I think everyone recognizes that the presidential race has tightened considerably in the past two weeks. Hillary Clinton’s national lead is down to around 3 points and, as one would expect, the swing states are pretty consistent with the national margin.
But here’s something I think many people don’t realize or haven’t focused on. Around 20 percent of the electorate is either undecided or saying it will vote for someone other than Clinton or Donald Trump, according to Nate Silver.
How does this figure compare to the recent elections? Silver says it’s much higher. Four years ago, only 5 to 10 percent were undecided or prepared to vote for someone other than Obama and Romney at the corresponding stage of the campaign.
Given the poor quality of the two major party candidates, it’s not surprising that the number this year is considerably higher. Indeed, I’m part of that number — undecided between voting for Trump and not voting. As Silver says, though, most people (me included) are focused on on the margin between Clinton and Trump, not the large proportion of votes still potentially up for grabs.
If one focuses on the 20 percent, the outcome of the election becomes less certain than many suppose. Can Trump make big inroads with this group by staying on message, avoiding unnecessary fights, reaching out to minorities (as he’s been trying to do), and meeting fairly low expectations during the debates? Quite possibly.
Can Hillary hold her own (or better) with the 20 percent even in the face of what’s likely to be the drip-drip of email related news? Yes, I think, if Trump goes off the rails again or struggles during the debates. Otherwise, maybe not.
I’ll leave the last word to Silver:
How does Trump win? It’s on the margin rather than with some brilliant strategy, I think. Stay relatively gaffe-free and you’ll probably get a few reluctant Republicans to come home to you. Keep that trust question about Clinton forefront in voters’ minds. Maybe you both go into Election Day with a 40-ish percent favorability rating. And then the third-party voters and the swing states break in a way that’s favorable for you.
Now, that marginal strategy would work a lot better if Trump had a better ground game. But still — it’s not that hard to imagine how he could win.