Should we talk about that freaky deaky Virginia poll showing Trump up three?
Lots of buzz about this result from Hampton among Trumpers on social media today. It feels a bit like that bombshell SurveyUSA poll of North Carolina yesterday that had Trump ahead by seven. North Carolina is supposed to be a toss-up but suddenly SUSA thinks it’s off the board; Virginia is supposed to be off the board for Clinton but suddenly Hampton thinks it’s a toss-up. To go back to my favorite new analogy, that Trump needs four of a kind to beat Hillary’s full house, the combo of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and a major upset in Virginia would make the electoral map verrrry interesting.
But don’t get too excited.
With only six days left before the November Presidential election, Trump has jumped ahead of Clinton, erasing a 12 point deficit reported by the CPP in early October. This surge for Trump demonstrates again how erratic the run for the White House has been as we head into the final days of Decision 2016. This is the first time Clinton has trailed in the CPP polls this year, the latest poll was conducted Oct. 26-30.
When Virginians were asked if the election were held today, 44 percent of those surveyed would vote for Trump and 41 percent would choose Clinton, while a high percentage of voters remain undecided (15 percent).
A 15-point swing, from 12 down to three up, in the span of a few weeks seems unlikely, but it’s … sort of plausible after Comey’s October surprise, I guess? The reason to doubt Hampton’s result isn’t that it shows a big surge for Trump. The reason to doubt is that, unlike SurveyUSA’s poll of North Carolina, all other surveys in the state for months have been lockstep in favoring Clinton. Scan the numbers here. Until today, Hillary had never trailed in a poll of Virginia. Four other surveys conducted there over the past week, all of which incorporated at least some responses after Comey’s announcement, had her ahead by four to six points. One of those surveys came from Remington Research, a Republican shop. It may well be that the race has tightened a bit in VA, and Trump stands a shot at the upset if black turnout is off sharply from 2012 nationwide, but there’s no evidence apart from this lone poll to think that he’s ahead or even really within striking distance. FiveThirtyEight’s model gives Clinton an 83 percent chance of winning it — and that’s with the Hampton numbers baked in. If you’re dead set on finding hope in Virginia, remember that there was a massive polling failure there just two years ago in which Democrat Mark Warner was expected to win his Senate race in a landslide and barely held on. That was a low turnout election, though. This one won’t be.
Contrast that with North Carolina, where Trump is not only up seven in SUSA’s data but leads by two in Remington’s latest and is tied in the poll that dropped yesterday from Elon University. If he’s leading there, his lead is probably in the low single digits rather than seven percent, but all that might mean is that his SUSA numbers are on the high end of the margin of error (which was 3.9 points). Hampton is a clear outlier in Virginia — for the moment — whereas SUSA arguably isn’t. In fact, FiveThirtyEight has North Carolina a true toss-up right now at 52/48 for Clinton.
I wonder if what we’re seeing in the Hampton poll is a byproduct of what YouGov wrote about yesterday, namely, the habit of partisans to stop responding to polls during a news cycle that’s highly unfavorable to their candidate. YouGov believes that most of the poll fluctuations over the past month have been mere noise, not evidence of actual votes moving. Their theory is that some meaningful number of Trump fans stopped answering requests to participate in polls during his rough weeks after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out and that now it may be that some Clinton fans have stopped answering requests because they’re bummed about the Comey news. The important part, though, is that most or all of these people are still planning to vote for their nominee. The polls are moving around not because the Republicans abandoned Trump or Democrats are abandoning Clinton now, but simply because they stopped picking up the phone. Maybe that’s what happened to Hampton. Democrats might have decided that they don’t want to talk to some pollster this week when the media’s chattering about emails. But they’re probably still planning to vote Hillary when it matters. If YouGov is right, then Trump’s numbers never really fell very much amid the sex-assault accusations and Clinton’s numbers aren’t really falling now.
Go watch Glenn Beck wonder how #NeverTrump can be blamed if Trump loses when there’s evidence lately that Trump is doing a better job of consolidating his own party than Hillary is of consolidating hers. I’m not sure that’s true — more Democrats are voting for her in Wisconsin than Republicans are voting for Trump, for instance — but again, to the extent that Democratic turnout looks depressed lately, it may be that Dems have simply stopped participating in polls, not that they’ve given up on the election. We’ll know in six days.
Update: We have only one public poll showing Trump competitive in Virginia. But what about private polls? Hmmmmm.