Commentary: History shows some elections tough to call

Before last Friday [Oct. 28], the question was whether the presidential polls are right. Further, were the major news media right to report that Hillary Clinton will win Tuesday’s election easily, perhaps in a huge landslide?

Hard to say. The polls are all over the place. The Washington Post/ABC polls last week showed Mrs. Clinton with a 4-point lead over Donald J. Trump, but shrinking. On the other hand, the Associated Press poll showed her 14 points ahead. And none of these polls was researched after FBI Director James Comey’s Friday announcement about the resumption of the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s emails.

So, the FBI has reopened its investigation of the Clinton emails, having found that some of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s emails were archived on her husband’s laptop. He being former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who was being investigated in connection with his well-known sexting of teenage girls. You can’t put a sheet of paper between Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Abedin.

So, where does this leave us if there’s a President-elect Clinton on Nov. 9? One place it leaves us is with the White House in Democratic hands for the fifth time out of the last seven elections. Another place it leaves us, almost certainly, is with divided government. The Democrats may, though they may not, gain control of the Senate, but with a very tiny margin. The Democrats are almost certain NOT to get a majority in the House. That means that little, or almost none, of Mrs. Clinton’s agenda will ever be enacted into law.

Reid K. Beveridge

Reid K. Beveridge

That is because she would be inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017, with one of the weakest mandates in recent memory, even weaker than George W. Bush’s in 2001, when he lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College.

It also means she will be inaugurated as one of the most damaged presidents in recent memory, perhaps of all time. True, she may not have broken any laws, other than transmitting classified information on an unsecure system, which is definitely a violation of the law. She will not be prosecuted for this for reasons stated in this space earlier.

However, Mr. Trump’s epithet “Crooked Hillary” is not without some substance. As conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer puts it, we now know why she bought a private server. That was to conceal from public scrutiny the various goings-on of the Clinton Family Foundation and its connection with her official duties as Secretary of State. And the rather sleazy fact of former President Bill Clinton’s ability to make $66 million in one year giving speeches and taking money from others for little or no visible work.

But in the end, will all this — even the latest email situation — make a difference? Perhaps. Or maybe not. A couple of brief anecdotes help. The first is that famous one from 1948, when President Harry Truman was running for re-election. Before and later, Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents of all time. In 1948, his Republican opponent was the respected New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, who was expected to win easily.

That fall, the Gallup organization was so sure Dewey would win that it quit polling nine days before the election. Among other things, this led The Chicago Tribune (well-known Republican-leaning as it was back then) to publish the infamous headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman” in its first edition.


A second story comes from 1972. A friend’s wife said she was devastated on election night to learn that U.S. Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic nominee, had been defeated by President Richard M. Nixon. In fact, Nixon carried 49 states, all but Massachusetts. Why her distress?

That was because the only newspaper she read had, without exception, reported favorably on McGovern’s campaign and seemed to presage a McGovern victory. Though the circumstances differ a lot, we might say the same for most American newspapers and broadcast networks this year.

Finally, I asked a noted Republican staffer and activist what she was going to do on Nov. 8.

“Hold my nose and vote for him,” she said.

So a related question: How many Trump signs do you see out on the highway? Not many, I’d venture. How many folks wearing a Trump button? Not many of those, either. On the other hand, how many people do you see at a Clinton rally?

This year, we have the odious fact that even a lot of Trump voters aren’t advertising that fact. Are they ashamed? Or embarrassed? Or simply determined not to see Mrs. Clinton appoint a leftist to the U.S. Supreme Court? Yet, a lot of the Trump voters are exceedingly committed to him — and a lot of them had never registered or voted before. Are the pollsters calling them?

So, do you believe the polls? People lie to pollsters. You’re planning to vote for Trump and you get a call from a pollster; what do you do? Do you tell truth? Or do you lie.

In Great Britain, all the polls predicted voters would choose to remain in the European Union. They didn’t. In the last British parliamentary election, the polls predicted a draw. The Tories won in a landslide. In Israel last time, the polls predicted a coalition. The voters opted for the Likud, the most conservative party. It wasn’t close.

Predictions? Good luck.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reid K. Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now retired at Broadkill Beach.

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