The race tightens just over a week out

With nine days until the US election on Wednesday 9 November in Australia, Hillary Clinton maintains a lead over Donald Trump in opinion polls, but the margin is expected to narrow following developments in the ongoing controversy about Clinton's emails.

Current opinion polls still indicate Clinton is in a strong position in the Electoral College. She leads in states worth 323 Electoral Votes (EVs), while Donald Trump leads in states worth 191 EVs, with Iowa and Ohio (24 total EVs) tied (see map above from ElectoralVote.

Since last week, Arizona (11 EVs) has flipped from a Clinton to a Trump lead, while Iowa (6 EVs) and Ohio (18 EVs) have moved from a Trump lead to tied.

Clinton continues to lead by five points or more in states worth 273 EVs (light and dark blue states), so she is over a majority (270 EVs) in such states.  Trump leads by five points or more in states worth just 105 EVs, down from 117 last week (light and dark red states).

The Huffington Post Pollster national aggregate has Clinton leading with 46.4%, followed by Trump at 40.1%, Libertarian Gary Johnson at 5.0%, 5.2% undecided and 3.4% for all Others including Green Jill Stein.  Last week, Clinton led by 44.7-38.6.  The Pollster aggregate is currently a little generous for Clinton; she probably leads by 5-6 points.

In the last few weeks, the major party candidates have increased their support at the expense of Johnson.  At the beginning of October, Johnson had almost 8% support, but third party candidates in the US often have their support squeezed as the election approaches.

Pollster charts give Trump a 61% unfavourable, 36% favourable rating (62-34 last week), and Clinton a 54% unfavourable, 43% favourable rating (53-43 last week).  President Barack Obama has a 52% approve, 45% disapprove job performance rating (51-46 last week).

On Friday, a letter from FBI director James Comey to Republican chairs of Congressional Committees was released.  The letter said that emails that appeared pertinent to the FBI’s investigation of Clinton had been found in connection with an unrelated case.

Anthony Weiner, a former Democratic Congressman notorious for sending pictures of his private parts to various women, was being investigated for sending these pictures to a 15-year old girl.  The FBI found emails between Clinton and Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, on Weiner’s laptop. Abedin is a top aide to Clinton.  

Many Democrats are suspicious of Comey’s motives, while Republicans are elated.  The big question is how this plays in the polls.  During this contest, when one candidate has been enduring negative headlines, that candidate has slumped.  While Clinton has always been ahead, her leads at her worst moments have been about two points.

While the initial story was negative for Clinton, it has rebounded on Comey rapidly.  The Department of Justice urged him not to inform Congress, and Clinton and Democrats generally have been lacerating him.  This could work in Clinton’s favour if it motivates Democrats to vote.

The FBI news overshadowed a strong economic growth figure.  The Commerce Department announced on Friday that the US economy grew at a 2.9% annualised pace in the July to September quarter, its best quarterly growth rate since 2014.  Good economic numbers should be good news for Clinton. The US October jobs report will be released this Friday.

Early Voting

As in Australia, many US states have extensive early voting.  There are two types of early voting: postal votes (called votes-by-mail or absent votes in the US) and early in-person voting.  At least 21 million Americans have already voted.

There is no national election standard; each state has its own rules for the conduct of elections.  Some states still require excuses to cast a postal vote, but most states now allow both postal and in-person early voting without excuses for at least the last two weeks before an election.  

Many states use party registration; in these states, voters register as a Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated, or third party.  These states give a running total of the number of registered supporters of a party who have voted early, which is useful for ascertaining whether a party’s supporters are voting.  With voluntary voting in the US, parties must attempt to turn out as many of their supporters as possible.

Currently the early voting looks strong for the Democrats in North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada.  However, early voting is poor for the Democrats in Ohio and Iowa.  These patterns are largely in agreement with current polls, except in Nevada, where early voting suggests at least a five-point lead for Clinton.  In previous elections, polls have underestimated the Democrats in Nevada.

Congressional elections

At this election, there are 34 Senate seats up, with the Republicans defending 24 and the Democrats 10. The Republicans currently hold a 54-46 Senate majority.  

Including seats already held, the Republicans currently lead in 51 Senate seats, to Democrat leads in 48, with Pennsylvania tied.  Last week, Democrats led in 50 seats, Republicans in 48 and two were tied. Here is this week’s Senate map from ElectoralVote.

Electoral Votes Electoral College map

Since last week, Nevada and New Hampshire have flipped from Democrat to Republican leads, Missouri and North Carolina from tied to Republican leads and Pennsylvania from a Republican lead to tied.

The Democrats have leads of at least five points in 48 seats, while the Republicans have similar leads in 46 seats.  This is currently a frustrating map for Democrats, as the Republicans are ahead by four points or less in five states.  If Clinton wins easily, Democrats could sweep all these states.

In the House of Representatives, the Pollster aggregate has the Democrats leading the Congressional ballot by 45.6-41.3, with 11.6% undecided and 1.5% for third party candidates.  Last week, Democrats led by 46.5-40.7.  A four point win would probably not be enough for the Democrats to retake the House given gerrymandering.

During the next week, I will be posting at the weekend; this piece will include a guide to following the US results.  A final polls article should be published on Wednesday 9 November.


Dr Adrian Beaumont

Election Watch polls analyst


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