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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Preview of the First 2016 Presidential Debate

Scott Bland, Editor of Politico's Campaign Pro
Washington, DC
September 26, 2016


MODERATOR: Hello and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have Scott Bland, editor of Politico’s Campaign Pro, to preview the first presidential debate which is happening, without – this evening. Without further ado, here is Scott with one caveat. I should say that our speakers’ views here at the Foreign Press Center are their own views and do not represent official U.S. Government policy. So without further ado, here is Scott.

MR BLAND: Hello, everyone. So we’re here to preview and then talk about the first presidential debate tonight, first general election debate, which I think is setting up to be potentially one of the more interesting ones that we’ve seen since televised presidential debates have been a factor in U.S. presidential elections.

So far, this election really – certainly, in the last few months what we’ve seen as the polling has been moving around and these candidates have been out campaigning in different battleground states, talking to voters, holding public events, the coverage in the movement of the race has really seemed to have been driven by which one of them happened to be making more mistakes at the time, which one of them was potentially more in the news, most likely for the wrong reasons. And so I think in terms of – as we look forward to what’s happening tonight, that seems like a potentially fruitful place to start – who might – which one of them might be able to knock the other off course, whether someone might say something that does not reflect well on them or their party or their supporters.

I think a couple things that should be interesting going into this is that both of these candidates had a lot of practice in the debating format during the primary season, which President Obama did not have in 2012 and I think there was a lot of speculation that that really hurt him in the first debate because it was the first time in four years that he had really been on that sort of stage. But Clinton went through a pretty long gauntlet with Bernie Sanders featuring a lot of debates on the Democratic side. Donald Trump certainly participated in many debates on the Republican side, although none of those were in this one-on-one format, so that could be a little different. But I think they both certainly have accumulated some experience this winter and spring in the format kind of talking to people, working with the time limits, and trying to get their messages across.

In terms of what we might see from them tonight in those messages, you would expect them to try and – each of them to try and magnify their strengths and exploit the other’s weaknesses in terms of how they’re perceived by the public. In most polling, Hillary Clinton is seen as the candidate who’s – by more voters as the candidate who is best prepared to take on the presidency and to deal with certain issues. And I think the expectation is that she will spend a lot of her time on the debate stage tonight really underlining her facility with various issues of national importance, of federal policy, of national security.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is seen by more people – again, in terms of these public opinion polls – as being stronger potentially, and he will undoubtedly be looking to try and magnify and highlight that attribute as he is discussing his views and pushing back against Clinton’s.

A few other things to look out for on the flip side, right, is this lingering question of trustworthiness on Clinton’s part and what, if anything, at this point she will – can do or will try to do to address those questions in the minds of voters and in terms of how she deals with Donald Trump. And then also, Trump faces his own questions of trustworthiness and the extent to which he is making true statements or not in his discussion of not just policy ideas, but more generally kind of events of the day and stuff like that. And it’ll be – I think many people are expecting, whether it’s through Hillary Clinton or through the moderator, that he will be challenged on some of those things this evening. So those are – that’s essentially what it looks like the debate will be about.

In terms of what it means going forward, this is the first of these four kind of major debate events – the three featuring the presidential candidates and one featuring the vice presidential nominees. And in the past, we have seen polling shift significantly after some of these, but we also often see it kind of slowly slide back into where it’s been before. And so it’s not always clear how these debates do affect public opinion. One thing that I will say about that, though, is people have already started voting in a number of states, North Carolina being potentially the most interesting of the swing states, but there are a few others out there where early voting has already started. People are starting to receive their ballots in the mail, and thousands of them have already been sending them back. And so the window for these candidates to get their – really kind of change the race and get their messages across is closing rapidly.

So I think that’s about it in terms of the state of play. I think probably the most interesting use of time would just be to go over any specific questions that people might have.

MODERATOR: Okay. So we move to the Q&A portion of the event. Please wait for the microphone and state your name and publication so that we can get your name in the transcript. We’ll come right down here to Euronews.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Stefan Grobe with Euronews, [France]. It has often been said that presidential debates are more often lost than won. So with that premise, what would be a loser for Donald Trump, what would be a loser for Hillary Clinton?

MR BLAND: I think there are almost infinite possibilities for either of them in terms of how this could play out. I think one thing that we saw from Trump during his debates in the primary season is just how unpredictable he can be up on stage. It’s never entirely clear whether he might go off on a tangent on a certain subject, whether something might set him off, whether a particular comment might spark kind of back-and-forth accusations, which we don’t usually see in personal terms in these debates. We’ve certainly seen President Obama’s debates with John McCain and Mitt Romney got quite caustic at times, so too did George W. Bush’s debates both when he was president against John Kerry and when he was running for the first time against Al Gore. But it’s never really gotten personal, it seems like, and so that’s certainly something that did happen during the Republican debates and could – certainly has the potential to happen tonight.

I think some things people are looking out for in terms of potential losing moments for either of them, I think if Clinton were to end up tying herself in knots over some of the questions about emails, the Clinton Foundation’s work, her stewardship of classified information at the State Department, I think those are already things that are seen as weaknesses for her in which, depending on how they may be discussed, how she may discuss them during the debate, could end up turning into problems for Trump. I think that there’s the possibility of an outburst of some sort. There’s – depending on how he is potentially challenged on statements he’s made about certain voting blocs, certain blocs of the citizenship here that he’s made in the past, I think all of those are potential tripping points.

But honestly, I – and I haven’t been doing this for so long, but I’ve been watching these debates for a long time and I’m struck this time by how little I know what to expect.

MODERATOR: Okay, come down here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, my name is Andrei Sitov. I am a Russian reporter here with Tass. Thanks to our friends at the FPC for hosting the event and thank you, sir, for coming over. I have, like, a follow-up question to Stefan’s, basically the expectations game.

We keep hearing that the expectations for Trump are lower because he is a novice, a political novice. But on the other hand, he’s supposed to be the television pro. So, again, whom do you give the advantage for in terms of the expectations?

And I have a parochial question on Russia because Russia, all of a sudden, is a big factor in the U.S. elections, at least it seems to me. How prominent do you expect this to be and how much do you feel the voters really care about this? Thank you.

MR BLAND: To that – the last part of your second question, I think the – I don’t think it’s something that really is playing on voters’ minds all that much. I think certainly, we’re seeing a larger pool of undecided voters or people who are choosing third-party candidates at the moment in polls right now. But I think typically, when we’ve looked at recent American elections, the pool of undecideds is – even if people say they might be, it tends to actually be quite small. And so I think the possibility of something happening at the debate that really affects what someone thinks right now has a lot more to do with the character and personality of the candidates than any policy positions that they might put forward, which, for all the talk that we sometimes see from voters approached on the street by reporters or things like that about how they don’t really understand what these candidates are putting forward – it’s all written on their websites. If someone wanted to go look into the – any number of policies that they were putting forward, they could go read about it now or yesterday or tomorrow. These debates often end up being more about kind of the personality conflict.

In terms of the expectations game, I’ve never entirely known what to make of that just because there’s so much written about it and talked about it in the weeks leading up to it. And then ultimately, the – as far as I can remember, the debates end up being events unto themselves. They can kind of be judged based on what happens when the two candidates are on stage, and so much happens in all of them that – on issues or particular subjects or aspects of the personality that’s unforeseen, I think it – I don’t think the expectations game has ever actually ended up mattering all that much.

We’ll see what happens this time. Certainly, the different campaigns have been doing their best to cast the other as expert debaters while they’re just going to get up there and try and hold their own and to keep expectations low. But it seems like usually, the way these things work is that something particularly memorable happens, often in the first 30 minutes, and that’s a little unexpected and that kind of casts how the entire debate is viewed.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to France.

QUESTION: Thank you. Philippe Gelie with Figaro. I’m not sure that you’re right to say that expectations don’t matter. I would like you to tell us how could Hillary Clinton win these debates since it appears she has to be both nice, demonstrate empathy, not too aggressive, and on the other hand, to destroy her opponent. How do you do that?

MR BLAND: I think the – I just think it’s impossible to – the – it feels like we’ve been watching this – a version of this debate every day for the last six months, right, because we see Clinton on TV and we see Trump on TV and they’re talking – they’re talking about what each other are saying, they’re talking to their supporters about each other’s statements and proposals every day on cable news side by side.

But they haven’t actually been next to each other responding in real time at some point, and I think it’s easy – it’s easy for those of us who are really watching this stuff minute by minute, day by day, week by week, to forget that this – we haven’t had this situation before. And I just feel like once they are called upon to react to each other in real time, to kind of deal with each other in the moment, I think what ends up happening and often bears little resemblance to what we think we know about the campaign having watched them.

And so yes, based on what has been written and the various expectations that are out there for Hillary Clinton, that’s a tough needle to thread, right, to do all these different things at once. But I think once the – once it has actually happened and the story is about what they said to each other, or in certain cases how they acted when they were off camera – I was reading a story the other day about how Al Gore was not expecting to be shown in 2000 when he was sighing and kind of rolling his eyes at George W. Bush during their first debate in 2000.

But I just – I think once the situation and the moment is actually happening, the discussion about expectations and the various goals that need to be accomplished kind of boil down into something a little more tangible and easy to – easy for us to judge in real time and afterwards as opposed to having a checklist that each of them has to go down to to do A, B, C, and D, where it’s a lot more kind of relative to each other in the moment, I think. I could be wrong.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to Brazil.

QUESTION: Hi, Claudia Trevisan from the Brazilian newspaper O Estado De Sao Paulo. How big is the share of voters that might change their decision because of the debate? How much – how many uncommitted voters are there, and if this share is larger in this election compared to previous election at this point of the race?

MR BLAND: I don’t know about the historical comparison, but I will say I was looking at survey data earlier today that said approximately one in ten voters say they are open to changing their mind based on the outcome of this debate.

Now, as a note of caution with these sorts of things, I think – as I mentioned before, I think oftentimes voters like saying they’re undecided even if they – some voters truly are undecided, but I think there are – I think often surveys show more undecided voters than there actually are in real life. But in any case, the studies that various people are doing are showing about 10 to 12 percent of voters saying that they would be open to changing their mind. And there’s expected to be an enormous television audience for this debate. I think people are predicting something on the order of 80 to 100 million viewers on TV, and then you have to add on top of that people who might be watching streaming online or through other services.

So there’s expected to be a huge, potentially record-breaking audience, and approximately one in ten of the registered voters contacted for one survey I saw this morning said they could be open to changing their mind.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to break away and take a question from New York. New York, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Thanks for the briefing. This is Mushfiqul Fazal, a Bangladesh journalist working for Just News BD news agency. Do you think tonight debate will finalize the next president of the United States of America, or we have to wait more, though the election is a bit far?

MR BLAND: In terms of deciding the --

MODERATOR: Will the – how much will this debate decide the election.

MR BLAND: I think it’ll certainly play a big role. As I said, this is – these candidates have been tossed into every conceivable situation, practically, over the last six months in terms of what they’ve had to do in public except for actually facing each other. And so how they react to that could end up playing a very important role.

Certainly, we’ve seen, as we look back at previous year's’ debates, especially when there’s an open race, when there’s no incumbent president, I think the opportunity to size up the candidates next to each other and see how they react to each other has in the past been – played very important roles in elections, especially when they’ve ended up being close, as this one is now. If anyone has seen the polling today in various states that are going to end up being very important is one, two, maybe three-point gaps between the candidates in states like Florida, North Carolina, and nationally kind of showing how close this thing is right now. And so certainly, a unique event like this and the opportunity to size the candidates up next to each other could absolutely end up playing a key role.

There are also two more of these, so there are going to be a lot of chances for one of them to change the trajectory. But as I’ve said, the more time passes, the fewer number of undecided there are, and the more people who have actually voted at that point and won’t be able to take it back.

MODERATOR: We’ll go in back.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Vivian Jordansen. I’m representing the Berlingske media in Denmark. My question goes to the actual debate and its aftermath. The way – we have predicted that about 100 million will see this debate, but what about all the snapshots that you’ll get afterwards on all the TV channels? One snapshot Hillary is saying something and Trump going whatever clip end you can have or the other way around, or somebody rolling their eyes or looking at what – what do you think is the most important – the debate in itself or the snapshots that will come afterwards? What will have the most effect on the voters?

MR BLAND: I think it – again, it really does depend on the size of the audience for the debate versus how many people are reading about it and digesting it afterwards, but there have been studies in the past that show if you sample – if you poll voters who only watch the debate versus people who watch the debate and the analysis on a cable channel or the analysis from a certain newspaper afterwards, they would come to wildly different conclusions about who had won. And so that’s one of the reasons why those snapshot moments can be so important, and especially, often, they end up happening in the first half-hour or so of a debate.

A colleague of mine at Politico wrote a very interesting story about that over the weekend – or maybe it published this morning – either way, that often these 90-minute debates kind of – what the analysts think about what’s going on in them is often decided within the first 30 minutes when something happens. There’s a statement or a moment of body language or something that really catches the eye and kind of crystallizes how they feel about the direction of the debate, and then from there that is kind of transmitted forward as the post-debate analysis. It absolutely plays a huge role.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Scott. Jane with Sina News from China. I have a question about – more about the media and journalists’ role in this election. So critics have cited the lack of transparency from the two candidates, so what is the trick for American journalists to cover this election and especially this debate?

And secondly, I’m more curious about who – what kind of reporter do you guys send to the front line to cover the campaign, on the campaign trail? Thank you.

MR BLAND: Yeah. The – in terms of the first question, the transparency, certainly one of the things that reporters here have been doing is just trying to call attention to that and to hope that with public attention on a lack of transparency on certain – when the candidates were not traveling with the press corps, when there were certain documents in terms of their backgrounds that neither had released. Trump still has not released his tax returns, for example, which has become a subject of significant debate.

Part of it is I think journalists have attempted to put public pressure on them, and I think certainly the debates have been a moment and certainly until recently a rare moment sometimes, for these candidates to put questions directly to them in a format where it’s very hard to evade and where they may have to answer. And so I think the – from that perspective, the debate plays a very interesting and important role as this place where the candidates are up there for 90 minutes straight with nowhere to hide.

To your second question about what kind of reporters cover these things, I would say people with – who are able to function on very little sleep and with kind of high capacity for moving around a lot and writing very quickly, and that’s – a keen eye for what’s different and what’s new. I will say that sometimes when people are on the road for too long, their spelling and punctuation starts to go, I’ve found. But at that point we can recall them to the office and put them to sleep for a few days before we send them back out, so --

QUESTION: Hello, Scott. This is Gabriele Barbati from Italian television, [RTI Mediaset]. The two candidates so far have come up with some core messages. I wonder if you expect tonight the two candidates to have new messages to target certain voters they would like to drag to their side. For example, I’m thinking about Clinton losing lots of young voters to kind of the small parties. What do you think about it?

MR BLAND: Yeah, certainly her – Clinton’s campaign has really seemed focused in the last few days about targeting younger voters in that kind of 18 to 29 or 18 to 34 age group that really voted approximately two or three to one for President Obama in 2008 and 2012; whereas, this time around, Trump is not doing any better than the past Republican nominees in that age group, but a lot of those voters say they remain undecided or are looking at third-party candidates instead of Clinton. And so I think that’s absolutely something that we could see tonight. And certainly her – she’s been – she’s had policy proposals focused on these groups – on health care, on college education costs, things like that – for months now, but you could potentially see a little bit more of a focus on that.

In general, it’s – it can be difficult to do that with – in a debate setting, though, because so much of the conversation is driven by what the moderator asks and how the other candidate responds to those questions. And so, certainly, I think one thing to look out for is what messages do Clinton and Trump use in their answers when it has nothing to do with the question that’s been asked, right? That’s the stuff that they have really – has been drilled into them by their advisors that they really want to make sure gets said, no matter if the question is about a completely different policy area or a misstatement that one of them may have said in the past. When they – what they try and pivot to in those moments, I think, is the thing to look for as the message that they’re really trying to drive home.

MODERATOR: Okay, we’ll take another question from New York.

QUESTION: Hello, thanks for doing this. Hajime Matsuura of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun. Over the decades, I think the consistence of American voters have transformed a lot as they have become older and we have more diversity, especially ethnically speaking. Having said that, how do you think the candidates have transformed themself given the transformation of their constituency when it comes to public debate? I think different (inaudible) different response or some preference? Perhaps they might tend to vote on something more on those topics an older generation wouldn’t vote for?

MR BLAND: I was having a little trouble hearing.

MODERATOR: Something about candidates transforming themselves.


MODERATOR: I don’t --

MR BLAND: Yeah, to the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) like big shift of the constituency of the voters.

MR BLAND: Sure. Yeah, I mean, I think mostly we’re going to see the candidates be what they’ve been so far this election, just because there’s been – especially there’s been so much public scrutiny of them for the past year or more that to try something different now I think would be – it would bring a lot of scrutiny and it would be in many ways a little transparent, right, if they were trying something new at this moment in front of this big audience to try and be something that they weren’t before.

That said, to your point about the transformation of the electorate, I think it’s been very interesting watching Hillary Clinton, who’s been in public life for decades now, trying to introduce herself to this cohort of younger voters that we were just talking about that has no memory of her as first lady, as wife of President Bill Clinton; that has certainly no memory of her from before that and knows honestly very little about her even as senator from New York, that she’s been secretary of state and then a presumptive presidential candidate and now the nominee since that time.

And she has had this opportunity to introduce herself to them kind of brand new, but at the same time, Republicans have also had the opportunity to introduce Clinton to them for her. And certainly that younger group, which has been a really core part of Democrats’ electoral coalition in recent years, does not particularly like Hillary Clinton at this point, certainly not to the levels that recent Democratic candidates have seen. And I think some of that also has to do with the long and arduous primary that she fought with Bernie Sanders, who really drew a lot of support from younger voters.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to come down (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay. Good afternoon. It’s very good to have you here. [Kanwal Farrukh, Metro 1 News, Pakistan] First of all, I would like to appreciate FPC for organizing this event, because it’s like I am just coming from New York. It’s like a mini-8 November in a battleground, because everyone is talking about debate watch parties, what’s – everyone is going to come halt at 9:00 p.m.

So I’ve got two very simple questions, and then I would like to talk about money in politics. My first question is: How many registered voters? What figures do you have, if you can give me now or later – total registered number of voters? And if a person is absent on 8 November and does not exercise his ballot, do you think his vote could be misused, rigged, given the buzz about Russian hacking?

And about the money in politics, I would like to speak about the slush funds. Like, every party must be having their respective rules, so do you think, like, they have any kind of insider appropriations kind of subcommittees, or are there any fixed percentage regarding slush funds? And are slush funds monitored by FEC – that is, Federal Election Commission?

And my last question, that there’s the Secret Service. They recently paid – the Trump campaign – 1.6 million to cover the cost of flying its agents with him, see, and that’s a standard practice. But the amount went to Tag Air Incorporation, which is – which owns the plane used in Trump’s campaign. So there the ownership of conflict of ownership comes. So do you think the laws needs to be changed on the part of FEC? Because that’s the taxpayers’ money and that’s the taxpayers’ money is going – reimbursing the presidential nominee’s travel costs by the Secret Service. Thank you.

MR BLAND: Okay, so first question first. I don’t have exact figures on the numbers of registered voters, but there are hundreds of millions. And ultimately, a fraction of those live in the swing states where the votes are expected to be close, and you could expect to see several states on election night where the final margin might come down to a few tenths of a percentage point or – which we’ve seen in a lot of recent elections. Florida in 2012 was very close. Indiana and North Carolina 2008 ended up being quite close. Ohio in 2004, and on and on. So however many millions of people are ultimately voting, typically in at least one state it ends up coming down to a few tens of thousands.

To your second question, in terms of voter fraud, typically – a lot of people have looked into this sort of thing, and there’s typically very little evidence of any kind of messing around with ballots that goes on. Certainly, it does happen. There was a story in Colorado recently about a few isolated cases. But it is – I think tends to be the sort of thing that is written about at least as often as it actually happens. And so people spend a lot of time thinking about it, but there are – between the signatures that are required and any number of other things, there are safeguards in place, and it really is not a problem that pops up all that often.

And to your third question about the Secret Service and using Trump’s plane for travel with the protectee, that’s one of several issues that have come up this election due to the fact that Trump owns his own businesses and uses them as vendors for his campaign. And so he has a private airplane that is being – and the – as you said, I think it’s typical that the candidates are not expected to cover the costs of people who are traveling with them, right, so the traveling press, for example, is not riding for free on Trump’s airplane or Hillary’s airplane. Neither, it turns out – and I honestly can’t say that I knew too much about this beforehand, but neither is the Secret Service traveling for free. But again, this is one of those situations that has come up because Trump happens to own the airplane that he’s traveling around on, which is, I think, a first for a presidential candidate. I can’t say that for sure, but I certainly can’t think of any others who have done that.

QUESTION: And what about the slush funds?

MR BLAND: I’m sorry, I’m not entirely sure what your question was on --

QUESTION: Do you think the slush funds are (inaudible) that FEC keeps a watch on it?

MR BLAND: Well, I think there a different party committees and super PACs and candidate committees who – that are all raising money and spending it, and all of that is reported into and out of the FEC. And so there are other groups – there are nonprofit groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code that do not have to report their donors. But I think that at this point in the election certainly their spending is being reported, and so we at least have a sense of what they’re doing that’s focused on election activity.

QUESTION: Yeah, Philippe Gelie again with Figaro, France. My question is not directly connected to the debate, but I’d like to get your thoughts on this hidden vote that Kellyanne Conway pretends exists in favor of Trump. I know that during the primaries, the polls were pretty accurate. On the other hand, when you travel around, you see some places where there were full of signs in favor of Romney or McCain with very few signs for – in favor of Trump. So – also polls saying that Trump would get 1 or 2 percent of the black vote, for instance, instead of 8 or 9 – what are your thoughts on this? Thank you.

MR BLAND: Yeah. I think there are a few different things that I’d like to say about that. First of all, we – to this idea of the hidden vote – and this is a hypothesis that’s been out there in Republican politics for a time, that there are millions of potential Republican voters out there, largely blue collar or working-class white voters who have not been voting in recent elections because they feel like they have been – their interests are not represented by either party and particularly by a Republican Party that many of their cohort have begun voting for. And so certainly something that not just Donald Trump’s campaign but Ted Cruz’s campaign talked about a lot was the potential of finally having a candidate who speaks to those voters and being able to turn them out.

This is something that’s been talked about for the entirety of the presidential election, but something interesting that we found during the primaries was that even though Donald Trump and possibly Ted Cruz did – their candidacies did increase turnout significantly in the Republican primary, but most of the new voters who were coming out in these primaries were people who were already registered to vote and had been voting in previous general elections. They just weren’t registered Republicans beforehand. And so they were voting in primaries for the first time, but these were people who were already in the pool. And so there’s a question about – it’s very difficult to actually add someone to the electorate. A lot of time and effort goes into that sort of thing. And so far, with what we’ve seen from his track record during the primary, we haven’t seen any evidence that people who haven’t been voting in the past are kind of flooding into the electorate.

But again, that’s the sort of thing that’s very hard to pick up on beforehand in polls, especially ones that rely on past vote performance to kind of decide if people are going to vote again. You can end up with situations where they end up missing something. Like President Obama’s caucus win in Iowa in 2008, for example, is a really good example of that. He, I think – something close to half of the participants in the caucuses that year were new voters, and it was very difficult for people to pick up on that beforehand because there’s – it’s – the best predictor is typically what people have done in the past.

The other aspect of your question, though, I think gets to something interesting that I’ve been watching particularly closely this election with the House and Senate races, where we get to – talking to a lot of these campaigns, we’re looking at really smaller slices of the country and seeing how they’re reacting to the presidential race. We have seen – even as earlier this summer when Hillary Clinton had opened a significant lead over Trump in the polls, which has since receded somewhat, although I think in most of the national polling averages, she still does have a lead, just not as big as before. But even when she was far ahead, she was doing worse among working-class white voters, white voters without a college degree, than President Obama did. But she was doing much better among white voters with a college degree.

And in a lot of ways it seems like this Clinton-Trump matchup has accelerated movements that were already going on within this existing electorate apart from any hidden vote that might be out there – that more and more minority voters are moving away from the Republican Party; more and more blue collar white voters are moving away from the Democratic Party, which for a long time was their home through much of the 20th century. And so far, the overall numbers are adding up to about the same totals, it seems like, but the composition is very different, and it seems like it’s shifting significantly faster this election than we’ve seen in the ones beforehand. Both trends have really diverged.

I don’t know if that got to what you were talking about, or --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Just a very quick follow-up. What about people being shy to admit to pollsters they would vote for Trump? Is that – that could add up to a hidden vote as well. Does it exist?

MR BLAND: It could. It’s – if it is happening, I think by definition it would be really difficult to say. I think one of the things that’s – in terms of talking about these poll numbers, is I always try and think about that it’s important to remember that a single percentage point adds up to hundreds of thousands – millions of people in one of these polls. And so there – if there is – there have certainly been examples in the past of people not – polls being different, ending up being different from the election results because people were not willing to answer the pollsters truthfully. But it – certainly it was hard to figure out in advance beforehand, and I think it would be similarly hard this time.

I do think there’s a little bit of cognitive dissonance in some of what’s been suggested by some Trump supporters that, on the one hand, they’re the campaign that’s generating more enthusiasm; but on the other hand, these enthusiastic supporters are supposedly not telling pollsters what they actually think. It seems like one of those could be true, but maybe not the other. It’s one of those questions that we’re going to have to really wait and see on election night and in the analysis thereafter, but it doesn’t seem to me like we have evidence of it happening yet beyond claims.

MODERATOR: Okay, we’ve got time for one or two more questions. We’ll go there.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Manuel Vial, and I work for La Tercera from Chile from Chile. My question is we have seen a lot of discussion and mutual accusations in between the candidates referred to who has or has not a presidential stature. Which presidential qualities, if any, do you think that might come out from a debate like tonight’s?

MR BLAND: Sorry, when you say – do you mean a particular moment that might come out or something --

QUESTION: Yeah, if any, I mean, a guy that shows more eloquence or better, I don’t know, movement or – what is really a presidential quality or what are we discussing when we talk about it?

MR BLAND: Right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR BLAND: Yeah. I think part of the issue with that is that so many voters appear to view that question of what is a presidential quality differently, and I think that’s – and certainly that’s something that was litigated a lot in the primaries, right, as the voters for each party were trying to decide who they wanted representing them in November.

But I think it gets back to this question of what people perceive as their strengths. I think for Clinton it’s deep experience and knowledge of these issues, having worked on them – some of them for decades, and a sort of personal stoicism with how she talks about it. For – on the flip side, there are a lot of Trump supporters who see him as the more presidential candidate and believe he is more deserving of being president because he’s perceived to be stronger and kind of speaks out with more force.

And so I think that’s part of the reason I was saying earlier that I feel like if you go through some of this polling that’s been done about not just who’s ahead or behind in the presidential race, but what voters think about them in terms of their attributes, where they score positively I think is what we could see the candidates really trying to highlight this evening, so I think this perception of strength on Trump’s part and this perception of deep experience and knowledge on Clinton’s part. But it’s a tricky question that I don’t think people necessarily agree on what the criteria should be, much less the answer.

MODERATOR: Okay, we’ll take our final question from Egypt.

QUESTION: Thomas Gorguissian from Al Ahram, Egypt. The first question is related to the shape or the role of the media in all these things, because as you know – as we all know now – that Trump simply is trashing or ignoring or whatever you can call it about media. How do you, as in Politico, you as a person and as a group, you are trying to handle this? I mean, already assuming that the part of the world, Trump campaign or Trump people, let’s say, don’t believe in what you are saying anyway and you are just lying or trying to get down this guy. This is my first question.

My second question: What are the main thing that you learn till – up to this point before the elections about American voters? What are the main characteristic? Because we are focusing on Trump or Hillary, but there are people behind them --

MR BLAND: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- that they are going to vote. And even if Trump is going to lose, let’s say – or assume, whatever you can call it – next day, all these people who voted for him are there around and they didn’t change. I mean, they are going to be living with us.

MR BLAND: To your first question, I think it has been startling at times to watch how the Trump campaign and some of the other campaigns have dealt with the media during this election, but I think it’s also been a matter of degrees. Some of the things that they’ve been doing and saying, and especially the way that they’ve been pushing back against a press corps that they feel like is out to get them, is not dissimilar from what we’ve seen from past campaigns. Potentially the volume is a little higher this time, both in terms of the actual noise level and the amount of complaints, but I – it – I don’t – I see it as more of a progression of kind of things building up to this as opposed to this one-off person and one-off event in 2016.

To your second point about what has the election taught us about voters so far, I think there are – I’m constantly struck by a couple things as I’m looking over some of the polling numbers of this race. One of them is that President Obama is above 50 percent approval rating right now. A majority of the country pretty consistently is saying that they think he’s doing a good job. On the other hand, even larger majorities of the country are saying that they think it’s on the wrong track, which is usually disastrous for an incumbent party, just like having an incumbent president who’s in good shape would usually be a really good sign for Hillary Clinton, who’s running to replace him.

And so the disconnect there is that – I think is essentially you’ve got a lot of conservative voters who are saying they think the country is on the wrong track because Obama is in charge of it, and you’ve got a lot of more liberal voters who are saying they think the country is on the wrong track because Republicans in Congress aren’t allowing Obama to do what they wants and – and what he wants, I should say. And it gets back to this point that I think more and – there are a lot of voters out there who do not feel like they’re being well-served by institutions of all sorts – not just Washington, Congress, or the White House, but by the media, by the police sometimes, by institution after institution. There is widespread bad feeling among some folks. And different people have kind of different targets for their distaste or distrust at this point, but it’s adding up to a situation with this very unsettled electorate where most people think that things aren’t going as well as maybe they should be, but there is great disagreement – in fact, really not much agreement at all – about what’s to be done about it. And the election doesn’t seem like it’s setting up to answer any of those questions, so we could be in for an interesting four years no matter who’s elected and no matter the composition of the Congress that they’ll be dealing with after this election.

MODERATOR: Well, thank you all for coming. This event is now concluded.

MR BLAND: Thank you, everyone.