Barry McNamara  |   Published September 01, 2016

The home stretch

By Labor Day, says Johnson, presidential poll numbers are ‘baked in’
Americans who follow the old line about waiting for the end of the World Series to get excited about the presidential election won’t have much time to get ramped up this year – Game 7 of the Fall Classic is set for Nov. 2, and Election Day falls on Nov. 8.

Another traditional marker for presidential campaigns – Labor Day – is also becoming dated, according to Monmouth College political science lecturer Robin Johnson.

“Some of the traditional milestones are becoming muddled or being totally eliminated,” said Johnson, a veteran political adviser who is also host of Talking Politics on WBUR-AM in Burlington, Iowa. “Traditionally, Labor Day starts the stretch run of campaigning, but campaigns have been starting earlier and earlier. Hillary has been on TV in some states since May.”

Johnson will host a pre-election forum Oct. 20 at Monmouth College, following the last presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 19 in Las Vegas. The forum’s featured guest will be journalist Sasha Issenberg, author of The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, which Johnson calls “the Moneyball for politics.”

Because of social media and 24-hour news coverage, a far greater percentage of voters have come to know the candidates by Labor Day than voters did in pre-2000 elections. But Johnson said the September holiday still holds significance.

“Typically, what the polling numbers are on Labor Day are pretty baked in,” he said. “The conventions are over, and the numbers are pretty difficult to move. It would be a big surprise if the numbers moved more than 3-4 points from now in November.”

That analysis favors Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But Johnson acknowledged that the numbers – which show the Democratic nominee with a fairly comfortable lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump – “have tightened up a little bit” in recent days.

“I’ve seen races a lot tighter at this point,” he said, referring to the 2012 race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. “But this one is more unpredictable. Trump is just so unpredictable in what he says, and Clinton might still have some problems over her emails. There’s been talk of a big surprise about the emails coming in October that could turn the race.”

Johnson said that for some voters, October developments could occur too late.

“Very soon, people will start early voting,” he said. “In some states, 30 to 40 percent of the ballots will be cast before Nov. 8.”

Johnson said the states to watch on election night are Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

“The key for Trump is Florida,” he said. “He needs to pull that back from the Democrats. North Carolina would also be key for him, and if he could pick up Virginia and Ohio, too, that might be enough.”

The race might even tighten enough that Iowa and its six electoral votes could prove pivotal in a contest where 270 electoral votes are needed to win.

“There’s a variety of reasons why Iowa is close,” Johnson said. “Trump spent a lot of time there campaigning, and he has a good relationship with the Republican establishment – the type of establishment relationship he lost in Wisconsin. Iowa is also less diverse, and Hillary does better in states with more African-American and Hispanic voters.”

Johnson said some politicos speculate that Clinton will even get a larger percentage of the African-American vote than Obama did in his two presidential races.
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