With just over three weeks left until Election Day and as many as 1.5 million votes already cast, two new national polls conducted following the second presidential debate show Hillary Clinton expanding or consolidating her lead over Donald Trump in a four-way matchup. One, from NBC News/Wall Street Journal, has her leading by 11 points, 48 to 37 percent (up six points from mid-September), while the other, from ABC News/Washington Post, has her leading by four points, 47 to 43 percent (up two points from their previous poll conducted before the first debate). The two polls also offer mixed insight into how much Trump’s Access Hollywood video, in which he bragged about his ability to sexually assault women, has influenced the race.
The ABC/WaPo poll indicates that while roughly seven in ten respondents believe that Trump probably has made unwanted sexual advances on women and only 38 percent believed his apologies over the Access Hollywood tape were sincere, just one-third of respondents said the video made them less likely to support Trump (the same voters already profiled as unlikely Trump supporters in the first place). Some 40 percent of voters also agreed with Trump that his video remarks were simply “locker room talk,” including 56 percent of non-college-educated white women.
On the other hand, the NBC/WSJ poll has Clinton now up 20 points among women, compared with only eight points in the ABC/WaPo poll. The NBC/WSJ poll also found that awareness of the Access Hollywood tape is extraordinarily high, as it is now the fourth-most-recognized story in the history of the poll, with 95 percent of respondents having seen, read, or heard about the video. However, while 64 percent of registered voters were concerned about the tape, only 32 percent said that it disqualified Trump from being president, compared with 53 percent who didn’t feel that way.
Regarding Trump’s counterattack over the Access Hollywood tape, only about a third of voters in the ABC/WaPo poll thought the Clinton sex scandals were a legitimate issue in the race, while 55 percent thought Trump’s treatment of women should be a factor. The percentage of voters who thought that Hillary Clinton’s handling of those scandals was a legitimate concern was evenly split at 48 percent in the NBC/WSJ poll.
The two polls, both conducted from October 10 through October 13, do not offer any sense of how the recent allegations of sexual assault made by multiple women against Trump over the past week are influencing voters.
One area where the polls definitely agree is that Trump is declining in several key dimensions of support. The ABC/WaPo poll indicates that enthusiasm among Trump supporters has dropped from 91 to 79 percent over the past month, and that the number of overall registered voters who think Trump is honest and trustworthy has dropped eight points to 34 percent. The NBC/WSJ poll indicates that Trump still leads Clinton when it comes to perceptions of honesty, but his lead over Clinton in that regard has fallen only four points, 38 to 34 percent. That same poll indicates that Trump is losing ground to Clinton on the issues of trade and the economy, essentially showing them in a tie at this point in the race, findings which are consistent with the ABC/WaPo poll results.
Clinton supporter enthusiasm, meanwhile, has ticked up two points to 83 percent in the ABC/WaPo poll, and the number of Clinton supporters who admitted they might still change their mind about their vote has also dropped from 16 to 9 percent. Fifty-nine percent of voters think Clinton is qualified for the office of president, while only 39 percent feel that way about Trump, and Clinton still maintains an advantage when it comes to temperament. Roughly 90 percent of Clinton and Trump supporters hold a strongly unfavorable view of their candidate’s opponent, however, which is yet another indication that post-election divisions may prove difficult to mend.
That antipathy seems to be bleeding over into voter’s personal lives as well since another new poll, by ABC News/SSRS, found that 90 percent of Americans often speak about the election with their friends and family, leading to increased tension in those relationships for 37 percent of Americans — more so among men than women:
That same survey indicates that 29 percent of Americans do not think that it is appropriate for children to pay attention to this election.
In addition, some new battleground-state polls are out as well. Clinton is up by six points over Trump in a new Nevada poll by CBS/YouGov, and up five points in Colorado and four points in Florida via a pair of Gravis/Breitbart polls. A new poll from Christopher Newport University also shows Clinton up by 15 points in Virginia, indicating Trump’s support is at only 29 percent there overall and that he is now losing women to Clinton 50 to 26 percent and losing men for the first time 37 to 32 percent. The same poll, conducted from October 11 to 14, also shows movement among independent voters to Clinton from both Trump and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson with Clinton leading in military households 38 to 32 percent.
But while Clinton is clearly winning the race according to polls, can those numbers be trusted? FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver weighs in on what should potentially worry Clinton in the remaining weeks of the campaign:
We’re getting to the point where a Clinton loss would require either an “October surprise” — maybe Wikileaks has something more damaging up its sleeve than what it’s shown so far, although even then it could be drowned out by all the news Trump is generating — or a significant polling error. On the prospects for a polling miss, let me state this carefully. It’s not that the arguments for why the polls could be underrating Trump’s support (e.g. the supposed presence of “shy Trump” voters) are all that strong. There are reasons to think the polls could be underrating Clinton’s support instead of Trump’s, in fact. But polls aren’t always as accurate as they were in the past few presidential elections, and given the large number of undecided voters, they could be off in either direction. A 6- or 7-point polling error is just on the outer fringe of what’s possible based on the historical record in U.S. elections.
With that said, it’s not the massive polling miss that would concern me if I were Clinton. Instead, I’d worry about what might happen if Trump was on a rising trajectory as Nov. 8 approaches, having cut my lead down to 3 or 4 percentage points, and then there was a more modest polling error on the order of what we saw in advance of Brexit, where the final polls were off by about 4 points. Polling errors of that magnitude are considerably more common than 6- or 7-point errors.
And again, no poll results have come out that factor in the recent accusations of sexual harassment and assault made against Trump by various women over the past week or Trump’s response to those claims, so it’s possible that those allegations, coming so soon after the Access Hollywood tape, may compound the candidate’s troubles. Also, as Silver adds, the Trump campaign is not exactly well-positioned, structurally or temperamentally, for a strong finish:
Trump has considerably less cash on hand than Clinton; he also has a much inferior ground game and is burning bridges with Republicans who could help him. And in the primaries, Trump consistently struggled with late-deciding voters, perhaps because he was such a polarizing candidate. So even if Trump catches a couple of breaks over the final weeks, he might not be poised to take advantage of them.
This post has been updated to incorporate Nate Silver’s overview analysis, in light of the ABC/WaPo and NBC/WSJ polls.