The Predata US Election Special, September 16 2016: In the Digital Realm, It’s Starting to Look Like Trump’s Election to Lose

Aaron Timms

  • Trump maintains significant advantage in headline digital campaign; now dominates both the “official” and “unofficial” online campaigns
  • Digital race now practically even in the battleground states, reflecting the overall swing toward Trump in the polls over the last two weeks
  • Trump’s energy on the trail — real-life and digital — and the activism of his online surrogates continue to be the decisive factor in the digital realm
  • Electoral College math still points to a Clinton victory on November 8, but further digital gains for Trump in coming weeks will force a reevaluation of the odds

1. THE HEADLINE DIGITAL CAMPAIGN: TRUMP EXTENDS HIS DOMINANCE

  • This week’s headline digital campaign score: Trump 89.3% vs. Clinton 15.8%. (Last week’s score: Trump 85.9% vs. Clinton 14.5%. See below for a fuller explanation of this and our other campaign scores.)
  • Trump continues to dominate the headline/whole-of-internet digital campaign: the recovery from his post-RNC August slump is complete and he now enjoys the greatest digital advantage over Clinton since the primaries ended and the campaign proper began.
  • The rebound in Trump’s digital fortunes has led a moderate swing in momentum in the national polls toward the Republican nominee; two polls released over the last week put him ahead, though the average of all polls continues to give Clinton a narrow lead.
  • Clinton enjoyed a near-unbroken run of national poll successes throughout August, coming out on top in all but one of the polls. But this month things have become a lot more even: Trump has won five polls, Clinton 16. We detected a decisive shift in digital momentum toward Trump around August 25, before the polls began to show a swing back to the Republican nominee.
  • Footage of Clinton and Trump participating in last week’s NBC “Commander-in-Chief Forum” was a top driver of digital conversation about the election over the last week, as was the video of Trump’s controversial appearance on Larry King’s show on Russian state-owned TV channel RT. (Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson also saw a brief blip in interest, thanks to Aleppo.)
  • A couple of videos uploaded to Donald Trump’s official campaign channel in January also figured among the top sources of online attention this week (one a short statement about “unifying the nation,” the other a paean to the campaign as a “life-changing experience”), as did a Trump campaign anti-Hillary attack ad focusing on her controversial 2008 statement about the role of LBJ in “realizing” the civil rights vision of Martin Luther King.
  • In previous weeks it’s been Trump’s policy speeches and rallies — many of which are uploaded to YouTube by his dedicated band of online surrogates — that have dominated the Republican’s share of the digital campaign; this is the first week in which we’ve seen meaningful levels of interest in videos uploaded to Trump’s official campaign channel.
  • This should be a cause of considerable concern to Clinton: to this point her official digital campaign has been much better organized and enjoyed far greater traction online than that of her rival. Now there are signs the online public is beginning to pay attention to Trump’s official online message — while maintaining its interest in the “unofficial” material (videos of speeches, rallies, press conferences, etc.) made available online by his many surrogates.
  • Trump is coming to dominate both the “official” and “unofficial” digital campaigns.
  • Trump has invested considerable effort in recent weeks in courting the African-American community; the video of him speaking to a congregation in Detroit earlier this month has received more than 1 million views. The uptick in interest for his official attack ad on the so-called “racist undertones” of Clinton’s 2008 primary campaign suggests Trump’s message on Clinton and race is beginning to cut through. The GOP nominee notably returned to this theme in his two-sentence “press conference” on the Barack Obama birth controversy today. Birtherism, he claimed, was a creation of the Clinton campaign in 2008; he was merely a dutiful investigator of the cause. The claim was untrue but it doesn’t matter: as Clinton continues to struggle to mobilize the support of young black voters, Trump will continue to hammer his rival on race.
  • On no day since July 31 has a pro-Clinton web page been the top daily driver of online conversation about the election.

2. THE BATTLEGROUND STATES: AS POLLS SWING TO TRUMP, IT’S NOW DEAD EVEN

  • This week’s battleground state digital campaign score: Trump 75.8% vs. Clinton 76.5%. (Last week’s score: Trump 57.7% vs. Clinton 74.4%.)
  • The race in and about the election’s 12 battleground states has narrowed dramatically.
  • A surge in activity around the Trump campaign’s online presence in Pennsylvania and Florida this week allowed the GOP nominee to make the digital swing state race competitive for the first time since the campaign proper began.
  • This mirrors a swing toward Trump in the individual state polls. Last week there were 29 polls published in swing states, according to RealClear Politics; 19 favored Clinton. This week, 41 swing state polls have been published so far; only 15 of them put Clinton in front.
  • Trump’s online operation in states such as Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia remains disorganized, as we discussed last week. On balance, the Electoral College math still points to a Clinton victory on November 8, but a more sustained digital effort by the Trump campaign in the battleground states over the next few weeks, coupled with continued closeness in the overall score between the two campaigns across all 12 states, could call the math into serious question.

3. WEEK IN REVIEW & ANALYSIS

IF THIS IS TUESDAY, IT MUST BE CHILD CARE. Donald Trump’s week began with a furious attempt to sound gracious about Hillary Clinton’s weekend medical episode, subsequently revealed to be the effect of pneumonia, at the 9/11 memorial in lower Manhattan. “I hope she gets well soon,” the Republican nominee told Fox News on Monday. By Thursday, at a rally in Ohio, he was openly questioning his Democratic rival’s stamina and ability to withstand the rigors of the campaign. In between, he promised to rebuild the “depleted” military at a speech to the National Guard in Baltimore, delivered an Ivanka-vetted (Ivanka-extreme-vetted?) address about child care in Pennsylvania, held a rally in the key battleground state of Iowa, where the latest poll now gives him an 8-point advantage, and pledged to deliver 3.5% annual GDP growth in a major policy speech at the Economic Club of New York. Trump’s week ended with him finally declaring he believes Barack Obama was born in the United States — a two-sentence dismissal of the Republican nominee’s long association with the birther cause that was preceded, conveniently, by close to an hour of plugs for Trump’s new hotel in Washington, DC, the venue in which the event was held.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, spent much of the week recovering from pneumonia, and only made it back to the campaign trail on Thursday. There is now a stark difference in activity levels between the two campaigns. This difference, importantly, began to emerge clearly before Clinton came down with pneumonia — though the Democrat’s illness-induced pause of the last week has naturally exacerbated it. Trump, quite simply, is a more energetic campaigner than Clinton: he holds more rallies, delivers more speeches, and at least until the last couple of weeks, held press conferences far more frequently than his rival. It doesn’t matter — for now — that from a policy perspective, his campaign continues to operate from a mostly post-factual space. Trump is dominating the campaign because he simply puts more stuff out there — and it’s his ideas, his policies, his outrages and apologies, his retractions and obfuscations, that continue to set the news agenda. He also benefits, in contrast to Clinton, from an active band of online surrogates, as we discussed last week.

This difference in activity levels between the two campaigns is not playing out on the ground alone. It’s also apparent in the digital realm, where the contest — between the hyper-kinetic, impulsive, verbally libidinous Trump and the pragmatic, cautious, stage-managed Clinton — now comfortably favors the Republican. Critically, Trump has now pulled level with Clinton in the battleground states for the first time since the beginning of the campaign; the Electoral College math, once a source of easy Clinton comfort, is becoming trickier and trickier for the Democratic nominee. With the first debate just 10 days away, it’s suddenly starting to look like the election is Trump’s to lose. ⏮

Predata’s US election digital campaign scores are generated by computing the weekly, month-long correlations of Predata’s signals for Clinton and Trump to the overall signal for the US election, which is a composite of all the material in the individual candidate signals plus a selection of neutral/explanatory background material about the election online. These scores are not a prediction or a probability level of victory for the respective candidate on November 8; they are a measure of each campaign’s correlation to online conversation about the election as a whole, which can be used as a rough guide to which side is dominating, from week to week, the digital campaign. The scores are not polls, but they can offer a perspective independent of the polls, and the movements in similarly constructed scores have historically led swings in the polls (something we saw with Brexit). Since the scores are correlations, they do not need to sum to 100%. (A “score” of 49.83% is nothing more than a correlation of 0.4983.)

For more information on our US election coverage and analysis, contact Aaron Timms at aaron@predata.com.