Yes, of course, we all know general election polls nearly a half-year from Election Day are not very accurate and shouldn’t matter a great deal to knowledgeable political people. But human nature and the power of hype being what they are, Donald Trump’s ascent to a position even with, and even ahead of, Hillary Clinton in general election trial heats in April and May had a big impact on people in both parties.
Among Republicans, signs that Trump was rapidly consolidating a grip on Republican voters had a lot to do with GOP elected officials and other opinion-leaders, well, following their supposed followers. Trump’s numbers all but killed off the #NeverTrump movement — at least until the Gonazalo Curiel saga of the last week. And among Democrats, quiet panic spread as liberals asked themselves Can it really happen here? and elites impatiently pushed Bernie Sanders to shut down his challenge to Hillary Clinton so the party could gird its loins to battle Trump.
Even as political folk over-reacted to Trump’s polling surge, wiser heads counseled that it could be an anomaly based on the combination of a post-nomination-clinching “bounce” for Trump and the climax of the Clinton-Sanders struggle. Once Clinton became the putative rather than the presumptive nominee, went the cautionary note, she, too would get a “bounce” as Sanders Democrats came home, and then we’d have a better idea of where the two candidates stood going into the conventions.
But a funny thing happened as everyone was waiting for the next batch of polls: the Curiel incident occurred and then lingered, and Republicans wondered all over again if they were making a dreadful mistake surrendering to this barbarian’s takeover of their party.
Now some new general election polls are coming out, and sure enough, Clinton’s showing some momentum. A new Reuters/Ipsos survey has her up by eight points; IDB/TIPP has her up five. Even Rasmussen — which had Trump leading by five points in mid-May — now has Clinton leading by four. And all these results are occurring before it sinks in that Clinton has now locked up her nomination and made history. What’s more, on Thursday afternoon Fox News came out with a survey showing a six-point swing from a three-point Trump lead in May to a three-point HRC lead now.
These findings, like the earlier pro-Trump numbers, could be little more than statistical noise. But as a mood-changers they could work wonders, as the whole hep political world holds its collective breath to see if Trump’s apparent transformation into just another Republican nominee who had as good a chance of victory as Mitt Romney four years ago was a mirage.