Donald Trump was the big joke of the 2016 election cycle for many people, but that joke was on us. After an unprecedented rise in the Republican primaries, Trump became the nominee and entered the General Election as the standard bearer for the party of Lincoln.
Immediately after the Republican National Convention, polls had him in the lead — however, the well-run Democratic National Convention reversed that trend, vaulting Hillary Clinton back into first.
Trump had a rough August. From dissing a gold star family to campaign operation challenges, he dug himself into quite a hole. However, many people are pretending that he doesn’t have a chance. These people are blind to the influence Trump has amassed, and how very close he is to becoming the next President. Here are some numbers:
This chart from poll aggregator RealClearPolitics shows the national polling trend in a four-way race between Clinton, Trump, Gary Johnson, and Dr. Jill Stein. Since her peak in early August, Hillary Clinton has faced a slow slide down in the polls from 6ish points to 2ish.
That being said, the national popular vote does not elect the President — that’s the job of the electoral college. Every state has an allocated number of electoral votes that are divided up based on population, and it’s the job of a candidate to get 270 EVs (a majority).
When looking at the electoral map, the landscape remains favorable to Clinton.
The above map is a projection from FiveThirtyEight, which is a poll aggregator that considers polling and economic conditions to forecast the election. This map is their “polls only” forecast, which only considers polling and not other factors in its formula. Based on the numbers they have; if the election were held today this is how they predict the race would turn out.
The darker the color of each state, the more confident they are of each outcome. So the very dark blue California gives Clinton a 99.6% chance of winning the state if the election were held today, while the very dark red Oklahoma gives Donald Trump a 99.4% chance of winning the state if the election were held today.
If this scenario proved true, Hillary Clinton would beat Donald Trump with 338 electoral votes to 200 electoral votes.
So many Clinton supporters are tempted to rest on their laurels. Some say that the national trend doesn’t matter because Clinton is leading in the swing states. This just isn’t true, though.
When there is a national swing, you suspect to see that reflected in state-wide polls. So if the national polls swing 1% toward Trump, you’d expect to see that swing reflected in all fifty states. Now, of course, things don’t always work out like that. Regional issues can affect national polls without impacting key battlegrounds — but that shouldn’t be the assumption.
This is just a fancy way of saying that Clinton’s lead right now rests on the edge of a knife.
There are outlier polls that show Trump in the lead, and there are outlier polls that give Clinton a shot in “red” states like Texas and Mississippi. Try not to fixate on the outliers and focus-in on the prevailing trends and averages.
Good news if you support Trump
Trump has been eating away at Clinton’s advantages, recently taking the lead in Iowa. The trend is in his direction, and nothing that went wrong in August seems to be a serious impediment to moving forward.
Good news if your support Clinton
In the last week, Trump has failed to actually take the lead. He has whittled the Clinton advantage down, but she appears to still be winning by 2-3 points. The start of September is actually a traditionally a good month for Republicans as both John McCain and Mitt Romney took brief leads during this time previously (though to be fair, that was always the week after their Conventions, so it could’ve merely been their bounce).
Also, USC Dornsife/LA Times poll — which has favored Trump throughout the year — has shown Clinton in the lead for the first time since early August. While only one poll, this might be the start of the trending going the other way toward Clinton.
This election is still anybody’s game. If you feel passionate about the issues or candidates, it’s up to you to make the difference. If you are looking to learn more about polls and polling, I highly recommend checking out the FiveThirtyEight blog — it’s super cool stuff.