Starting at the end of the Democratic convention, for about a month, the mass media have been celebrating the imminent demise of Donald Trump, openly speculating on the size of a Hillary Clinton victory and assuming the fact. While Trump has remained heartily disliked and unable to break out of the low 40s in his polling, Clinton has had a much worse last two weeks with seemingly unending bad news related to the Clinton Foundation and the easy access it had to the State Department. Trump may be barely holding his head above water, but Clinton is steadily sinking to his level.
So much for the landslide.
The past two weeks (from August 18th) have shown a definite change in Trump’s favor. To analyze the numbers, however, it is necessary to split the polls into two camps. One camp is the USC/LA Times and Rasmussen camp; the other camp is everybody else. These two camps clearly have different opinions on who will actually vote, with USC/LA Times and Rasmussen believing that turnout will favor Trump. Arguing who is right is a futile exercise, but looking at these two camps separately give us the best, if more complicated picture of where the race stands.
Ever since the questionable activities of the Clinton Foundation have come to the fore, Hillary Clinton has been on the defensive and her numbers are dropping. In the roughly four weeks from the end of the Democratic Convention top mid-August, Clinton averaged her best polling of the entire campaign. Her ballot test against Trump averaged 47.4% to Trump’s 39.5% and her approve/disapprove split, while still negative had improved to an average of 43/53.1 – she even had two 50-50 results. USC/LA Times had the race at Clinton averaging 45.2% and Trump averaging 43.7%. Rasmussen polled a 43/42 Clinton lead on July 27th. Approval/disapproval ratings are not available from either pollster.
In the past two weeks the numbers have moved decidedly against Clinton from both polling camps. Heads-up with Trump, Clinton has dropped two points to 45.4%, while Trump has edged up to 39.9%. The USC/LA Times track puts Trump ahead 44.1/43.7. In a four-way test that includes Johnson and Stein, Clinton leads Trump 42.2/37.8. Rasmussen has polled three times since August 18th with Clinton leading 40.7/39.0, but Trump ahead in the most recent poll, 40/39.
Changes in candidate approval/disapproval have moved as well. Clinton’s approval/disapproval has fallen one point to 42/54.1 while Trump has improved from an average of 34.5/60.6 to 36.3/59.5. If Trump can sustain these numbers it will mean for the first time ever fewer than 60% of Americans will disapprove of him.
Trump should hold off on any celebration. The polling numbers reveal two problems. The first is that he is still stuck at 40% in most polls, including Rasmussen. Only USC/LA Times has consistently put Trump in the middle 40s. The polling story is Clinton falling, not Trump rising. The second problem is that the polls are closest in a 4-way race that included Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. With Johnson highly unlikely to make the national debate stage and Stein having no chance, they will not get any national platform for their messages. The most likely result for both is a collapse leading up to Election Day.
Heads up, Clinton maintains a sizable lead with the exception of USC/LA Times. Even that poll shows the race close. For both candidates, the race remains a race to the bottom. Hillary Clinton has yet to make a full-court press on Trump’s tax returns and Bill Clinton remains determined to have one more big party for his foundation.