On Tuesday, Donald Trump dramatically sacked FBI director James Comey. There has been speculation that Comey was fired in an attempt to prevent an FBI investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.
While such an investigation may have damaged Trump, Comey very probably cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election with his letter reopening the FBI investigation into her private email server just 11 days before the election. This letter received blanket media coverage for the next several days.
The Comey letter was controversial as the FBI should not be perceived as interfering in an election campaign, and indeed Department of Justice officials had advised Comey not to go public. Two days before the election, Comey cleared Clinton, but this decision came too late — in fact having “emails”, “FBI” and “Clinton” in the headlines again may have hurt Clinton.
There were four states that voted for Trump by 1.2 points or less: Michigan (16 Electoral Votes, Trump by 0.2%), Pennsylvania (20 EVs, Trump by 0.7%), Wisconsin (10 EVs, Trump by 0.8%) and Florida (29 EVs, Trump by 1.2%). Had Clinton won these four states, she would have won the Electoral College 307-231 in bound electors, rather than losing 306-232. Even without Florida, Clinton would have won by 278-260. So a one-point loss due to Comey is enough to change the election.
During the election campaign, when one candidate had bad news coverage (eg Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”, Trump’s “grab ‘em by the p****”), that candidate would drop in the polls. Clinton’s average poll lead was about five points, but with a range between two and eight depending on which candidate was under media fire.
US commentator Nate Silver’s analysis says that the Comey letter was worth at least one point to Trump, and possibly up to four. Clinton won the national popular vote by 2.1 points, so the final polls showing a 3-4 point Clinton lead were not far off.
According to exit polls, voters who did not like either Clinton or Trump (18% of the electorate) voted for Trump by a 47-30 margin. It is reasonable to infer that the Comey letter, the last major story of the campaign, pushed these voters towards Trump. Clinton’s favourable rating in the exit polls was five points higher than Trump’s, and her rating would have probably been higher if not for Comey.
Will Comey’s sacking lead to moves to impeach Trump? No
FBI directors are appointed for ten years. The last FBI director to be fired by the President was William Sessions in 1993 under Clinton, over accusations of corruption. Despite suspicions that Comey’s dismissal was an attempt to prevent an FBI investigation, which would amount to obstruction of justice, any move to impeach Trump is still very improbable.
As I wrote here, impeachment of Trump is unlikely because Republicans agree with him on tearing down Obama’s legacy, and a 2/3 majority in the Senate is required to impeach. Although many Republican Senators are expressing “concerns” about the Comey dismissal, that is a long way from action.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregate, 41.2% approve of Trump’s performance and 52.9% disapprove, for a net of -11.7. Trump has lost about a point since last week’s health care vote. However, Trump remains very popular with Republicans — Pollster has him at 83% approve, 14% disapprove with them.
Republican members of Congress are far more likely to respond to their own voters than Democrats when considering Trump. Trump’s overall ratings are poor, but they have been poor for a long time, and it did not stop last week’s House vote to repeal Obamacare.
Clinton campaign’s responsibilities for loss
Clinton’s email problems occurred when she was Secretary of State, and were outside the control of her 2016 campaign. Some of her other problems, such as a weak economy, anti-establishment sentiment and catching pneumonia, were also outside her control. However, Clinton and her campaign should be blamed for the content of their advertisements.
As this article in The Guardian by Michael Paarlberg says, 60% of Clinton’s ads were anti-Trump, and only 25% promoted her policies. In contrast, 70% of Trump’s ads promoted his policies. Clinton’s negative ads made up a far greater proportion of her total ads than any other major party candidate in the last five US Presidential elections.
In my opinion, Clinton would have performed better among the white working class that swung decisively to Trump, had she focused attention on her policy to increase the US Federal minimum wage from its current $US 7.25 an hour (about $AU 9.80). The last Federal minimum wage increase was in 2009. Many US states have a higher minimum wage than the Federal one.
Clinton did not campaign much in either Wisconsin or Michigan, both of which were surprise Trump victories. However, these two states made up 26 combined Electoral Votes. Even had Clinton won them both, she would have lost the Electoral College by 280-258.
Essential at 54-46 to Labor; post-budget ReachTELs good for Labor
In this week’s Essential, conducted entirely before the budget from a two-week sample of 1800, Labor led by 54-46, a one point gain for Labor. Primary votes were 38% Labor, 37% Coalition, 10% Greens, 6% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. One Nation’s 6% is well below their March peak of 11% in this poll.
Turnbull’s net approval was -11, a one point gain since April. Shorten’s net approval was also -11, a two point gain.
By 56-28, voters disapproved of the government cutting funding to universities by $2.8 billion. By 60-30, they disapproved of increasing student fees by $2,000 to $3,600 for a four-year course. However, voters agreed 47-44 that students should be required to repay their loans once their salary reaches $42,000 per year, instead of $55,000.
On average, students pay 42% of the cost of their degrees, and the government pays 58%. 31% thought students should pay less, 20% more and 37% thought the current share is about right.
71% thought it is important for the budget to return to surplus, with 19% for not important. However, only 18% thought a return to surplus should be as quick as possible when told this would mean service cuts and tax increases, while 65% said a return to surplus should be delayed.
The first two post-budget polls have been released, both conducted by robopollster ReachTEL. A Sky News ReachTEL has Labor leading 53-47 and a Channel 7 ReachTEL has Labor leading 54-46. Both polls were conducted Thursday night; the Sky News poll had a sample of 2300. I will have more on the post-budget polls next week.
Authors: Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne