Why Democratic panic may just be wasted energy

Democrats freaking out over the latest Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll showing Donald Trump with a statistically insignificant 1-point national lead over Hillary Clinton should probably calm down.

Trump is in a better position than he was a week ago. But his path to victory next week remains difficult if not flat out impossible.

First The Washington Post poll is somewhat difficult to believe. It has shown a wild 13-point swing in the race in just eight days, including the period before and after news broke that the FBI would look at some more emails in the probe of Clinton's use of a private email server. That's simply not credible.

Hillary Clinton
Melina Mara | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Hillary Clinton

The NBC News/Survey Monkey tracking poll over the same period has shown virtually no change and still has Clinton up by 6 points. The Washington Post/ABC poll showed similar slim leads for Mitt Romney in 2012 and John Kerry in 2004. We know how those races turned out.

The best bet for the national numbers is to look at the averages. Clinton's lead is down to 2.2 percent in the RealClear Politics Average and remains at 6.2 percent in the Huffington Post average, which does not include the consistently Trump-friendly Los Angeles Times/USC tracking poll. (The Times/USC poll is actually a static survey of the same group of voters over and over.)

So at the national level, it's safe to assume Clinton has a fairly narrow lead that should translate into a small win in the popular vote. But when you get to the Electoral College, which actually decides the outcome, Trump's path to win the necessary 270 votes remains daunting.

Clinton currently enjoys solid leads in enough states to deliver 263 electoral votes, just seven shy of victory. Trump is trying to make a late play for Pennsylvania and Michigan, which have demographics somewhat favorable to him given the number of white and less educated voters. But Clinton has a 6-point lead in Pennsylvania. A Franklin & Marshall poll out Tuesday put Clinton's lead in the state at 11 points. In Michigan, Clinton's lead is also 6 points. It would take massive polling failure and a huge turnout advantage for Trump to win either of those states.

Clinton also leads in North Carolina and Colorado. If she wins those two in addition to the states already leaning her way, she gets to 287 electoral votes and wins the White House. Trump could sweep the remaining swing states of Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada and Arizona and still lose.

Democrats are clearly worried about lower African-American turnout in early voting hurting them in Florida. But at this point both Ohio and Florida matter mostly as margin-padding for Clinton in the Electoral College. They also matter for delivering Clinton a significant mandate, given that Republicans remain likely to hold the House and may also retain the Senate.

The events of recent days may also wind up benefiting Clinton in that Trump's case that the election could be "rigged" took a significant blow with FBI Director James Comey's remarkable declaration on the emails case just a 12 days before the election. Clinton has also suffered months of hacked email releases. If anything, the election appears somewhat stacked against her, not Trump. And the GOP nominee who railed against the Washington Post/ABC poll as faked when it showed him trailing by 12 is now extolling it as evidence of his momentum.

Some dreadful outcomes remain possible. Clinton could narrowly lose the popular vote and win the Electoral College, possibly unleashing a torrent of attacks from Trump and his virulent supporters that could last weeks or months. Florida could once again wind up in a recount situation, though it probably would not be the Electoral College tipping point it was in 2000.

There is also a very remote chance that conservative independent candidate Evan McMullin could win Utah and Trump could flip New Hampshire or New Mexico and neither major candidate would hit 270, throwing the race into the House of Representatives.

But the most likely scenario remains that Clinton squeaks out a popular vote and Electoral College win and all the final week Democratic panic looks like massively wasted energy.

—Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.