To keep folks from getting too emotionally invested in the debates and media polling as we head down the home stretch, it's worth asking what the long-term perspective suggests.
Political scientists say that the consensus of researchers is that campaigns don't matter -- debates, polls, ads, rallies, etc. -- and that the general election is a referendum on the incumbent party in the White House. There is either a demand for more of the same, or a desire for changing the guard, and this mood about the past four years has already formed by the time the general campaign season begins, so that its myriad happenings will not shift the mood by Election Day.
This standard view rarely gets a hearing in the media, whose profits come from micro-obsessing over the speeches, polls, gaffes, etc. Nor is the public very interested -- there's nothing exciting about historical models, when there's so much relatable stuff going on every day during election season, and you want to be part of the buzz in social settings.
However, this year is different because most of the media and nearly half the country want to allay their fears that Trump could actually win the election. If the normally overlooked historical models were predicting a victory for Hillary, then for once they too would be endlessly discussed and dissected, as yet another source of confirmation that "Trump can't win (he just can't)".
An honest political scientist came out way back in the early stage of the primaries and said Trump is all but a guaranteed win. Helmut Norpoth was basing this off of the performance of his primary model, which has correctly predicted the winner of the popular vote since 1996, and retrospectively makes the correct call back to the beginning of the data-set in 1912, aside from 1960 (which was a coin flip in the popular vote).
The model is a simple theory of the electoral pendulum: it awards points to the incumbent party after one term, penalizes the incumbent party after two terms, and favors the stronger candidate in their respective primary contest. After Trump won New Hampshire, South Carolina, and cleaned up on Super Tuesday, Norpoth felt comfortable to call it then. Hillary lost the key early battle of New Hampshire, and was saddled with the burden of running for a third consecutive term of the incumbent party.
Another political scientist whose model has successfully predicted the outcome for even longer -- back through 1984, and retrospectively back to 1860 -- has taken far longer to admit that his model, too, is predicting a win for Trump. He's a hardcore Hillary supporter, and was holding out for nearly a year in an attempt to soothe his cognitive dissonance. But even they have had to concede that Crooked Hillary's candidacy is doomed.
Allan Lichtman's 13 keys to the Presidency is starting to make the rounds in the media now, although he discussed it with The Fix (WaPo) back in May, and even as far back as last December in a faculty research profile at his university. It asks 13 questions about the past four years -- economic trends, foreign policy successes, scandals, etc. -- and about the candidates themselves -- incumbency, hero status, facing third-party splitters, etc. If 6 or more of the 13 go against the incumbent party, they are out, and the opposition party is in.
By these measures, it was already clear last December that the Democrats would not keep the White House, although you could have debated a point here or there. But certainly by mid-May, when Lichtman was interviewed for The Fix, it was guaranteed. He was still delusionally insisting that it remained an open question whether or not there was a serious contest for the nomination in the incumbent party, which hurts the party in the general -- yeah, that whole Bernie phenomenon was all in our imaginations. This guy had his head buried deeper in the sand than the Cruz Cult.
At any rate, both of these respected academics with solid track records are predicting a win for Trump. Neither has mentioned alternative models that also have solid track records, both predictive and retrospective, which are however predicting the Democrats to go three in a row. Lichtman especially ought to be hyping those up, if they existed, since he's so desperate for Trump to lose.
If there are any political science nerds out there, let us know.
Otherwise, take comfort in what the long-term, big-picture data are predicting, and don't obsess so much over what the micro-term, info-overload of BIG DATA are predicting. All signs point to the incumbent party not holding on for another term.