Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What The Math Says

Expect a fresh round of poll results this week and expect a fresh round of “breaking news” crawls on cable TV to pronounce the latest numbers that will be teased to keep you watching through the commercials for cut-rate insurance and pain-free nail clippers so you’ll get the latest prognostications from highly-paid guessers.

Calm down.  Paul Krugman sifted through the polls and the actual meanings of them and came to a couple of conclusions about the race and the probable results.

What the polling experts keep telling us to do is rely on averages of polls rather than highlighting any one poll in particular. This does double duty: it prevents cherry-picking, and it also helps smooth out the random fluctuations that are an inherent part of polling, but can all too easily be mistaken for real movement. And the polling average for California has, in fact, been pretty stable, with a solid Clinton lead.

Polls can, of course, be wrong, and have been a number of times this cycle. But they’ve worked better than many people think. Most notably, Donald Trump’s rise didn’t defy the polls — on the contrary, he was solidly leading the polls by last September. Pundits who dismissed his chances were overruling what the surveys were trying to tell them.

Which brings us to the general election. Here’s what you should know, but may not be hearing clearly in the political reporting: Mrs. Clinton is clearly ahead, both in general election polls and in Electoral College projections based on state polls.

It’s true that her lead isn’t as big as it was before Mr. Trump clinched the G.O.P. nomination, largely because Republicans have consolidated around their presumptive nominee, while many Sanders supporters are still balking at saying that they’ll vote for her.

But that probably won’t last; many Clinton supporters said similar things about Barack Obama in 2008, but eventually rallied around the nominee. So unless Bernie Sanders refuses to concede and insinuates that the nomination was somehow stolen by the candidate who won more votes, Mrs. Clinton is a clear favorite to win the White House.

That does not mean stop working to keeping Mr. Trump at bay, and for those of you who are supporting Bernie Sanders — and I respect each and every one of you who do — at least focus on the reality that it would be counter-productive in the extreme to keep trashing Hillary Clinton when your true target is not her but the prospect of That in the White House.

Now, obviously things can and will change over the course of the general election campaign. Every one of the presidential elections I’ve covered at The Times felt at some point like a nail-biter. But the current state of the race should not be a source of dispute or confusion. Barring the equivalent of a meteor strike, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee; despite the reluctance of Sanders supporters to concede that reality, she’s currently ahead of Donald Trump. That’s what the math says, and anyone who says it doesn’t is misleading you.

Of course, this is always a possibility…

Giant Meteor 05-31-16