The evidence is “mixed at best” that FBI Director Jim Comey’s Oct. 28 letter re-opening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails tipped the election to Donald Trump.
That’s the conclusion of the American Association for Opinion Research (AAOR), which released its report on 2016 polling on Thursday.
“The evidence for a meaningful effect on the election from the FBI letter is mixed at best,” reads the report, which was compiled by a committee of pollsters from groups like Pew Research, Gallup and several universities.
“Big picture, the evidence on that issue of the effect of the FBI letter on the election, the evidence in terms of the corpus of public polls is weak,” Courtney Kennedy, a pollster with Pew Research, said at a press conference on Thursday.
“It did not allow our committee to conclude that the letter did or did not influence the election.”
Clinton and her campaign have argued that Comey’s letter was one of the factors — including Russian meddling in the election and sexism — that led to her surprise loss to Trump.
“I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russia WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off,” Clinton complained during an event earlier this week. (RELATED: Hillary Blames Comey, WikiLeaks For Loss To Trump)
Comey sent the letter after FBI agents found Clinton’s emails on a laptop owned by her aide Huma Abedin and her husband, Anthony Weiner. The FBI chief closed the investigation on July 5 but says he re-opened the probe and sent the Oct. 28 letter to Congress out of fear that if the investigation turned up anything, he would have been seen as covering up for Clinton if he did not disclose it.
Several days before the election, Comey closed the investigation again.
But AAOR says Clinton’s support started to drop several days before Comey re-opened the probe.
“October 28th falls at roughly the midpoint (not the start) of the slide in Clinton’s support,” the report states, while noting that “it is possible that the FBI letter news story made that erosion more severe than it otherwise would have been.”
The AAOR report does note that the Comey letter “had an immediate, negative impact” of two percentage points for Clinton.
“The apparent impact did not last, as support for Clinton tended to tick up in the days just prior to the election,” the report states.
“Based on all of the data examined here, we would conclude there is at best mixed evidence to suggest that the FBI announcement tipped the scales of the race.”
The group says that there are no definitive answers and identifies other possible explanations for Clinton’s surprise loss, including her campaign’s failure to rally votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Those three historically Democratic states flipped for Trump. AAOR notes that polling in those states was off-the-mark compared to polls taken in other states.
“I think more fundamentally…the data that were available to us frankly just don’t speak very well,” Simpson said at Thursday’s press conference.