bring about lurching course corrections at any time.

So strap your political seat belts on, the turbulence probably hasn’t even started yet.