Mark Curtis's blog

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- October 30, 2016


(Charleston, West Virginia) – There are ten days left in Campaign 2016, and this is basically “do-or-die” time in every race from President of the United States on down to town dog catcher. Races can be won or lost in the final days, but the stars must align. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Reagan V. Carter 1980” – Polls in the final weeks of Campaign 2016 have varied quite a bit, but all except two have Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump by anywhere from one to twelve points. Can that kind of trend be overcome? Yes! On October 26, 1980, President Jimmy Carter led Governor Ronald Reagan 47 percent to 39 percent. Two days later and one week before the election, Reagan and Carter held their only debate. On Election Day, Reagan won in a landslide. So the answer is "Yes; it’s possible, but it’s a challenge."

“1980 Versus 2016” – As a practical matter, it is difficult to compare polling techniques that are 36 years apart. We certainly did not have today’s computer technology back in 1980. On the other hand, we did not have today’s cell phone technology (which makes it easier to avoid pollsters) in 1980. I wonder how truly accurate our samples are today, when many people (including me) have no landlines in their homes and have cell numbers that are unpublished. That said, polling data in the past two Presidential election cycles was – on balance – pretty accurate.

“Brinkley on Reagan” – It’s important to remember that in 1980 most everyone in the media did not see Reagan’s last minute turnaround and landslide coming. The late, great news anchor David Brinkley said on NBC News that night: “I'd like to ask a question of you folks. We have here what I think reasonably could be called a landslide, or certainly something approaching a landslide. Where did it come from? Nobody anticipated it. No polls predicted it. No one saw it coming. How did that happen?” Brinkley speculated that many people may not have wanted to admit to pollsters that they were for Reagan. Could there be a similar “Trump effect?” I doubt it, but stay tuned. Remember that in 1980 Reagan crushed Carter in the debate. It was devastating to the incumbent. You can’t draw a parallel to the debates in 2016.

“RCP” – I like the Real Clear Politics composite poll. Basically, it is just a rolling average of all media and academic polls; and - while the average is not scientific – it does give you a good snapshot of all prominent polls conducted with a social science discipline. Wednesday night the RCP poll had Hilary Clinton with a 5.4 percent lead over Donald Trump, up from a 4.4 percent lead earlier in the day. A sampling of some polls include: The Los Angeles Times/USC Poll, which had Trump up by one point, and the Fox News Poll, which had Clinton up by five points.

“Why the Poll Disparity?” – Poll results are often influenced by two key factors - how you take the sample and how you ask the question. If - in drawing the sample - I simply ask potential voters: “Are you a registered voter?” I would have a very poor sample. Why? Well, in most elections, 50 percent (or fewer) of those registered even bother to vote. But, if I ask, “Did you vote for President in 2012, 2008, and 2004?” and the answer to all three is "yes," I have now found a “likely voter.” Voting behavior is a better predictor than simply being registered. Once I determine whether you are a likely voter, then asking you, “For whom will you vote, Clinton or Trump?” is far more pointed and precise than “Would you ever consider voting for Donald Trump?”

“Trump’s Ten-Day Strategy” – With ten days to go – and no more debates – it’s harder to move the needle, but it can be done. If I were Trump, I would contact all major networks and even some minor networks and buy a half-hour of prime TV time on Sunday, November 6. He has the money, so why not? He needs to sit at a desk in an Oval Office-type setting, to look straight into the camera and to talk for thirty minutes about his plans for the United States. His talk needs to be straight and sober – with no name-calling – and to lay out his plans with justifications. It’s his last, best shot. Clearly, he also needs to hit hard on the latest Clinton email controversy.

“Clinton’s Ten-Day Strategy” – I am very uncomfortable with using kids as political props, but has anyone ever seen Hillary's grandchildren? Look, everyone loves babies, so why not walk out out with Bill, along with Chelsea, Marc, and their children? Hillary as a grandma could send a powerful message about caring for the next generation of Americans. You’d have to be careful about how you orchestrate the photo-op, but it could be done. Hillary Clinton’s biggest drawback is that she appears cold, calculating, and unlikable. People love grandmas; it could be endearing. Yes, tout your vast resume, but show your heart, too. She will also need - to the extent she can - to shed clarity on the latest round of email revelations.

“Third Parties” – The third-party effort in the race continues to fade. At one time, I thought the combined total of Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein could reach 20 percent. It reached as high as 18 percent, but has waned. In the latest Real Clear Politics composite poll, Johnson is at 5.8 percent with Stein at 2.0. Their combined 7.8 percent hurts Clinton slightly more than Trump, but not enough to change the outcome of the election.

“Early Voting” – One thing we did not have in the Carter-Reagan election in 1980, was early voting. Depending on the day this week, as many as 37 states are participating in early voting. That prevents a significant number of voters being able to change their minds at the last minute. I heard on the radio this week – and it’s just anecdotal – that “90 percent of the advertising money is spent after 20 percent of people have voted.” I doubt the amount is as high as 90 percent, but the line is well noted. A lot of people cast their ballots early, and their minds can’t be changed by a barrage of last-minute ads.

Did you vote early, and why? Just click the comment button at

© 2016, Mark Curtis media, LLC.

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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- October 23, 2016


(Charleston, West Virginia) – The debates are over, and now it is time to vote. The candidates served up a lot to chew on in their final encounters, so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“WikiLeaks” – I thought this was Donald Trump’s best debate – though it was not without its problems. More about that in a moment. Trump’s best moment was when he confronted Hillary Clinton about one of her speeches that was produced in an email hack by WikiLeaks. It was a speech to Brazilian bankers in which she advocated for “open borders” in the U.S. While Clinton maintained she was talking about energy policy, Trump argued she was talking about immigration policy. It was one of his hardest hits of the night.

“Late in the Game” – Trump could use more “moments” like the ones provided by WikiLeaks. The problem is that time, momentum, and format are not on his side. The election is November 8, but early voting is already underway in many states. If more incriminating emails come out from WikiLeaks on - say November 1, all the people who early voted can’t go back and change their ballots. It’s also hard to change minds in the eleventh hour, and the number of undecided voters is dwindling.

“Combative Versus Mean” – One of Donald Trump’s best qualities is his combativeness – unless it goes too far. Look, he got to this point in the race because he is spontaneous, unscripted, and blunt. There really is no filter. Renowned pollster Frank Luntz has done focus groups throughout the campaign where debate viewers control a dial in which they can react positively or negatively to a candidate’s remarks. Trump always scores well when he is feisty and combative, but his ratings turn negative when he starts name calling, such as when he said Hillary Clinton was a “liar,” or “such a nasty woman.” When he crosses the line, many voters go thumbs down. Suddenly, his biggest asset – his candor – becomes a liability.

“Al Smith Dinner” – My same critique might be said for his remarks at the quadrennial Al Smith Dinner the night following the debate. Some of his jokes about Hillary Clinton were hysterical; and, in turn, some of her barbs aimed at him were quite funny. But when he crossed the line into personal attacks during what is supposed to be a bipartisan and satirical event, he crossed the line. The fallout is that the mean clips dominate the news coverage, and all the funny stuff gets forgotten. There’s an old saying: “Quit while you’re ahead,” and Trump should have abided by it. He would have won the night in the candidates' last joint appearance. Likability is a great last-minute impression to leave on wavering or undecided voters.

“The Clinton Strategy” – I thought the strongest moment in the debate for Clinton was when she criticized Trump for his behavior towards women. Instead of mentioning women who have made allegations of sexual impropriety about Trump (which could have brought a backlash on Clinton), she chose to talk about the female reporter who wrote the article. “He attacked the woman reporter writing the story, called her disgusting as he has called a number of women during this campaign. Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger,” Clinton said. By attacking Trump in this way, Clinton hit hard on an issue that has hurt Trump, without allowing him to return fire by talking about Bill Clinton’s treatment of women and about Hillary’s protection of her husband.

“Early Voting” – I offer the above advice because this campaign will leave a lot of “lessons learned” for future candidates. There is the old bromide, “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” The other end of that should be, “You only have one chance to make a final impression before people vote.” I say this because Election Day may be November 8, but a lot of people can now vote early. For example, following the final debate and the Al Smith Dinner, early voting was already underway in 24 states. This week, 13 more states will join that list. If everyone had to wait until Election Day, some of the negative images have a chance to fade. But if they can vote the morning after the final debate, last impressions can be powerful.

“The Handshake” – I used to coach a lot of youth sports, and the one thing we stressed to the kids was sportsmanship – win, lose, or draw. The captains would shake hands at the start of the game, and the players and coaches from each side would shake hands after the game. It was a great life lesson about competition and camaraderie. I think the candidates should shake hands before and after the debate. They look petty and small when they don’t.

“Respect for the Process” – Speaking of sportsmanship, Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the results of the election seemed odd. “I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. That led to speculation he might not concede the election should he lose. Now it’s one thing to hold off on a concession if the race is close (as it was in 2000), or if there is evidence of significant voter fraud. But election concessions are a time-honored tradition in American politics. I thought in 1992 President George H.W. Bush gave one of the classiest concessions. It’s especially tough when you’re the incumbent President and you lose. Still, you congratulate your opponent and pledge cooperation and healing to the nation. It’s not only polite; it’s patriotic.

Have you early voted? If so, why, and in which state? Just click the comment button at

© 2016 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

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