It is normally not a good idea to focus on individual polls instead of the more reliable and stable polling averages. But when big news developments strike the campaign trail, the appetite for fresh polling trumps — no pun intended — the usual rules. And while earlier findings from Rasmussen (Clinton up 7) and Economist/YouGov (Clinton up 6) whetted appetites, it was the appearance of a big and reputable national poll that was in the field after the Access Hollywood video came out Friday, but before the Sunday debate, that is feeding a bit of a frenzy.
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey shows Clinton up among likely voters by a 46/35 margin. The same outlet had Clinton leading by 6 points in mid-September. The poll has a relatively large 4.6 percent margin of error. But the appearance of a double-digit Clinton lead among likely voters this late in the race will hit the chattering classes with considerable impact.
A couple of things should be kept in mind before taking this poll to the bank as a reliable indicator of a powerful wind in Clinton’s direction. First, it was taken at the maximum point of negative impact for Trump, when impressions from the video were very fresh — yet before the second debate, when he probably brought some “base” voters back into his tent with a recitation of popular right-wing memes from recent years. And second, despite the big lead, Clinton’s still well short of a majority, which means she cannot begin any victory dance, particularly if she wants maximum Democratic gains down ballot. Gary Johnson’s still at 9 percent in the poll, and some of his voters could eventually drift toward Trump.
A separate finding in the polls gives Democrats a seven-point lead (49/42) in the “congressional generic ballot,” a question regularly asked about respondents’ partisan leanings in House races. That is the largest Democratic lead this particular pollster has found since the last government shutdown. But it is still just at the lower boundaries of what most forecasters think Democrats would need to take back control of the House.
So, yes, it would be smart to wait for additional polling before jumping to a lot of conclusions. The impact of the video could fade; Trump may have done himself more good with Republicans than was immediately evident; and there are 28 more days of campaigning to go (though that will have but a limited impact on the early voters who will soon be “banking” their votes in considerable numbers). With respect to down-ballot races, a chess game is already developing, wherein Republicans are trying to limit their losses by appealing to “lesser-of-two-evils” Clinton voters to hold her allegedly wild ambitions in check, while Democrats try to use the possibility of a sweep that would enable the enactment of a progressive agenda to motivate their base voters. There’s plenty of politicking still to go.