With just days left in the volatile 2016 presidential election, revelations that there are more unearthed emails from Hillary Clinton to come and that Donald Trump exploited a legally questionable and since-eliminated tax loophole to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxable income have rocked the press but most likely not the public. Observer talked to New Jersey’s leading political scientists to see if the last week will have major consequences for either candidate, and whether dependably blue will see any surprises down the ballot in congressional or county races.
Polls suggest that Clinton has an edge, but Trump could still have a path forward.
The consenus: undecided voters are few and far between in a thoroughly divisive race, and only the race between incumbent congressman Scott Garrett and his Democratic challenger Josh Gottheimer is likely to be up in the air come the morning of November 8.
Ben Dworkin, Rider University
“The situation is very fluid. My own sense is that the emails and the fight over the FBI’s actions will reinforce the positions of people who had already decided. I’m not sure whether any of these particular revelations are going to sway the number of truly undecided voters. I think most people have figured out who they’re going to vote for. And they’re all just waiting for the day to do it.
“The down ballot races have more to do with the politics of those districts and the personalities involved. That 5th District race doesn’t have as much to do with Trump and Clinton as it does with Garrett and Gottheimer and the demographics of that recently reconfigured district. I think the 2010 redistricting certainly brought in additional Democratic areas, which gives Gottheimer a little bit of extra help. But they ran in his district in 2012 and 2014, and still lost to him. So there’s something more to it than just that.”
Matthew Hale, Seton Hall University
“I don’t think that the tax evasion story or the linkage of Trump’s servers to a Russian bank, I don’t think those stories are resonating with people in the same way that Clinton’s email stories are. The vast majority of people have made up their minds about whether Hillary’s email issues prevent them from voting for her. But I do think that there are going to be some people who are going to hold their nose and vote for Trump or hold their nose and vote for Hillary. Now the stink about Hillary is a lot greater than it was because it’s just this constant story about what else is there. The details don’t really matter.
“I think Garrett’s going to lose. I think Gotthiemer’s going to get Scott Garrett out in the 5th district. I think he has a conservative Democratic message that I feel like is resonating up there. I guess my sense of things is that Donald Trump is not doing well in New Jersey and Chris Christie is not doing well in New Jersey and overall, it’s going to be tough for Republicans to pick up much.”
Brigid Harrison, Montclair State University
“I think that Clinton suffered a serious blow, but because the momentum had shifted so considerably in her favor in the weeks preceding this week, it still looks like she has enough to bring it home on election day. There’s no denying that, particularly the FBI scandals, that that has played into the narrative that Trump has created surrounding her candidacy. The Trump story confirms what everyone suspected when the New York Times did that one page. I think hat that had a life of it’s own, this is kind of confirming the suspicions that were cerated then. I don’t know that anyone sat there and looked at this most recent controversy and said ‘Oh that does it, I’m done.’
“I went from thinking that the House might actually be in play to now thinking that it will not be, but I think that is an interesting race because of the implications nationally. The implications, of course, in that district, but also in New Jersey in terms of representation. I’ve heard a lot of Republicans talk about the importance of keeping Scott Garrett in the House of Representatives so that Frelinghuysen gets his seat on Appropriations. I think it’s an interesting narrative that this is how Republicans are talking about Scott Garrett.”
Krista Jenkins, Farleigh Dickinson University
“For right now it still looks like she has the easiest path to victory. For the most part, people have decided who they’re going to vote for. If you were somebody who found himself troubled by the email problems with Hillary Clinton, this is not going to change your opinion. And with Donald Trump, the same thing. I think he is who he is, people have either accepted or rejected it. And so I think among that very small sliver of people who are undecided it can make a difference for them, but at this point people pretty much know what they’re doing.
“From what I’ve seen it’s really the 5th that’s the most competitive, just because of the ways the districts are drawn. I wouldn’t anticipate seeing much movement elsewhere. That is going to be the most interesting, and it’s going to come down obviously to turnout, who’s going to be able to motivate their supporters.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.