Yes, the latest polls show Clinton curb-stomping Trump. Here’s why I’m still terrified.
The latest polls give Hillary Clinton up to a 15-point lead (though some polls have rather lower margins) over Donald “insults war heroes and loves Vladimir Putin” Trump. 538’s prediction, as of this writing (the morning of August 5, 2015), gives Clinton over an 80% chance of winning based on the polls-only forecast.
So that should be comforting, right? We’re safe from the Orange Mussolini, right? We can all sit back and worry about other things, right? I don’t think so. Here are four reasons why I’m still scared witless by the rise of Trump.
1. Polls tend to focus on likely voters, Trump goes after unlikely voters.
There’s a pretty good chance that a lot of the polls are missing Trump supporters. Many polls use a “likely voter” strategy, asking voters questions to estimate the extent to which they’re likely to vote, and counting only likely voters in their forecasts. 538, for example, has an explicit preference for including likely voter polls over registered voter polls (a broader group) in its forecasts.
But we know that Trump’s strategy, at least during the primaries, was turning out disaffected hordes of (white, male) people who don’t usually vote, the “low-propensity voters.” What we don’t know is how those people are responding to likely voter poll questions. If Trump is motivating them to show up on the eve of election, are they saying “I’m likely to vote” in advance?
Takeway: Trump might have a lot of people in his pocket whom the pollsters are ignoring.
2. People lie about things that make them look bad, like supporting a racist.
There’s a phenomenon familiar to scholars who do survey research called “social desirability bias.” It’s where people give dishonest answers in surveys because they don’t want to reveal their undesirable views or behaviors. For example, no competent social scientist would ever just run a survey where they ask people if they’ve committed rape, or have virulently racist views — people wouldn’t tell the damn truth.
Usually, I wouldn’t expect social desirability bias to play a role in election polls. After all, people tend to socialize with those with similar ideologies, and many people think we live in an increasingly “echo-chamber” society — where we’d ordinarily all get social validation for our views. So in 2012, whether you voted Obama or Romney, there’s a pretty good chance you were surrounded by people who gave you social affirmation for that choice.
But this election is different. Trump has been widely condemned by many Republicans, as well as the national media and many other traditionally conservative sources. Moreover, Trump’s done a ton of horribly offensive things, like race-baiting a federal judge presiding over a case about his frauds, and, of course, attacking the family of a Muslim soldier who was killed serving the United States of America.
What this suggests to me is that many to whom his racist message appeals might be getting signals that they should conceal those views, and hence might be telling pollsters that they’re “undecided,” or voting for Gary Johnson, or whatever — and in the privacy of the voting booth they might well turn around and vote for Trump.
Takeaway: Trump’s horrendous behavior might be motivating his supporters to lie to pollsters.
3. Our election has security vulnerabilities, and is being targeted by a powerful hostile intelligence apparatus.
We know that Trump and Vladimir Putin are fond of one another (I’ve been collecting many of the stories on Twitter under the hashtag #TrumpSoKGB — though really it should be FSB, the successor agency). There’s an increasing consensus that Russia was behind the Wikileaks release of DNC emails at the start of the convention — and it’s hard to believe that this would be for any reason other than to help the election of a candidate whose campaign is run by a Putin crony, who has threatened to back off on America’s mutual-defense obligations to its NATO allies, and who has risibly denied that Putin is going to invade a country that he has, in fact, already invaded.
With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that Michael J. Morell, former acting CIA director who “was at President George W. Bush’s side when we were attacked on Sept. 11” calls Trump “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
Here’s the problem. If Vladimir Putin wants to use the immensely powerful Russian intelligence apparatus to influence our election, there are a lot of vulnerabilities he can exploit. In particular, there are vulnerabilities in the electronic voting machines in use in many jurisdictions. Security experts have been freaking out about this for a long time. One of the machines, certified for use in Virginia until last year, was so bad you could literally sit in a car in a parking lot outside and change votes from a laptop over wifi. There’s a group of scholars at Princeton who, at this point, are basically hacking the things for funsies.
Felten took to blogging, and started a tradition: Each election, he snapped a photo standing alone with unguarded voting machines days before the election. In another study, the Sequoia AVC Edge was infected with malware that allowed it to do nothing but play Pacman; the students pulled off the feat without breaking the machines “tamper-proof” seals, and decorated the machine with Pacman logos. The team tore through topics including source code review of the larger Diebold voting system; advising election officials on security measures without new hardware; and designing malware for the Sequoia AVC Advantage that Appel had purchased, using a technique called a Return-Oriented Program. In less than a minute, they infected a Diebold machine with self-duplicating code, spreading from machine to machine through an administrator card, and programmed it to swing an election for Benedict Arnold over George Washington.
Will Putin go that far? Experts Wired spoke to said no, but do you really trust Vladimir Putin’s behavior to be predictable? I don’t. He’s an incredibly clever dictator who has violated just about every international norm in the business and managed to annex the freaking Crimea right from under the noses of the international community.
Oh, also, from that same Politico story:
In the event of a state-sponsored attack — however vanishingly unlikely — can old school match wits? The adversary, more than one member of the Princeton group pointed out, may be more practiced than we know: A June 2014 report linked Russian hackers to an attempt alter the election outcomes in Ukraine, by targeting the computerized aggregation software — one of the attacks Appel fears.
And from the linked story:
Only 40 minutes before election results were to go live on television at 8 p.m., Sunday, May 25, a team of government cyber experts removed a “virus” covertly installed on Central Election Commission computers, Ukrainian security officials said later.
If it had not been discovered and removed, the malicious software would have portrayed ultra-nationalist Right Sector party leader Dmytro Yarosh as the winner with 37 percent of the vote (instead of the 1 percent he actually received) and Petro Poroshenko (the actually winner with a majority of the vote) with just 29 percent, Ukraine officials told reporters the next morning.
Curiously, Russian Channel One aired a bulletin that evening declaring Mr. Yarosh the victor with 37 percent of the vote over Mr. Poroshenko with 29 percent, Ukraine officials said.
But go read that whole Politico story. It’s pretty terrifying. Here’s a little more:
How different is Kiev from Gary, Indiana? As is the case in cyberattacks — at least in the examples of Stuxnet and Sony — it’s never quite plausible, until it is. Hackers this year have targeted voter registration rolls in Illinois and possibly Arizona, another attack highlighted by the Princeton alums.
But most identified Pennsylvania as the greatest concern. There, according to Verified Voting 47 counties of 67 vote on digital voting machines without a written backup record if something were to go awry — a reality that is very much on the minds of state officials (legislation is working its way through the House to examine the issue of voting modernization.) In Pittsburgh and Philadelphia — two Democratic strongholds whose turnout typically decide the fate of the state’s outcome — around 900,000 voters will cast ballots entirely on paperless touchscreens DREs, if previous elections are any guide. Then, at least from the voters’ perspective, they will disappear into a sea of ones and zeroes.
Montgomery County, a crucial Democratic redoubt in the suburbs of Philadelphia — an area sometimes seen as having the potential to swing the entire state — is one such locality that uses a paperless electronic machine, and only one machine, for all 425 precincts: Appel’s Sequoia AVC Advantage.
Takeaway: Putin might well steal away votes from Clinton by hacking the voting machines.
4. Clinton needs to win by a lot to keep the scary white rage from boiling over.
Trump, apparently hedging against the risk of getting beat in November, has started going around saying that the election is going to be “rigged.” And his hatchet man, Roger Stone (yes, Trump needs a hatchet man to say the stuff that’s too scary even for him) has openly threatened (and then un-threatened, and then re-threatened) violence if Trump loses:
“I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly,” Stone said. “He needs to say for example, today would be a perfect example: ‘I am leading in Florida. The polls all show it. If I lose Florida, we will know that there’s voter fraud. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.’”
“If you can’t have an honest election, nothing else counts,” he continued. “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath. The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it. We will not stand for it.”
Need I remind you that Trump’s supporters have a lot of guns? This is really scary.
Takeaway: it would be much safer for American democracy if Clinton beats Trump by so much that it’s impossible to believe the election is stolen.
What all this means is that we can’t stop fighting. We need to continue building a grand coalition of all the decent, humane, rational people, left and right, in support of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. We need to make sure that every single one of those decent, human, rational people turns out to vote in November, so that we can swamp the election with such a lead that low-propensity voters, secret racists, and Russian hackers can’t make enough of a difference to swing the result — so many that not even former Richard Nixon thug Roger Stone can convince the concealed-carry crowd to throw a riot.
We need to work our asses off for Clinton, regardless of what the polls say.
Now that you’re here, how about registering to vote? In most (but not all) states, you can register with a federal form. The Election Assistance Commission also has lots of state-by-state information about registration processes and eligibility. And you can check your registration status online.