Clinton falls to narrow lead over Trump

Just over a week ago, the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said that half of her rival Donald Trump’s voters were a “basket of deplorables”.  Two days later, she left a 9/11 memorial service in New York early, and required assistance after stumbling.  She’s since revealed she had been diagnosed with pneumonia. The incident has played into Trump’s continued questioning of her health and ‘stamina’.

As these two events happened within two days of each other, it is impossible to disentangle the effect of one in the polls from the other. What is clear is that there has been an impact.  According to Electoral-Vote, Clinton now leads in states worth 274 Electoral Votes (EVs), and Trump in states worth 258.  Nevada (6 EVs) is currently tied.  Last week, Clinton led the Electoral College 294-244.  Here is the current map.

Since last week, Trump has taken the lead in Colorado and New Mexico, and Nevada has moved to a tie. I am very sceptical of Trump’s New Mexico lead, as the state has a large Hispanic population, and Obama won it by double digit margins in both 2008 and 2012.  Currently Clinton leads by 5 points or more (light and dark blue states) in states totalling 225 EVs and Trump leads by 5 points or more (light and dark red states) in states totalling 191 EVs.  In white states with a blue or red border, the lead is 1-4 points.

The Huffington Post Pollster’s national poll aggregate has Clinton on 42.0%, Trump on 39.1%, Libertarian Gary Johnson on 8.9%, 6.6% undecided, and 3.4% for Other candidates that include Green Jill Stein.  Last week, Clinton led Trump by 42.3-37.5.

The Pollster aggregate charts show that both major party candidates are unpopular, with Trump at 59% unfavourable, 38% favourable, and Clinton at 56% unfavourable, 42% favourable.  Trump has many issues that explain his unpopularity, while Clinton’s main problem is the perception that she is dishonest and untrustworthy. In contrast to both candidates, 50% approve of Obama’s job performance, and 47% disapprove.

Dislike for both major party candidates explains why third party candidates are currently polling over 10% of the vote.  The volatility in this contest is also due to this dislike.  When either candidate has received much media attention as a result of controversial remarks (this usually applies to Trump) or past emails (applies to Clinton), that candidate has dropped in the polls.

Clinton’s polling had eroded in the past few weeks as the media focus returned to her emails.  Her position had appeared to stabilise in the week prior to the “basket of deplorables” comment and bout of ill health, but these two events have caused her to drop further.  On Friday, Trump accused Clinton of fomenting the “birther” conspiracy theory; this may cause Trump to drop again.

Until elections are close, most US polls are of registered voters – those people who have registered to vote, but do not necessarily vote.  Polls of likely voters are of those the pollster considers likely to actually vote.  Some polls are recording a five-point shift to Trump when going from registered to likely voters.  There are two plausible explanations for this.

Clinton’s difficulties are partly explained by apathy among young people.  Young people were a core part of Obama’s wins in both 2008 and 2012, but they voted heavily for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries, and are not enthused by Clinton.  Third party candidates, such as Johnson and Stein, are winning far higher vote shares among the young than older age groups.  While Trump is very unpopular with the young, the danger for Clinton is that they do not vote, or vote for third party candidates.

Trump is struggling with university-educated whites, but he is doing very well with non-university educated whites.  This is another danger for Clinton.  According to UK polling analyst Matt Singh, at the UK Brexit referendum, almost three million people who had not voted in recent general elections, were more likely to vote, and caused Brexit to win.  In the US, people who did not vote in 2012, when there was no Trump-like candidate, may turn out for Trump this year.

In view of this, Clinton’s description of half of Trump’s voters as a “basket of deplorables” was particularly damaging for her.  It will be seen by non-university educated whites as an elitist showing her true colours, and it is likely that Trump will do even better with this demographic than before Clinton’s comment.  As Trump himself said, “I love the poorly educated”.

A YouGov poll, taken in the days immediately following Clinton’s ill health on 9/11, shows its effect on perceptions of her fitness to serve as President.  In early September, 52% thought Clinton was in good enough physical condition to serve effectively as President for four years, and 33% disagreed.  Now only 39% think Clinton is in good enough physical condition, and 38% disagree.

Johnson will not be participating in Presidential debates

There will be three debates between the Presidential candidates, and one vice presidential debate, with the first debate to be held on 26 September.  To qualify for the debates, candidates need to be averaging at least 15% in selected high-quality polls.  Currently Johnson is getting about 9%, so he will not be participating.

I will have much more on the debates next week.


Adrian Beaumont

Election Watch polls analyst


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