Center for Electoral Forensics

The E-Mail Bump

[Flag of the United States]The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has ended its investigation in to the use of a private server by Hillary Clinton. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has declined to bring charges against her.

How much has this helped the presidential aspirations of Donald Trump?

Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton

Presidential candidate Hillary R. Clinton served as Secretary of State under Barack H. Obama from 2009 until her resignation in 2013. During that time, she used a private server to handle her State Department e-mail. The impetus behind her wanting to use this private server in lieu of a government server is that her BlackBerry mobile phone was convenient to use and a replacement would have been too difficult for her to find a secure replacement (source). The National Security Agency was aware that she used her BlackBerry and warned her — through the Bureau of Diplomatic Security — about this while she was Secretary of State (source).

There was one security question with her using an unsecured server as Secretary of State: Did foreign agents access confidential information?

The answer is, apparently, not clear. It is true that there is documented evidence her server was accessed by people from, at least, China, Germany, Serbia, and South Korea. It is also true that the server logs did not indicate any of them were successful in hacking her e-mails.

There was one political question with her using an unsecured server: Does this show bad judgment? If so, how should this affect her campaign for the US Presidency?

Being under investigation for the better part of 30 years for various claims, this new scandal does not help her with her most important weakness: perceived honesty. In a Rasmussen poll taken at the start of June 2016, before the end of the FBI investigation, just 15% of the people polled answered that they felt Clinton was more honest than the typical politician. For Donald Trump, the number was 30% (source).

These perceptions do not agree with the objective fact-checking done by PolitiFact, who found that Clinton was more honest than Trump. Politifact scored 51% of her investigated statements as True or Mostly True. For Donald Trump, it was only 14%.

Polls Before FBI Report

The FBI concluded its investigation into Clinton on July 5, 2016. The next day, the US Department of Justice decided to not bring charges against Clinton. So, what did the electoral map look like on July 4?

Electoral Map on July 4, 2016

Electoral Map on July 4, 2016

Note several things about these estimates. First, Clinton leads Trump 53 to 47 at the national level.

Second, there are 85 electoral votes in the toss-up category. To be in the toss-up category, the probability of both candidates winning the state — according to our models — must be less than 75%. Note that these map colors are based on the probability the candidate will win the state. It is not the support level in the state for the candidate. The largest reason behind a state being a toss-up is the lack of polling. The secondary reason is that the race is very tight. Here, the tight races are actually just Colorado, Florida, and North Carolina. The other grey states have few polls at this point in the election cycle. (In addition to this, count Louisiana's lean status due to the few polls there.)

Third, except for New Hampshire, the blue and red states are as we would expect from recent political history in the United States.

Polls After FBI Report and Before Republican Convention

The Republican National Convention started on July 18, 2016, in Cleveland, OH. In checking the electoral map between the convention and the Justice Department decision, we can get a glimpse into how much the e-mail scandal has hurt Clinton's chances of being elected to the Presidency.

Electoral Map on July 16, 2016

Electoral Map on July 16, 2016

Note that the resolution of the e-mail scandal had a negligible effect on Clinton's poll numbers. It seems as though it changed few minds regarding Clinton and the presidency. The national estimate moved one point for Trump in those two weeks. Pennsylvania moved from Strong Democrat to Lean Democrat. Iowa moved from Strong Democrat to Toss-Up. Florida moved from Toss-Up to Lean Republican. The outcome of the election, however, remained the same, as Clinton held onto at least 270 Strong Democrat votes, albeit the number of those Strong Democrat votes dropped from 288 to 271, while Trump's Strong Republican votes remained the same at 154.

Polls After Republican Convention

It is conventional wisdom (pun intended) that the national convention will give a candidate a "bump," or increase in public support, of 3 to 4%. Even with a substandard national convention, did Trump at least get a convention bump?

Electoral Map on July 24, 2016

Electoral Map on July 24, 2016

While it is too soon to tell the long-lasting effect of the convention, there is strong evidence that Trump did get a good bump. Prior to the convention, Clinton led the national polls 52 to 48%. After the Republican National Convention, Trump led the national polls 52 to 48% — a complete reversal.

Note that the bump was greater on the first night of the convention than on the last night. This suggests that the convention did not live up to the expectations.

Also note that there were no changes in the Strong categories. Clinton held her 271 Strong Democrat votes and Trump held his 154 Strong Republican votes. The only observable shift happened in the Lean and Toss-Up categories: Arizona's 11 votes moved from Toss-Up to Lean Republican (no surprise). North Carolina's 15 votes moved from Lean Democrat to Toss-Up (again, no surprise).

Polls After Democratic Convention

The Democratic National Convention begins on July 25, 2016, just one week after the Republican Convention opened. If Clinton can replicate Trump's convention bump, things will return to the July 16 electoral map. However, there appears to be yet another scandal brewing with Clinton. This time, Wikileaks released approximately 20,000 e-mails suggesting that the Democratic National Convention (DNC) operated to help Clinton in her primary battle against Bernie Sanders. Today, the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned her post.

Where this new scandal takes us, I do not know. But, at least the election season is not boring!

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