It was a scary and eventful weekend, with an explosion in New York City, an improvised explosive device detonated on the Jersey Shore, a pipe bomb found in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and a stabbing spree in a shopping mall in Minnesota. Authorities are still figuring out what happened and how, if at all, some of these incidents were connected. But with about 50 days to go before the presidential election, how does a weekend like this affect the outcome in November?
There’s been a lot of speculation about that question today, but it’s just that — speculation. There’s just not enough data to say with any confidence how the events of the weekend will affect the polls. Donald Trump’s support in Republican primary polls rose in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino in late 2015, but it’s difficult to tease out causality there. And his support didn’t budge after the bombings in Brussels in March.
Late-breaking news events are often treated like they will automatically have an impact on presidential races — hence the trope of the “October surprise.” But late in a campaign, voters’ impressions of the candidates are more established. Moreover, what we do know about how voters react to terror threats relies heavily on experimental studies — it’s not clear how these lessons apply during an election, especially with these particular candidates. Hillary Clinton has, obviously, more experience than Trump, and polls show Americans trust her more than Trump to deal with a whole host of crises. But on terrorism, voters are more evenly split — Trump has built his candidacy around a hard line on immigration with …