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Election Update: Polls Show Potential Fallout From Trump Tape

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Polls conducted since the disclosure of a tape on Friday, in which Donald Trump was recorded condoning unwanted sexual contact against women, suggest that he has probably lost further ground against Hillary Clinton. But the polls aren’t in much agreement, with some polls showing little change in the race and others implying that the tape has had catastrophic consequences for his campaign.

Let’s run through the nine national polls that conducted at least some interviews since the release of the tape late Friday afternoon. In some cases, the polls also contain quite a bit of pre-tape data, so it’s important to pay careful attention to the dates of each survey. We’ll start with the polls that didn’t show much of a shift away from Trump.

  • Morning Consult’s poll for Politico, conducted entirely on Saturday, showed Clinton with a 4-point lead. Technically speaking, that’s an increase for her, since Clinton led by 2 points in a poll they conducted just after the vice presidential debate. But it’s down from a 6-point lead for Clinton in Morning Consult’s Sept. 30-Oct. 2 poll. So our model considers it to be a pretty neutral result.
  • The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll, which has had a strong Trump-leaning “house effect”, hasn’t shown a meaningful change, with Trump remaining about 3 percentage points ahead of Clinton. Unlike almost every other poll, the LA Times survey also didn’t show a bounce for Clinton following the first presidential debate. Note, however, that only two of seven days of the poll were conducted since the release of the tape.
  • Survey Monkey’s weekly tracking poll, also with two of seven days of interviews since the tape, shows Clinton up 5 points, little changed from 6 points a week earlier.
  • The Google Consumer Surveys weekly tracking poll, with two of six days of interviews since the tape, has Clinton up 5 points, unchanged from a week ago.
  • And The Times-Picayune/Lucid tracking poll, conducted Friday through Sunday, has Clinton up by 8 points. That sounds like a good result for Clinton, but the survey generally has good numbers for her, as she’s had leads ranging from 5 points to 12 points in the poll since the first debate.

Four other polls show clear gains for Clinton, however:

  • YouGov’s weekly tracking poll, conducted Friday and Saturday, has Clinton up by 6 points — improved from a 3-point lead a week earlier.
  • The Rasmussen Reports tracking poll shows a very sharp shift toward Clinton, putting her ahead by 7 points as compared with a 1-point lead in the poll they released on Friday, even though only one-third of the interviews were conducted since the tape.1 That’s Clinton’s best position in a Rasmussen poll all cycle.
  • The UPI/CVOTER International tracking poll shows Clinton ahead by 6 points — a marked shift upward from a 1-point lead for Trump a week ago, even though only two of seven days of the poll were conducted since the tape was released.
  • And, most dramatically, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted Saturday and Sunday, shows Clinton with an 11-point lead (and an even larger 14-point lead if third-party candidates are removed). One caution: the poll used a smaller sample size than NBC News and the Wall Street Journal typically uses, just 447 likely voters.

What to make of this? Actually, this is pretty normal. For instance, if the video hurt Trump by a net of 2 percentage points, you’d expect some polls to show a 4- or 5-point shift toward Clinton and others to show no gain, or even a slight rise for Trump, because of sampling error and methodological differences.

I’m inclined to read this data pretty negatively for Trump, however, for two reasons. First, as I mentioned, a lot of these polls still have quite a bit of pre-tape data. So the potential effects are not yet fully priced in. Furthermore, the effects of the tape won’t necessarily become evident overnight. It will take a few days for more voters to learn about the contents of the tape and Republican leaders’ reaction to it. I often see reporters and analysts jumping the gun based on the very first poll after a big news event — but it’s not uncommon to have “false negatives” in which overnight polls show little effect while subsequent ones show more.

And second, Trump couldn’t really afford any negative shock to his numbers, given that he entered Friday in a bad position to begin with. Let’s say that the tape only hurts him by one percentage point, for instance, bringing him to a 6-point deficit from a 5-point deficit a week ago. Even that would be a pretty big deal. Before, Trump had to make up five points in five weeks — or one point per week. Now, he has to make up six points in four weeks instead (1.5 points per week).

All of this is further complicated by Sunday night’s debate. Scientific instant polls showed Clinton winning — although, just perhaps, Trump could benefit from at least diverting the headlines away from the tape. Then again, Trump didn’t exactly avoid the subject by invoking Bill Clinton’s sexual infidelities, which could invite further scrutiny of his own conduct toward women.

For the time being, Clinton is an 84 percent favorite in FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only model, and an 81 percent favorite according to polls-plus (her high point of the year in polls-plus). But her odds in both forecasts will probably increase as more post-tape data comes in. We’ll need until Thursday or Friday to have a clear sense for the impact of both the tape and the second debate.

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  1. Rasmussen conducts interviews on Sundays through Thursdays, skipping Fridays and Saturdays. So the tracking poll they released on Monday morning consisted of interviews from last Wednesday, last Thursday and this Sunday.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.