Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump in recent polling by an average of 8 points ― and the difference is even more pronounced when you look at one particular metric, one that measures voters’ expectations of the race.
When pollsters sample a question regularly, we tend to see slight variations that only convey a more meaningful trend over time. But this summer, as pollsters have asked voters who they expect to win in November, we’ve seen something radically different from the usual incremental shift.
Clinton is outperforming Trump drastically on the expectations question. The University of Michigan’s monthly survey of consumers shows that the net share of households that expect Clinton to beat Trump in the general election rose to 39 percentage points in August. That’s up from 27 points in July and 14 points in June.
This means that in a three-month span, UMich has measured a 25-point rise in the percentage of people who think Clinton will win in November ― a substantial shift in public opinion over a relatively short time.
Other polls show a similarly sharp increase. According to a YouGov/Economist poll, Clinton led by 12 points on the expectations question in mid-July, expanding her lead to 20 points in late July. The most recent YouGov/Economist poll has Clinton up by 25 points on this question, showing a 13-point increase in just two months in people who believe Clinton will win the election.
Clinton’s lead extends across party lines. A substantial number of Republicans who are voting for Trump ― 32 percent, according to the YouGov/Economist poll ― nevertheless expect him to fall short of victory.
The predictive power of the expectations question lies in its relative objectivity...Voters are required to take into account a variety of external conditions and preferences independent from their own.
The phenomenon exists even more strongly at the state level. Forty-five percent of Utah voters believe Clinton will win the White House in November, while a little more than 25 percent believe Trump will win, according to a recent Dan Jones & Associates survey.
These results are particularly striking, since Utah, which is largely Mormon, has been one of the most reliably red states in the nation. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney locked down the Utah vote by a landslide in 2012, as did Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during his own presidential bid in 2008. The last time Utah swung blue in a presidential election was in 1964, when Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson ran against Republican Barry Goldwater.
Americans’ expectations for who will win have historically been a better predictor of election outcomes than their own reported vote preferences, according to research conducted by David Rothschild and Justin Wolfers.
As we wrote last month:
Looking back on the last three presidential elections, the expectations question [who do you expect will win?] predicted the overall outcome much more accurately than the intent question [who do you intend to vote for?] in nearly every poll who asked it in months leading up to the election. At this stage in the 2012 election, Obama led Romney by an average of 25 points on the expectations question...[even when] the voter intent question indicated a much closer race ― Romney and Obama were within 1 point of each other. The same pattern holds in both the 2008 and 2004 races.
The predictive power of the expectations question lies in its relative objectivity. When voters are asked about their objective expectations for what will happen, rather than just what they personally intend to do, they are required to take into account a variety of external conditions and preferences independent from their own.
The expectations question is a powerful predictor of general election outcomes. And it’s one that Trump is critically losing. That’s no guarantee of a Clinton victory, but it’s also far from the only ominous signal for the business magnate. Clinton has overtaken Trump in the overwhelming majority of key swing states, and the race is tightening in historically deep-red states. Meanwhile, Trump is polling abysmally among voters of color and losing among traditionally Republican voting demographics. It’s not over till it’s over, but if you’re Team Trump, things aren’t looking good.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump