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Donald Trump has a 33 percent chance of winning the election according to our polls-only forecast and a 34 percent chance according to polls-plus. These roughly 1 in 3 odds are close to Trump’s highs since the party conventions.
Trump has had a reasonably strong couple of days in the polls, and the odds according to our forecast have resumed moving slowly but steadily toward him after having flattened out toward the end of last week. As is often the case, however, it’s hard to attribute causality. Hillary Clinton has had a series of negative news cycles — first after her Friday night remark that half of Trump supporters fall into a “basket of deplorables” and then after she abruptly left a Sept. 11 memorial event on Sunday and a video captured her appearing to stumble into her vehicle. It was later revealed that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia.
If you want to make the case that the weekend’s news has moved the polls, there are a couple of them that you might cite prominently. First is the latest edition of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll; it shows a fairly dramatic swing, with the race going from a 1-percentage-point lead for Clinton to a 5-point lead for Trump over the past few days. Although the LA Times poll has had a strong pro-Trump house effect, the trend line in the poll can be useful because the poll re-interviews the same respondents over and over instead of finding a new sample of voters.
The other scary result for Clinton is a Selzer & Co. poll of Ohio, conducted Friday through Monday on behalf of Bloomberg Politics; it shows a 5-point lead for Trump there. Selzer hadn’t previously polled Ohio during this campaign, so the poll doesn’t have a trend line. But this is an unambiguously bad result for Clinton, coming from one of the highest-rated pollsters in one of the most important states.
But some other recent polls that include interviewing conducted over the weekend aren’t as bad for Clinton. The Ipsos-Reuters tracking poll, based on interviews through Monday, shows the race having moved to and fro but with no clear trend toward either candidate over the past week. Gallup’s tracking poll of candidate favorability ratings — not used in our model because it doesn’t contain a head-to-head result, but useful for context — shows Trump’s favorability rating having improved slightly over the past week but Clinton’s steady instead of declining. The Google Consumer Surveys national tracking poll showed little change, and YouGov’s national poll — the most recent of the bunch, having been conducted Saturday through Tuesday — had both Clinton and Trump gaining ground at the expense of third-party candidates.
My best guess on the effect of the weekend’s news, based on what the model shows so far, is that the race is continuing to trend moderately toward Trump, when the momentum toward him might have stalled out if not for the events of the weekend. But we can’t rule out a more acute shift toward Trump or that the “Hillary’s bad weekend” meme is a false alarm — there isn’t quite enough data yet.
Whether or not the race will continue to tighten is a guessing game, in other words. But my impression is that the commentariat has been slow to recognize how much the race has tightened already. It’s never a good idea to freak out over any one poll. But the trend toward Trump has been clear for a few weeks now, and it’s been just as clear in state polls as national polls. Yes, the data is noisy. Polls are all over the place in Ohio, for instance. But over the course of all of this, Trump has whittled down an 8-point lead for Clinton into about a 3-point lead instead — about a 5-point swing. With there having been several shifts of that magnitude since the primaries ended, with there being a large number of undecided voters, and with the debates still ahead, neither Clinton nor Trump should feel all that secure.