By John Stoehr | Contributing Writer
Bad news cycles are doubly damaging to presidential candidates. The first reason is what you’d expect it to be. If survey respondents are undecided, bad news affects negatively their opinions of a candidate.
But the second reason is, to me, more interesting.
Supporters of a candidate who is experiencing a bad news cycle often avoid participating in opinion surveys. Presumably, they fear piling on to a chosen candidate’s woes. The result is a pool of respondents that is less representative of voters than what otherwise might be the case.
For about a month, Hillary Clinton has experienced not a bad news cycle but the worst news cycle of her entire campaign. From reports on the “email scandal” to the Clinton Foundation, from Russians hacking DNC computers to her bout of pneumonia – all have helped to eat away at her once sizable lead over Donald Trump. On Aug. 12, Clinton was eight points ahead of Trump, according to Huffpost Pollster. Now, she’s ahead by four. Other pollsters say her lead is even smaller.
Yet she’s still ahead – and the bad news cycle appears to be over. The major news agencies, as I have argued, have been her primary rival. They now appear chastened after weeks of fetishizing Clinton’s flaws while glancing over Trump’s. Not only that, but major news agencies are changing tactics to report responsibly on a brazen candidate rolling over the norms of decorum that usually oversee politics and the press.
Indeed, major media appear to have awakened to Trump’s real campaign strategy: to dominate the press and lie prodigiously. The New York Times, the most conventional of elite news media, has finally broken the seal, using “lie” in a headline to describe Trump’s five-year campaign to besmirch America’s first black president. Its executive editor, Dean Baquet, said the paper plans to call out even more lies.
How much impact the Times’ decision will have is hard to gauge, but it will have some. The Times is to journalism what Kate Middleton is to fashion. People who care about women’s fashion notice what the Duchess of Cambridge wears. Same for the Times. Now that the paper is using the word “lie” when Trump lies, other media will too.
But why is Clinton still ahead? First, and most important, the coalition that twice voted for President Barack Obama made her the Democratic nominee.
Yes, the so-called “enthusiasm gap” plays some role in the fact that young voters are less supportive of Clinton than they were of Obama in 2008. But let’s remember that the “Year of the Youth Vote” is not established fact. It’s contested among political scientists. News reports premised on a contrast to 2008 are not firmly grounded.
Then-Sen. Obama won 17.5 million votes during the 2008 Democratic primary. Then-Sen. Clinton won 17.4 million votes, a difference of about 41,600. By any measure, that’s a nail-biting finish. If the “enthusiasm gap” played a role, it was a minimal one.
What about Sen. Bernie Sanders? Young voters like him better. True, Sanders drew a higher percentage of so-called millennials, but again, the impact of the youth vote may be inconsequential. Recall the Vermont senator citing the size of rallies as evidence he was winning. In retrospect, the 2016 Democratic primary was not competitive. Clinton crushed Sanders by nearly 4 million votes.
There are other fundamentals. The economy hasn’t been so good for so many people up and down the income hierarchy for years. The sitting president is quite popular, especially among non-whites and young people. Qualifications may have a pivotal role this election cycle, as Clinton is universally recognized as qualified to be president while Trump draws equal and opposite numbers saying he’s unqualified.
No one can see into the future, but time is running out.
The election is less than 50 days away. Clinton is ahead despite a punishing few weeks. Her supporters are likely to start making their voices heard more and more. Trump faces an increasingly skeptical press. And the more skeptical reporters are, the more belligerent Trump becomes. And the more belligerent he becomes, the more he loses.