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US elections 2016

Despite FBI review news, presidential race still Hillary Clinton’s to lose

The FBI review of newly found emails possibly related to its earlier Clinton email probe has buoyed the Trump campaign, but hasn’t yet upended her frontrunner status. Still, one metric should give Clinton pause.

The latest turn in this unpredictable presidential election saga may have thrown a life line to Donald Trump's troubled campaign,  said experts, but so far it hasn't changed the basic dynamics of the race for the White House with Clinton still favoured to win.

Trump last Friday immediately seized the opportunity to boost what many had already written off as the failed presidential bid of the most unpopular major party candidate in recent history.

After news broke that the FBI was looking into a new batch of emails  possibly connected to its previously closed investigation into Hillary Clinton's private mail server, the Republican presidential contender did not need prompting to turn this into a new rallying cry for his supporters.

No huge effect

At a campaign event in New Hampshire that same day Trump called the new FBI review "bigger than Watergate” and claimed "we are going to win back the White House.”

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Trump: 'This is bigger than Watergate'

But that promise - nine days before election day - is still more wishful thinking than reality, argue political scholars approached by DW.

"I wouldn't expect it to have a huge effect”, said Jason Roberts, a scholar of US political institutions at the University of North Carolina. "It's still hers to lose.”

"The FBI Director's revelations  are not likely to stop Clinton's win”, said Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, via email.

Several new national and swing state polls conducted after Friday's FBI revelation do show Trump gaining ground on Clinton by different margins. But none of the surveys has Trump leading Clinton.   

That development is congruent with the experts' assessment of the state of play late in the campaign.

Small segment of undecided voters

"There is a very small number of undecided voters and that is likely where we are seeing the movement in the tracking surveys”, saidBert Rockman, an expert on the American presidency at Purdue University.

While Trump could therefore gain some ground with still undecided voters who tend to be the most uninformed and unpredictable segment of the electorate, that is unlikely to be enough to tip the balance in the Republican candidate's favor.

   

That is because the large majority of voters, note the scholars, including staunch Clinton and Trump supporters, made up their minds about their preferred candidate a long time ago and won't be swayed by the new FBI email review less than two weeks before election day.

What's more, some 18 million Americans have already cast their ballots before the FBI review became public, according to a CNN early voting data analysis. In some key states, added Jacobs, more than a quarter of the votes are already in. 

Electoral college advantage

With Trump having alienated practically every important segment of the electorate except white working class men during his campaign – Latinos, African-Americans, women and college-educated Republicans – it is also hard to see where the large shift necessary for him to change the game this late could come from, noted Thomas Whalen who specializes in presidential politics at Boston University via email. As a result, Whalen said, the FBI revelation "should narrow the margin of victory, but I think Clinton should still win.”

A Clinton victory appears even more likely when one resists the breathless focus on national polls, but looks at what is really relevant to decide who will win the White House: the electoral college.   

Clinton ties Trump's unfavorability rating  

"Unless there is a much wilder swing than we are seeing than Clinton seems to have a pretty good lock on the electoral college vote which is ultimately the one that counts” said Rockman. Clinton still has many more realistic paths to get to the necessary 270 electoral college than Trump. 

While Clinton thus remains the clear favorite in this race, one statistic should give her pause, even if she ultimately wins. According to a new Washington Post/ABC Tracking Poll, 59 percent of registered voters have an unfavorable impression of Clinton. That means that nine days before election day Clinton has closed the unpopularity gap and is now viewed as negatively as her Republican opponent.        

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