I have been polling professionally for 32 years now and I have been engaged in the day-to-day polling of Presidential races since 1992. That is a very long time but one thing has not changed: the annoying media coverage of every minute of every day of every campaign. It is the moral equivalent of the kind of 24-hour “breaking news” like California slow speed chases and the Balloon Boy i.e. much of the time there is no there there. When there is not any news, then why manufacture it? Who needs it? News is supposed to be new, useful, important, whatever.
I talk to the press every day. Is Hillary Clinton in a “free fall”? How do you explain Donald Trump’s “recent surge” in the polls? Short answers first: no, she is not in a free fall. She has had a bad week in the context of a not too great campaign. And no, there is no surge in Trump’s polling.
Allow me to look at the numbers. Today the race is tied in the aggregate averages. Both candidates are just where they have been for weeks now – stuck in the low forties in the four-way race. (And word to the wise: watch the four-way race, not the two-way race. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are factors and still could be a month from now). If we go back to June, Clinton has been polling anywhere from 38% to 46% in the nationwide polls, including the outliers and the aberrations. Trump has been polling between 35% to 45% in those same polls. Not only is there a margin-of-sampling error to deal with, but the so-called surges and free falls are neither – they are at most one candidate dropping a couple of points while another gains a couple. There has been very little movement in the polls for months now. Surely, when Clinton goes from 43% to 41% at the same time that Trump moves from 40% to 42%, the end product looks bigger than it really is. But there is a bottom line here, folks – this is a very close race and the leads are going to switch and seesaw between now and November just as they did in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 – all competitive elections. And let’s be very clear: when either candidate was polling 45% in the four way race, that poll was an outlier.
The same can be said of the battleground states. If we look at Florida since August 1, Clinton has polled between 36% and 43% while Trump has been between 35% and 45%. Today Trump leads but there is no surge. Clinton’s needs to worry, to be sure, because Florida has a lot of electoral votes and because President Obama won that state twice. But those polling numbers reflect the outlier polls, too. Truth is that Florida has been razor thin most of the time.
Same with Ohio. Again, Trump leads today and that is good news for any Republican nominee because no GOP candidate has won the White House without winning Ohio since forever. But Clinton has been polling 36%-46% since June while Trump has been polling 35% to 42%.
Nevada is even closer. Both nominees have been in the 41%-43% range since mid-August. Even Arizona – Clinton 35%-40% and Trump 34%-40%).
What I am seeing in all these instances is that both candidates have been stuck on average somewhere in the low forties. That is dismal and unpredictable since both candidates are disliked by a majority of voters. Today Trump leads by small amounts in several battleground states where he was behind a little while ago. Clinton has declined a tad in almost every credible poll – both nationally and in the key swing states. But there is no surge or free fall here. Just no way. I will let you know when there is. And if that happens then that will be Breaking News.