Polls released over the past few days show Hillary Clinton losing to Donald Trump in several key swing states, in a trend that should set off alarm bells for Democrats.
These new polls, from several different outlets, show Trump ahead in some states where he hasn’t led any polls in months, and some are the best general election poll results Trump has ever gotten. Here’s the rundown:
- In Ohio, two new polls from Bloomberg and CNN show Trump soaring to a 5-point lead — his biggest margin in the state in any poll tracked by HuffPost Pollster all campaign.
- In Florida, a new CNN poll shows Trump winning by 3 points, his best performance since before the conventions.
- In Nevada, Clinton is down by 2 points, according to Monmouth. She had led in post-convention polls.
- And in Maine, which most expected to be a safe Democratic state and not a swing state, Clinton leads Trump by a mere 3 points, according to Colby College/Survey USA.
Now, you should generally look at the average of polls, rather than overinterpreting the significance of any one new poll, and head over to HuffPost Pollster or RealClearPolitics to do that. But sometimes, if the race is changing quickly and there haven’t been many polls lately, the averages can be slow to catch up (some state averages incorporate polls conducted back in July).
And when so many unusually pro-Trump poll results emerge at once, they seem unlikely to be the artifact of random noise. At the very least, they seem to indicate that the race is now much closer than it has been in months. At most, they could indicate that Trump has now pulled into a lead in states that could help make the difference.
The case against Democratic panic
One reason Democrats shouldn’t completely panic just yet is that it is quite possible for Clinton to still win if she loses Ohio, Florida, and Nevada. Her apparent easiest path to victory involves winning Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado, Virginia, Michigan, and Wisconsin. So keep an eye on new polling from those states in the next few days — if they start to slip away from her, then it will be time for Democrats to get really worried.
Furthermore, it hasn’t all been bad news for Clinton. Over the weekend, she got a strong set of poll results from CBS News/YouGov, which gave her a 7-point lead in Ohio and a 2-point lead in Florida. And she remains ahead in almost every national poll to come out lately.
And it’s also possible that this sudden swing in the polls is affected somewhat by differential non-response rates, a phenomenon Jeff Stein wrote about earlier this year. That is to say, the news of Clinton’s illness may have made her supporters less enthusiastic about even answering polls, so they’d naturally show up less often in the results.
The case for Democratic panic
Yet if Clinton voters truly are feeling so unenthusiastic about the race that they won’t answer phone polls, that in itself indicates a major underlying enthusiasm problem her campaign needs to solve. And in any case, finding creative reasons to dismiss poll results you may not like has generally been a bad idea this year. “Differential non-response rates” may have a fancy name, but paying attention to what the polls actually show has proven to be a pretty good guide to what’s happening.
And even those national polls that are mostly good for Clinton contain some worrying signs for her. For instance, today’s national Quinnipiac poll results put her ahead by 5 points in a head-to-head matchup with Trump, but by just 2 in a four-way ballot test including Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Polls show that it is mainly young voters who are willing to switch their loyalties from Clinton to Johnson or Stein when they are offered as options. Perhaps this will change if those voters view a Trump presidency as more of a possibility, or if Johnson and Stein both fail to qualify for the debates, as seems likely. But for now, it appears that Clinton can’t take overwhelming support among millennials for granted.