Some New Polls Show a Tightening — Even Close — White House Race. Is That the Real Story?

No, Clinton's not running away with this presidential election. But let's see what happens at the conventions.Photo: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images; Alex Wong/Getty Images

At Politico this morning we see the blaring headline: “Swing-state stunner: Trump has edge in key states.” If you read the actual story, you discover it’s about Quinnipiac releasing new polls for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. In the first two states, there’s actually little movement from the last Q-polls, in June. There is a big swing in Florida, from a 8-point Clinton lead in June to a 3-point Trump lead now, with no particularly clear explanation offered other than a massive (and thus dubious) swing of independent voters. The Q-poll people point to a deterioration of Clinton’s ratings for being “honest and trustworthy” as indicating the possible impact of the renewed attention to the email issue and the FBI’s findings, but the polling window was too wide to show any particular rapid change. 

It’s worth noting that Quinnipiac’s battleground state polls have been providing relatively bad news for Clinton throughout the presidential cycle, and that they’ve been criticized for an allegedly pro-Republican bias in samples.

But then there’s also a new national poll from McLatchey/Marist showing Clinton’s lead down to 3 points (42/39). This one was taken right in the midst of the latest email brouhaha, and showed Clinton’s unfavorable ratings rising and rivaling Trump’s. And today FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only model bumped up Trump’s chances of winning:

If you look at all the recent national polling of the race, and put aside Rasmussen, the only pollster showing Trump actually in the lead since May, you see a Clinton lead that ranges from low single digits to low double digits. Partly because of their good reputation, and partly because they offer massive information on their internal findings and crosstabs, the last Washington Post/ABC and Pew Research polls got outsized attention. They also showed Clinton up 12 and 9 points, respectively.

Mix the new data with a widespread belief in the chattering classes that Clinton would eventually open up a big lead over a Republican candidate despised by so many in his own party, and you have “shock” when the numbers turn in a different direction, however temporarily.

Truth is, this is a pretty close race, much like the presidential races were at this point in 2008 and 2012. We are now on the very brink of one of those junctures in the presidential cycle that often produces significant swings in public opinion: the conventions. Immediately afterward, we’ll have a pretty good idea which candidate really does have an advantage going into what is going to be a long general-election contest. My guess is that Clinton will get the superior convention “bump,” mostly because of Bernie Sanders’s announcement of support and the unity gestures that will make possible in Philadelphia. Trump’s already gotten his consolidation of Republican support, and signs are not good for a boffo convention in Cleveland. We’ll see soon enough.

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.