Will Hillary Clinton lose the election because of the FBI’s email investigation?
Like so many events, incidents, revelations and evasions in this most topsy-turvy of presidential elections, there are only two certainties: one, we will not know the answer until next week; two, your opinion probably depends on which echo-chamber of the internet you get your news from.
It’s fair to say that a week ago, the election looked a done deal. Clinton was riding high in the polls; Donald Trump’s behaviour and opinions were so distasteful to the everyday voter that all bar his most loyal cult had abandoned him.
Until Friday’s shock intervention by James Comey. The FBI Director wrote to leading members of Congress to say that his investigators had found information in an unrelated case that might prompt a review of Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. Comey and his team had cleared Clinton of any possibility of prosecution only a few weeks ago.
The unrelated case is now known to be the investigation of sex scandals surrounding disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner, estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Comey’s letter ignited a political firestorm less than two weeks before the election. Comey came under intense criticism for his timing – this close to an election; for ignoring the Justice Department’s guidance not to tell Congress about the development before his team had seen or evaluated the evidence; and for the vagueness and lack of detail in his note.
Trump had already began to recover momentum in some polls, following WikiLeaks’ release of emails to and from her campaign chairman John Podesta which appear to confirm just how much Bill and Hillary Clinton have blurred the boundaries between their business, charitable and political interests. US intelligence blames these leaks on Russian hackers and suggest they may be attempting to influence the election result.
It gave Trump supporters fresh ammunition just when they were desperate to shift attention from his scandals over taxes and alleged inappropriate behaviour towards women.
In an election that many pollsters describe as an unpopularity contest, it does not take much to swing the mood of independent voters. Before Comey’s intervention, the combination of no news from Trump and bad news from Clinton had halved her lead in most polls since the last presidential debate.
Yesterday’s average lead for Clinton in national polls of 3.4% should be a healthy margin. But few polls published so far were carried out after news broke about the FBI and the emails.
One reputable survey, carried out on Friday evening, showed just a one-point overall lead for Clinton. It found the news had mostly hardened existing opinions.
“About a third of likely voters say they are less likely to support Clinton given James Comey’s disclosure,” said a pollster. “Given other considerations, 63% say it makes no difference.”
Only 7% of Clinton supporters felt it would make any difference, but this rises “much higher among groups already predisposed not to vote for her,” the poll found.
Whether the unprecedented and possibly dubious FBI intervention will swing the election remains to be seen. However, running for president with that hanging over one’s head is not a good look.