US Elections 2016: Final countdown

Both need to win over independents

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR ELVIN LIM, Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR ELVIN LIM, Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore.

The key factor that tips all US elections is turnout. Besides this, events can move numbers. Hurricane Matthew is now front and centre in the news, which means the front runner, Mrs Hillary Clinton, benefits from the pause in the campaign, as well as the coat-tail effects of Mr Barack Obama, who is enjoying high approval ratings.

Within Asia, the Chinese don't particularly like Mrs Clinton and Democrats because they push for human rights, and yet, paradoxically, have been the ones who waged wars in Korea and Vietnam. Yet they also don't like Mr Donald Trump's threat of imposing a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese imports.

The pivot to Asia sounds good to US partners and allies like Singapore, Japan and Australia - the centrepieces of the US alliance in this region - but some Chinese perceive this as a strategy of containment, and therefore prefer the isolationism of a Trump administration. Asia is big, so there is as much diversity in views between countries as within countries.

Politically, Mr Trump's weakness is his susceptibility to bait. He is an attention seeker with an incurable need to rebut everything thrown at him, and Mrs Clinton can and has used this against him. Mrs Clinton's political weakness is that she is a known Washington insider: she represents the status quo rather than change, which is what many Americans yearn for in every election. What both must do in the second debate is woo the remaining sliver of independents who are not yet decided.

Right now, Mrs Clinton has the better odds. She has a 3- to 5-point lead nationally and is ahead in most swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

With a month left to move the dial, time is running out for the challenger. Early voting has started in most states, which means the polls aren't just polls any more; they reflect actual votes being cast now.

Mrs Clinton gained about four points in the first debate. If Mr Trump can do the same in the second, then the race becomes more competitive.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Both need to win over independents'. Print Edition | Subscribe