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NIRAJ SRIVASTAVA | 5 NOVEMBER, 2016

US Presidential Polls: The Outcome Is Not Clear


BERKELEY, California: In the next few days, the American people will decide who will be their next President. Naturally, speculation about the result is mounting, and all sorts of predictions are being made, based on opinion polls and other factors.

An element of suspense is also in the air, in the wake of new revelations about the two candidates, which keep surfacing from time to time.

To get a sense of which way the election might go, it would be useful to outline some of its important features and variables. Their interplay will determine who will win on Nov. 8.

First, Hillary Clinton is the candidate of the US establishment and the elite. She enjoys the support of the White House, Pentagon, the State Department, the Intelligence Agencies, and other wings of the federal government. She is also supported by the minorities. President Obama and his wife Michelle have personally campaigned for her and taken sides in the election campaign, even going to the extent of criticizing Trump, which is unprecedented.

Hillary is also backed by America’s “deep state,” which includes the arms manufacturers, Wall Street, Big Oil, large corporations, Big Pharma, most of the “mainstream media,” and, most important of all, the Jewish lobby. Hillary has built deep connections with these groups during her, and Bill Clinton’s, almost three decades in politics. Together, they constitute a formidable team.

Also, Hillary Clinton is the candidate of the US war machine. She has already identified Russia and Putin as targets for destabilization and promised to follow a more aggressive military policy in Syria.

Second, Trump is an unknown quantity in American politics. He has never held any political office and therefore has no political record. He is known as a businessman, who has seen both success and failure. During the election campaign stories about his failures have surfaced at regular intervals in the media. To his chagrin, stories of his indiscretions with women have also appeared regularly.

Trump draws his support mainly from the working class male, white voter, who is not doing well economically, and who has seen job losses and increase in the cost of living during the last couple of decades. Things became particularly difficult for this class after the Financial Crisis of 2008. Not surprisingly, the anti-establishment sentiment is likely to benefit Trump who is seen as an outsider, in contrast to Clinton.

Trump has made some outrageous statements during the election campaign, particularly regarding Muslims, women, illegal immigration, and the sanctity of the election itself. For example, he has refused to say if he will accept the election result, alleging that it could be rigged. Trump’s statements have alienated large segments of the voters, particularly women and minorities, and raised questions about whether he has the right temperament and judgement to be the President.

Third, a major feature of this election has been very high negative ratings for both Clinton and Trump, often above 50 percent. For example, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken between Oct. 26-29, whose results were released on Oct. 31, Clinton’s negative rating touched 60 percent while Trump’s was 58 percent. A large number of Americans are not happy with the choice of the candidates before them. They would have liked to have better candidates.

Fourth, Hillary Clinton has been dogged by allegations of wrongdoing all through her campaign. The most serious charge against her was the use of a private email server for official communication while she was Secretary of State during 2008-12. The FBI conducted an inquiry into the matter and determined that she had violated the law, but did not recommend her prosecution—a decision for which FBI Director James Comey was criticized by Trump and the Republicans.

Clinton has also suffered embarrassment due to a steady leak of emails by Wikileaks about various issues related to her campaign, such as the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails in July, and the “Podesta emails” in October and November. These leaks have shown her in a poor light and undermined people’s confidence in her. For the above reasons, a large percentage of Americans believe that Clinton is corrupt.

Moreover, the FBI is also investigating the Clinton Foundation, run by her husband Bill, for possible wrongdoing. It has come to light that the Clinton Foundation has accepted millions of dollars in donations, including from foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in exchange for alleged favours, or “pay for play corruption,” as some have described it.

An unexpected bombshell exploded last week on Oct. 28 when a letter from FBI Director Comey to some members of the Congress was leaked to the media. It stated that the FBI was reopening the investigation into the private email server case, after discovering some more emails of Clinton in another case.

This case pertains to an ongoing investigation of lewd messages sent by former Congressman Anthony Weiner to a 15-year old girl. Weiner is the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, Clinton’s closest aide for more than a decade. His laptop, seized by the FBI, contains around 650,000 emails, some of which are linked to Clinton.

The above development, coming barely 11 days before the election, has hurt Clinton’s prospects, and brightened Trump’s. To control the damage Clinton has demanded that the FBI reveal if it has found anything incriminating in the new emails. However, that would not be possible because examining 650,000 emails will take time. The FBI’s findings will be available only after the elections on Nov. 8. So Clinton will have to fight the election with a question mark against her name.

Fifth, there is still a significant percentage of undecided voters, around 5 percent, whose vote could swing the result. They will make up their minds very late, perhaps when they go to vote.

Finally, there is considerable anti-establishment sentiment in the US at the moment. The last 15 years were not among America’s best. The country has been at war continuously, sometimes two at a time. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine— almost all of them are still going on. These wars have cost the US a great deal in terms of blood and treasure—upwards of $ 5 trillion according to some estimates, in addition to several thousand soldiers killed and tens of thousand injured.

Inevitably, the domestic economic repercussions of the wars have been negative, particularly when coupled with the impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis. Poverty has soared, the middle class has shrunk, real incomes of a significant percentage of Americans have gone down, unemployment has increased, and inequality has grown, to mention but a few parameters.

On the other hand, the upper classes have done very well. The wealthy have become richer, Wall Street is making handsome profits, and the arms industry is thriving.

It remains to be seen if Trump can attract the anti-establishment vote and the undecided voters to a significant extent. Importantly, he has momentum on his side. Clinton had a lead over him in the opinion polls during the campaign and probably still does, though to a lesser degree. But she cannot take her victory for granted.

Anything can happen on election day.

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