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Donald Trump had drawn to within 1 or 2 percentage points of Hillary Clinton in the popular vote and into a near-tie in the Electoral College before last Monday’s presidential debate. But the debate almost immediately moved the polls in Clinton’s favor, putting her in a much more comfortable position. Now the question is whether Trump’s problems have grown worse since then.
As far as FiveThirtyEight’s forecast models are concerned, the answer is a pretty clear “yes.” In our polls-only model, Clinton’s chances were 55 percent before the debate and increased to 72 percent as of this Monday. But her odds have also grown significantly over the course of this week, to 80 percent now, which corresponds to a lead of 5 or 6 percentage point in the popular vote. Our polls-plus model has followed a similar but slightly more conservative trajectory, with Clinton’s probability increasing from 55 percent before the debate, to 68 percent on Monday, to 76 percent now.
The polls do not yet account for any fallout from the Washington Post’s explosive disclosure on Friday of a tape from 2005 in which Trump made a variety of lascivious comments about women, including bragging about being able to get away with groping women because he was “a star.”
Somewhat contrary to its reputation for being hyper-aggressive, even the polls-only model can sometimes take a few extra days to fully account for shifts in the race. So in circumstances like these, it can sometimes be useful to look at the FiveThirtyEight now-cast, which incorporates new polls very quickly at the cost of potentially picking up on noise and overshooting the mark. In fact, Clinton’s lead also continued to rise in the now-cast over the course of the week (although it shifted very slightly downward on Friday itself), and her popular-vote lead in the now-cast (6.1 percentage points) remains larger than in the polls-only model (5.3 percentage points). So if there’s been any reversal back toward Trump, it hasn’t really shown up in the polls yet, at least not on a consistent basis.
Sure, if you’re a Trump fan, you can find a few data points that look a little better for you. The latest Fox News national poll shows Clinton’s lead at only 2 points, for example, down from a 3-point lead just after the debate. A Suffolk poll of New Hampshire showed Trump’s deficit at only 2 points there. The perpetually Republican-leaning USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll continues to show Trump ahead. But this is not where the consensus of the evidence lies, and even Trump’s best polls aren’t all that good. In the two weeks before the debate, by contrast, about half of swing state polls showed Trump tied or ahead.
Therefore, our best guess is that news events since the debate, such as the reporting of leaked tax returns that showed Trump reporting a $916 million loss in 1995, have also hurt Trump. His taped remarks about women could too, of course, once the polls have time to reflect them.
We expect to see some further, high-quality polling come in over the weekend, in advance of Sunday night’s second presidential debate. So we’ll save our next big overview of the race for then. But Trump has dug a pretty big hole for himself, and he will probably enter Sunday night in a position where the debate alone will not be enough to undo all the damage.