A couple of hours ago I tweeted this:
Here is my shocking opinion about the 2016 race: Hillary Clinton ran an average campaign. I appear to be the only human being who thinks so.
— Kevin Drum (@kdrum) April 23, 2017
Shattered tells us in loving detail about every mistake the Clinton campaign made, but every losing campaign gets that treatment. Her campaign also did a lot of things right. My horseback guess is that when you put it all together, she was about average as a candidate and her campaign was about average as a campaign.
But that got me curious: how do Clinton and her campaign compare to past elections? There’s no way to measure this directly, but you can get an idea by comparing actual election outcomes to the predictions of a good fundamental model. So I hauled out Alan Abramowitz’s model, which has a good track record, and looked at how winning candidates performed compared to the baseline of what the model predicted for them. Here it is:
According to this, Hillary Clinton did way better than any winning candidate of the past three decades, outperforming her baseline by 2.4 percent. Without the Comey effect, she would have outperformed her baseline by a truly epic amount.
Now, was this because she ran a good campaign, or because she had an unusually bad opponent? There’s no way to tell, of course. Donald Trump was certainly a bad candidate, but then again, no one thinks that Dole or Gore or Kerry or McCain were terrific candidates either.
Bottom line: we don’t have any way of knowing for sure, and this is an inherently subjective question. But the evidence of the Abramowitz model certainly doesn’t suggest that Hillary Clinton ran an unusually poor campaign or that she was an unusually poor candidate. Maybe she was, but aside from cherry-picked anecdotes and free-floating Hillary animus, there’s not really a lot to support this view.