In 2004 the GOP convention in late August completely halted John Kerry’s momentum and sowed the seed that would eventually carry the election for George W. Bush: most Americans just wanted someone they could trust. It’s probably too early to write the history of the 2016 conventions, but the turbulent and bombastic RNC was completely overshadowed by the Democratic lineup of speakers, including two presidents, a vice president, and a popular first lady. All living former Republican presidential nominees were conspicuously absent from Trump’s convention, and one of them (Romney) is actively campaigning against him.
Conventions are all about unity, and the bounces in the polls that conventions elicit are closely associated with party identification. Meaning, more party members support the nominee than before, and more independent-leaners formally associate themselves with the party. Clinton’s bounce from the convention is substantial. It erased Trump’s 3-5% bounce and increased pre-convention lead by about 4%. Not all of that came from a well-run DNC, and some of the Clinton bounce came from Trump having the worst week of any presidential Nominee in over 40 years.
The Olympic games will probably act to temporarily harden Clinton’s current 7-point lead, as politics falls from the radar of most Americans. The Olympics plays directly counter to the Trump narrative, since it’s a concrete example that America, diverse in makeup and background, in fact does still win. A lot. Additionally, Clinton leads Trump on handling foreign policy, and anything that reminds people that the world is diverse and complex, and that America is the superpower, will make Trump appear ridiculous, small, and most dreaded of all, weak! Going into Labor Day, Americans’ opinion of the country will be higher and Clinton will look unbeatable.
She is not.
The biggest obstacle will be a press that feels she is not being properly vetted, since they consider her opponent a buffoon. Come the fall she will occupy a very dangerous space in politics: the choice few people want, but seemingly the only qualified candidate.
It’s dangerous because Trump will likely win the first debate. Trump is already playing the expectations game by driving the perception that he may skip the debates on grounds they conflict with his football watching schedule. Rumors are spreading that Trump is afraid to debate someone as knowledgeable as Clinton, and if he does will be shown to have no grasp of the issues. Democrats, journalists, and Trump himself are setting the bar so low for the candidate, the mere fact that he will know his name and 2 or 3 prepackaged statistics will make him look like Super Trump, and he will be declared the overwhelming winner. In fact, it’s very likely that Trump will purposely try to appear more calm and cordial than Clinton, even if less knowledgeable.
The real question is how many traditionally Republican voters Trump can bring home to the party. These voters, appalled by Trump, but unable to vote for Hillary, would probably not vote in an election held today. In an election where the winner will likely not receive a majority of the vote, turning out these voters will be key to Trump’s slim chances.
Hillary will lose some Democrats for different reasons. Berners under 30, too young to have made the mistake in 2000, are poised to boldly repeat the errors of the past by voting for the Green Party. They rationalize their #JillNotHill stance and departure from the Democratic Party as a nuanced position favoring someone marginally more progressive on a short list of positions, yet they cannot articulate their desired political outcome by supporting someone they admit will lose. Of course, the reason is because their decision is not a rational one at all, but an emotional one. Secretary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders, and they hate her for that.
It’s becoming likely that Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green) will cumulatively win >5% of the vote come November, and the next president will have the support of a plurality of the electorate, itself not even a majority of adults of voting age in the country. On top of that, a Clinton victory by <5% will probably lead to cries of election stealing by Donald Trump, incapable of understanding that most people don’t like him and caring only about the stability of our democratic system insofar as it strokes his malignant ego.
Currently, the Election Model has Clinton with a >98% chance of winning the election. But the model projects error based on previous elections at this point in the race, and no candidate has done as poorly as Trump is doing now in the polling era. One thing we know is that Trump can’t afford to skip all the debates. It’s his only chance.