Two narratives emerge from the data derived from various polls reported just seventy-four days before the federal elections this year and over the relative progress that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have made in winning over voters. Polling trends appear to suggest a) a landslide win for Clinton, or b) a tight race that may give the laurels to Trump. How is this possible?
According to RealClearPolitics averaging of polls, Trump had been behind Clinton by as much as almost 8 percentage points. He is now just 5 points behind her, according to RealClearPolitics, and just 4 points if third-party candidates are thrown in.
Despite this upward trend for Trump, he has not gained much ground in key states such as Florida, Ohio, or Virginia. These he must win to make his presidential aspirations come true. According to a Roanoke College survey that came out on August 23, Trump is trailing Clinton by 16 points (48% to 32%) in the once reliably Republican Virginia. President Barack Obama did win Virginia in both of his elections but by far smaller margins. Some pundits contend that a change in the demographics of the suburbs of Washington DC that lie within Virginia may be the basis of Clinton’s support.
Next door in North Carolina, support for Clinton is within the margin of error, according to a CNN/ORC poll. If Trump can beat Clinton in North Carolina, even a narrow a victory for Trump there could signal a defeat for Clinton nationally.
The second narrative is illustrated by the Ipsos poll that was released on August 24. In that survey, Trump did poorly in states such as Colorado, Virginia, and Florida (trailing by 3, 7, and 8 points, respectively). Florida is crucial, for example, because it bears 29 Electoral College votes. A poor showing in these battleground states, in a normal year, would suggest a win for Clinton. But the last twelve months have shown that this political season is like no other.
In other states, Trump is doing well. For example, Trump leads by four points in Maine: a deep blue state that has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988: Ronald Reagan. Trump is down by just 3 points in New Mexico, which Mitt Romney lost to Obama by 10% in 2012. In Iowa, Trump is tied with Clinton: 41 to 41. In deep-blue Oregon, which is dominated by Democrats at all levels, Trump is down by just four points. Romney lost Oregon by 12% in 2012.
In the Rustbelt, Trump is tied or in a statistical dead heat in states that have voted in Democrats since the 1980s. In Michigan, where memories of the famous Flint Sit-Down Strike and Detroit’s Battle of the River Rouge in the 1920s remain fresh among labor union members, Clinton is up by exactly 1 point: 44 to 43. Which is all the more reason why Trump has spent so much time in Michigan. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Clinton and Trump are in a statistical dead heat: 46 to 45 and 38 to 37, respectively.
Two conflicting trends are thus shaping up:
Trump has gained ground since the Democratic National Convention in July, surging in Maine, Iowa, Nevada, and according to some polls, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
However, he still trails in Colorado, Ohio, and Virginia.
With a strong appeal to blue-collar voters with his denunciations of trade deals with China, NAFTA and TPP, he has found a positive response in places like Iowa and Maine where there are plenty of working class voters who respond well to his messages of economic nationalism. But in Colorado and Virginia, where Republicans had relied on college-educated whites, their support for Trump is far lower than for previous Republican candidates.
If the author of The Almanac of American Politics, Michael Barone, is correct, Trump could make further gains by resorting to a stronger election ad campaign in states such as Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, where Clinton has spent millions on ad buys. So far, Trump has run just one ad during this process. In a recent column at the Washington Examiner, Barone wrote: "Overall conclusion: Trump is not quite as far down as many people think, and it's possible to imagine circumstances in which he might still win. But to do so, he must do better in the target states."