Seems pretty clear in hindsight that that bombshell 12-point lead from earlier this week was a weird outlier. (Although, interestingly, an AP poll taken around the same time had Clinton ahead by 14.) Eight points don’t disappear from a lead virtually overnight unless something extraordinary happens in the interim, and nothing extraordinary happened this week — until two hours ago, when the FBI unveiled its October surprise. Stay tuned for what that does to Clinton’s numbers next week. In the meantime, though, the new four-point lead she holds in the ABC/WaPo tracker seems more like mean-reversion than a collapse for Clinton, as she also leads by 4.4 in the national average.
Which is not to say that Trump hasn’t gained a bit lately also. I think he has.
Clinton holds a slight 48-44 percent edge over Trump among likely voters, with Libertarian Gary Johnson at 4 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein at 1 percent in the survey completed Sunday through Wednesday. Clinton held a six-point edge in the previous wave and a 12-point edge in the first wave of the tracking poll by ABC News Sunday (50 percent Clinton vs. 38 percent Trump). In a two-candidate contest, Clinton holds a five-point edge over Trump, 50 to 45 percent.
Trump’s growth in support from 38 percent to 44 percent is fueled by shored-up support among Republican-leaning voting groups as well as a significant boost among political independents. Trump has made up ground among whites, particularly those without college degrees and women. Trump now leads by a 30 percentage point margin among white voters without college degrees, up from 20 points from this weekend. White women now tilt toward Trump by 48 to 43 percent after leaning 49 to 43 percent in Clinton’s favor before.
Trump saw his biggest gains among political independents, favoring Trump by a 12-point margin in the latest tracking poll, 49 to 37 percent, after giving Clinton a narrow edge in late last week.
Have we seen any other evidence of Republican voters “coming home” to Trump this week? Indeed we have — remember this post about his favorable ratings climbing among Republican voters after a prolonged dip this month? Nate Silver notes the same thing happening in a recent poll of New Hampshire, with Trump climbing from 39 percent to 43 as Gary Johnson’s numbers fell. It seems as though some voters who were leaning third-party have decided to vote GOP after all. No way to know what’s driving that, but the logical reasons would be normal party tribalism asserting itself in the home stretch of election plus some fallout among wayward Republicans to all of the dismal news about ObamaCare lately. If you’re sour on Trump, nothing will sharpen your mind about the dangers of four more years of Obamaism like a reminder that his signature policy program is in the toilet now.
Let’s look at the national four-way average, though, to put this in perspective. We start with the polling on September 26th, the day of the first debate. Clinton’s lead was down to 1.6 points at the time.
Fast-forward a month. She’s added two points to her numbers since then while Trump has lost nearly a full point. (In fact, the 41.5 percent he was averaging on September 26th was his best mark of the entire campaign. He’s never topped it, a very low ceiling for a national candidate.) That’s how you end up with a Clinton lead of 4.4 points today. Why, then, is there a sense that the race is tightening? The answer lies in that bulge for Clinton starting around October 15th. Trump’s numbers dropped under 40 percent on October 10th, two days after the “Access Hollywood” tape. Two days after that, the first groping accusations against him were published. Hillary’s lead ballooned to 7.1 points on October 18th with Trump struggling at 39.1 percent. What happened, in other words, was a “scandal bounce” for Hillary, with some Republicans fleeing Trump and risking a total collapse in his support. The last 10 relatively quiet days have helped deflate that bounce, with nervous Republicans tiptoeing back into Trump’s camp (including some high-profile examples like Jason Chaffetz). The race has returned to the status quo, with Trump inching back above 40 percent, after a period in which it went wobbly for a week or so. The FiveThirtyEight model reflects it too, with modest improvement in Trump’s odds of pulling an upset next month over the last few days.
All of that is good news for Trump insofar as it puts him closer to striking distance against Clinton, especially in light of today’s news. Team Trump has said they’re focusing on depressing Clinton’s turnout as their chief strategy for winning. The FBI announcement this afternoon will help with that. It’s not hard to imagine a 43/41 race next week, which would give Trump a fighting chance to mobilize enough “hidden Trump voters” to make a difference. Millions of votes have already been banked via early voting, though, some of which occurred during the “bounce” period. Clinton’s polling is still solid at 45 percent even after the bounce, and some polls that were weak for her have actually improved a bit this week, contra ABC/WaPo. Remember that buzzworthy IBD tracking poll that had her tied with Trump earlier this week? It has her ahead by three today, close to the national average. And her own internal polling must be strong if she’s planning a campaign stop in Arizona next week instead of spending the time in, say, Pennsylvania. The significance of the modest tightening lately, in the end, is that it leaves Trump better positioned to capitalize on the news today in the final 10 days of the race, not so much that it’s left him in a position to win as-is. As RCP’s Sean Trende put it yesterday on Twitter, the election is tighter, but not actually tight — yet.
Update: Need more evidence that some voters are abandoning Johnson and coming home to Trump? Here you go.