Does a mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, or bombs sent across the country close to Election Day, impact election outcomes?
I don't know.
They must make people think about our toxic politics. And wonder where hatred at a level witnessed Saturday in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh comes from.
They must. But do they make more people want to vote? Or, given the age we live in, make people worry that polling places might be targets?
The outcome of all elections, including those as hyped (and maybe now altered) as this one, depends on turnout.
Nobody knows with days to go what that turnout will be.
"Blue wave?" "Red resurgence?" Big numbers both ways? Normal midterm blahs driven by frustration and disgust?
Your guess is as good as mine.
President Trump seems concerned that attention to mailed bombs (and now, presumably, a mass shooting) detracts from his preelection message of "caravan and Kavanaugh."
Plenty of critics point to Trump's incendiary style whenever there are high-profile acts of violence or hatred.
And some will look at the bomb mailings and Tree of Life murders and say there's just no stopping crazy.
Instinctively, you'd think these events have some influence on voting. But with polarization set in cement — as it is, has been, and will be for who knows how long — it's tough to know what that influence is.
What we do know is it joins a mix of evidence offering hints about results on Nov. 6.
The generic "R" and "D" vote favoring Democrats recently narrowed from double digits to six or seven points headed into the final week.
Real Clear Politics' average for the congressional vote had Dems leading 49-39 in early September. The latest average shows Dems up 49-42.
That's before bombs and shootings. Does it change?
And what of votes already cast?
Early voting in states that have it (which is most states, though not Pennsylvania) suggests a couple things because voting is heavy and Republicans outpaced Democrats in several states seen as competitive, leaning red and red.
Does that signal a coming record turnout driven by a bunch of new voters? A growing GOP energy?
Well, the Washington Post dug into who's voting early and found that at least 75 percent of early ballots in states for which there's data came from "super voters" or "frequent voters" — those likely to vote anyway.
Not surprising, says Christopher Borick, Muhlenberg College poli-sci prof and head of the Muhlenberg College poll: "These are the already-enthused, maybe just a little more juiced. … And it could signal an election that follows normal midterm (low-turnout) trends."
There's also buzz about historic voting patterns and the notion that younger voters are finally set to impact an election.
Billionaire hedge fund guy Tom Steyer pledged $33 million this year in 11 states, including Pennsylvania, on efforts to register and engage young voters.
But Gallup polling shows just 26 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 say they are certain to vote. The same poll shows that, among older voters (65 and up), 82 percent are certain to vote. These are levels sounding like the same old song.
If that song is sung, a "blue wave" could be downsized.
Still, midterm forecasters with good records say Dems are well-positioned.
One is by former Temple political science professor Christopher Wlezien, now at the University of Texas. It was just published in Political Science & Politics, a journal of the American Political Science Association, done with two colleagues, one from Dartmouth, one from Columbia.
It says Dems win the House with a plurality of 53.6 percent, ending up in control, 221-214.
The trio's past midterm forecasts (2006, 2010, 2014) basically nailed it. But Wlezien cautions that because forecasting work is done in July, "it might not reflect the flow of enthusiasm in this cycle."
Which is the problem with today's politics. It's always moving. And it's about one person.
Trump, says Franklin and Marshall College poll director Terry Madonna, "motivates voters in both parties like we've never seen before."