With the press openly participating in a partisan manner shaping opinion and influencing voters, how credible are the opinion polls which by and large give the democratic nominee a narrow lead?

An election like no other The American presidential polls outcome is a cliffhanger
Voices Politics Tuesday, November 08, 2016 - 18:06

Less than 48 hours to go before polls close. The process to elect the 45th President of the United States has been characterized by unprecedented divisiveness, acrimony and vitriol. The distinguished members of the fourth estate have quite openly taken sides and editorial opinion has unhesitatingly endorsed one or the other candidate, with the liberal, left leaning press and written media mostly endorsing Hillary Clinton.

With the press openly participating in a partisan manner shaping opinion and influencing voters, how credible are the opinion polls which by and large give the democratic nominee a narrow lead?

There are several reasons why this election is, in a sense, sui generis and the polls may not in fact be in a position to capture some of the voter opinion, movement and dynamics. This makes the election outcome a cliffhanger like no other. Why? Because there are too many imponderables that impact voter perceptions, turnout, behaviour and ultimate choice.

I. Both candidates, Clinton and Trump have very high unfavorable ratings and given this circumstance many voters are reluctant to share their preferences with pollsters. In fact, anonymous online polls may provide better indicators.

II. Not all registered democrats and republicans are expected to vote on expected lines. Not all Republican contestants initially in the race for the presidency have come home to support Trump. The Bush dynasty is conspicuous by its absence. It is by no means clear that the sizeable number of younger voters who had flocked to Bernie Sanders will turn out to vote for Clinton, or whether they will vote at all.

III. The Clinton campaign has a better organized ground machinery which is crucial on Election Day even though 40 percent of electors would already have voted when polls open on Tuesday morning. On the other hand, however, there is a widely shared perception that the Clinton voters are less enthusiastic than the average Trump voter.

IV. Hispanics appear to have voted, as per indications available from early voting trends, in large numbers. This should help Clinton. The African American vote is not, however, showing the degree of enthusiasm for Clinton that was on display for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Both Barack and Michele Obama are working overtime to correct this deficit, if this is indeed the case.

V. This is a personalized campaign strong on invectives. Chris Wallace, the highly acclaimed political commentator and anchor from Fox News summed up the two candidates' views of each other. Trump thinks Clinton is "a crook" and Clinton thinks Trump is "a creep". A mainstream poll just conducted showed that 82 percent of voters polled felt disgusted with the electoral discourse and process and only 13 percent expressed excitement.

VI. It appears that there is a gender divide between Clinton and Trump voters with more women voting for Clinton and her advocacy on gender equality and even some Republican women veering away from a Trump painted in misogynist light so more men - especially white men voting for Trump. However, it remains to be seen how this will pan out in terms of the final results whether these gaps will be bridged.

VII. The political contest is critically about which of the candidates represents change. Trump has alleged that with Hilary it will be more of the same as the Obama administration of last 8 years. He promises radical policies and a fresh approach to make America great and safe again. He promises to bring back jobs, defeat ISIS and control trade, investment and migration. The substantive part of the messaging is then embellished by attacks on Clinton on mishandling of classified emails, allegations of corruption in the Clinton Foundation and astronomical increases in premiums on Obamacare.

Trump's message 'Drain the Swamp' of Washington corruption is beginning to resonate. He has presented himself as a change president at the White House! So, the question is, will the protest voters - the disillusioned middle class that wants to see change, go for him? On the other hand, Bill Clinton, early in the campaign, said it would be Hillary. who will bring change and build on the successes of Obama...Moreover she is portrayed as being a qualified and experienced statesman, wise and stable Commander in Chief who will make a Strong America respecting and enriched by its diversity which Trump is seen to be challenging. Which narrative will be more compelling to voters?

12 percent of voters are 'independent'. Many of them are reportedly leaning towards Trump. These are only some of the imponderables. In 1980, Ronald Reagan came from way behind to defeat the sitting President, Jimmy Carter. If the pre-election polls are accurate, Clinton will win. If, on the other hand, because of the sui generis nature of this election on account of factors listed above, the polls are not able to capture the underlying trends, we may be in for a big surprise, either way.

This was first published here.

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