One of my least favorite questions is: “Did Russian interference cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election?” The question is newly relevant because of special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians on Friday on charges that they used a variety of shady techniques to discourage people from voting for Clinton and encourage them to vote for Donald Trump. That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to answer, however. But here are my high-level thoughts in light of the indictment. (For more detail on these, listen to our emergency politics podcast.)
1. Russian interference is hard to measure because it wasn’t a discrete event.
You know what probably did cost Clinton the election? The letter that former FBI Director James Comey sent to Congress on Oct. 28, 2016, and the subsequent media firestorm over it. The impact is relatively easy to measure because it was the biggest news event in the final two weeks of the campaign, and we can compare polls conducted just before the Comey letter to the ones conducted just after it.