There’s quite a bit of new polling out today on the 2016 presidential race, and as it turns out, no matter which candidate you’re rooting for, there’s fresh data to make you feel good – and bad.
If you’re hoping for a Hillary Clinton victory, you’re probably encouraged by new polls showing the presumptive Democratic nominee ahead in Pennsylvania (45% to 36%), Iowa (42% to 39%), Wisconsin (43% to 37%), and Colorado (48% to 35%).
If you’re hoping for a Donald Trump victory, you’re likely pleased to see polls showing the presumptive Republican nominee leading in Florida (42% to 39%), Pennsylvania (43% to 41%), and tied in Ohio (41% each).
In national polling, the latest McClatchy-Marist survey shows Clinton leading Trump, 42% to 39%, which is good news for the Democrat (she’s ahead) and good news for the Republican (he’s narrowed the gap).
What are we to make of all of this? I’d recommend keeping a few things in mind.
1. Clinton had a modest lead before and she has a modest lead now. Individual polls are interesting, but it’s still the case that it’s best to rely on averages. There’s some evidence that the race has tightened a bit over the last week or so, but the shift hasn’t been especially dramatic.
2. Last week hurt Clinton. Putting aside the question of whether Clinton’s email “controversy” had merit, last week didn’t do the Democrat any favors. Having every major news organization in the country question a candidate’s judgment and competence – all because of a story related to email server protocols, of all things – is bound to have an effect. Americans believed the story mattered because they were told the story mattered. What’s less clear is whether the damage is permanent or temporary.
3. Everything is about to change. Over the next 10 days or so, we’ll know who both candidates’ running mates are, and the general-election phase will begin in earnest. Expect some volatility in polling.
4. Trump could take the lead next week. Don’t be shocked if Trump’s narrow deficit turns into a narrow advantage after the Republican National Convention. Candidates routinely get a post-convention bounce, and if the party generally approves of Trump’s vice-presidential choice, a growing number of conservative partisans will return “home” after festivities in Cleveland wrap up. If he does inch ahead, it doesn’t mean Trump is going to win. (And if his lead is brief, it doesn’t mean he’s going to lose.)
5. If you’ve been looking for a landslide, adjust your expectations. Clinton’s lead has been relatively steady, but not overwhelming, and odds are against a blowout margin in either direction. It’s a closely divided electorate in a closely divided country, which tends to be a recipe for a close presidential race.
As New York’s Ed Kilgore put it this morning, “For now, everyone should get over their ‘shock’ at this or that poll showing that yes, it’s a relatively close race, and no, we cannot promise you Donald Trump’s chances of becoming president are zero. For now at least, get used to it.”