Opinion

Election 2016: New Polls Point To A Dramatic Trump Surge

Stewart Lawrence Stewart J. Lawrence is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy analyst who writes frequently on immigration and Latino affairs. He is also founder and managing director of Puentes & Associates, Inc., a bilingual survey research and communications firm.
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Think Donald Trump’s out of contention in the race for the presidency?  A lot of mainstream media outlets seem to think so.  They’ve all but called the 2016 contest for Clinton.  The only issue, they say, is how large Clinton’s victory will be.

And like many of Clinton’s closest supporters, they’re hoping for a landslide to give Clinton the “mandate” she’ll need to push legislation through a hostile GOP-dominated Congress.

In fact, Clinton might want to think twice about measuring the White House drapes.  The latest national CNN/ORC poll released yesterday was a bombshell for Trump.  CNN/ORC found Trump leading Clinton 49% to 48% in a head-to-head contest among likely voters.  The lead is two points 45%-43% when third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are included

It’s a dramatic turnaround.   Just a month ago, on the heels of the DNC convention, CNN/ORC gave Clinton a 9-point margin.  That lead has all but evaporated.  Even worse for Clinton, the latest poll puts the lie to claims that Trump had reached a “ceiling” of support at roughly 43%-45% of the electorate, especially among women and minorities  Any narrowing of his gap with Clinton would be the result of her losing support,  not from Trump gaining any new voters, went the argument.

Nonsense.  Trump’s 49% means that undecided voters, who are unusually sizable part of the electorate in 2016 – about 20% compared to 10% typically, according to polling expert Nate Silver – may be starting to break for the billionaire real estate mogul. Trump may even be stealing away some voters that were soft on Clinton to begin with.

And the news for Clinton is about to get worse.  Tomorrow, Emerson College will release a spate of new polls on the state of the presidential race in New England and New Jersey — states that typically vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, and by a substantial margin.

[dcquiz] The biggest shocker is Rhode Island, which Obama carried by 27 points in 2012.  According to the Emerson poll, Clinton leads Trump by just 3 points, well within the statistical margin of error.  And in Maine’s second district, which votes apart from the rest of the state, Trump is beating Clinton soundly, the new poll shows.

And then there’s New Jersey, a state with a sizable 14 electoral votes, which hasn’t gone Republican since 1988.   Even with Trump surrogate New Jersey governor Christ Christie’s supporting him, many analyst have considered Trump’s promise to put New Jersey “in play” in 2016 to be pure fantasy.  Christie, it’s been said, is so unpopular in his home state that his support for Trump won’t help the candidate.

Maybe not, but Emerson finds Trump within 4 points of Clinton now.  Previous polls have found Clinton with a more sizable double-digit lead, including 21 points in a poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickenson in June.  Obama carried the state handily in 2008 and 2012, by 17 and 18 points, respectively.

Spencer Kimball, who directed the latest polling for Emerson, told me that the Trump surge is real and probably growing.  His organization recently polled voters in Virginia and North Carolina and found Trump closing fast in those two states, too.

Among other Emerson findings, Trump’s winning men by a larger margin than Clinton is winning women, giving the GOP candidate the gender gap advantage.  CNN/ORC found the same result in its latest national poll – a 7 point advantage for Trump.  And voters are saying they believe Trust is more honest and trustworthy and is better able to handle the economy and terrorism.

Another unexpected factor is the African-American vote.  Emerson, alone among polling organizations, has found Trump increasing his support with a voter group that typically tilts Democratic.  Among African Americans Trump garners 15% in Virginia, 15% in New jersey, and 16% in North Carolina, according to Emerson’s recent polling.

Kimball notes that the margin of error in the polling results for “sub-groups” – about 8% – is higher than for the poll as a whole.  That means Trump’s real level of African-American support might be anywhere between about 7% and 23%.  Still, even 7-8% support is double what other recent polls have shown.

The possibility of Trump breakthroughs in New Jersey or Rhode Island should be weighed again Clinton’s own efforts to alter the electoral map.  She’s polling competitively in GOP diehard states like Georgia and Missouri, as well as Arizona.

Trump, meanwhile, is neck-and-neck or leading in states like Nevada and Wisconsin, and may even have a shot at Oregon – all of which have trended Blue in recent years.

The upshot?  Forget about what the mainstream media says.  Nine weeks out – and with three critical debates still ahead – all bets are off for who will win the presidency in 2016.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that the CNN/ORC poll found Trumping lead Clinton 49% to 48% among registered voters. Trump was found to be leading among likely voters, not registered voters.