After the Democratic convention, many Democrats breathed a sigh of relief because it appeared that Hillary Clinton had an "insurmountable" 8-point lead over Donald Trump. Two months later, that lead is almost gone and Dems are worried. What happened?
The latest Huffington Post Poll of Polls shows Clinton with a 4.0 percentage point lead over Trump. The latest Five Thirty Eight summary shows Clinton with a projected 60.5 percent chance of winning, a 2.3 percentage point victory, and 288 electoral votes. Over time, Trump's ceiling has stayed about the same, 42 percent of the likely vote; however, Hilary's numbers have gone up and down -- sometimes getting as high as 49 percent and as low as 42 percent.
Several factors have contributed to the closeness of the presidential race: First, since reorganizing his campaign Trump has been more disciplined compared to the old Trump. He still makes rash comments but not the same craziness that characterized the Judge Curiel and Khan family periods.
Second, mainstream Republican voters have become relatively inured to Trump and, apparently, have decided that the almost daily stream of Trump revelations (shady business dealings, bizarre charity expenditures, white supremacist associations, etc.) are the work of a "corrupt" mainstream media. In the latest Washington Post poll Trump gets the support of 86 percent of Republican likely voters -- Clinton gets the support of 90 percent of Democratic likely voters.
In the fifties, Republicans chanted "Better Dead than Read;" this year their mantra seems to be "Better Evil Donald than Liar Hillary.'
Third, the candidates are unusually unpopular -- in the latest Gallup poll, Hillary has a 40 percent favorable rating and Trump has a 34 percent favorable rating. As a consequence, many "Independents" are either undecided or have committed to a third-Party candidate.
Fourth, Hillary's numbers went down after a bad week: during the September 7th "Presidential Forum," NBC host Matt Lauer focussed on Hillary's email problems for roughly half her allotted time. This hurt Clinton in the short term -- but probably helped her in the long-term because she seemed to address every conceivable email issue. Clinton followed this with her "deplorables" remark on September 9th -- that to many of us didn't seem extreme but, nonetheless, cost her support among persuadable Republicans. And then Clinton fell ill on September 11th. The press played this up as an example of the Clinton's campaign's lack of transparency -- which seemed incredibly unfair because the Trump campaign has zero transparency -- and it knocked down Hillary's numbers. Since getting back on the campaign trail, Clinton's polls and favorable ratings have improved.
I've long argued that the election would be decided by two factors: the candidates' performances in the September 26th debate -- the first debate has historically been the most important -- and the get-out-the-vote effort. I expect Hillary to do well in the first debate and I expect her campaign to do much better getting out the vote.
At this point, I look at two indicators to gauge how Hillary is doing. the first is key swing states. I'm assuming that Trump will win Ohio and Clinton will prevail in Florida. Among the big three, the key state is Pennsylvania, where Clinton currently has a 6.6 percentage point lead; if Clinton falls behind in Pennsylvania she has a problem. (There's also a competitive PA senate race -- McGinty versus Tommey; currently a dead heat.) To a lesser extent, I look at New Hampshire (Clinton up by 5 points), Nevada (dead heat), and North Carolina (dead heat). the latest Cook Report electoral projection shows Clinton getting to 272 by winning Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. (I believe that Clinton will also win Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina, thereby winning more than 300 electoral votes -- and probably guaranteeing that Democrats control the Senate.)
The second indicator is support among college-educated white voters. The latest Washington Post poll indicates that Clinton has maintained her lead among these voters: plus 12 points among women and plus 1 among men. This is the largest shift from the Romney voters to the Trump voters and, if it continues, guarantees a Clinton victory. (It's hard to foresee a Trump victory based solely upon support of non-college-educated white men.)
The 2016 election is Clinton's to lose. What she should do now is remind voters of what she stands for -- she's already done a good job defining Trump negatively (a recent Fox News poll found that 59 percent of respondents believe Trump does not have the temperament to be President.) In the process, Clinton needs to soften her image -- my contention is that a lot of persuadable voters want to like her but don't. She needs to have a more cordial relationship with the press. And, she needs to stop making mistakes!