It seems like just last week that Hillary Clinton led Donald Trump in the Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll. Hey, it was last week! Eight days after the apex of Hillary’s standing in the race, meet the new nadir. Thanks in part to a decline in enthusiasm, Trump now edges Hillary by a single point with seven days left before the election:
While vote preferences have held essentially steady, she’s now a slim point behind Donald Trump — a first since May — in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates.
Forty-six percent of likely voters support Trump in the latest results, with 45 percent for Clinton. Taking it to the decimal for illustrative purposes, a mere .7 of a percentage point divides them. Third-party candidate Gary Johnson has 3 percent, a new low; Jill Stein, 2 percent.
The poll offers some state-related breakdowns, but with a national sample of 1128 likely voters, the samples are probably too small state-by-state to take seriously. Trump’s leading in red states by 60/34, Hillary leads in blue states 54/37, but Trump has a seven-point lead in five toss-up states designated by ABC … which include Arizona and Utah, two states Republicans should have easily carried in this cycle. The samples are so small that the margin of error is higher than five points, which makes that calculation too ambiguous for a reliable conclusion other than red states are red, blue states are blue, battleground states are tricky, and cows go moo.
Enthusiasm shows a big change for both candidates, however. Among Trump voters, it has reached its highest peak since mid-September, just before a series of oppo drops eroded his standing in the race. Hillary, on the other hand, has seen voter enthusiasm ebb to nearly a new low — and that looks directly related to the reopening of the FBI probe into her e-mail scandal:
Assuming this is legit, the question becomes whether it happened soon enough to make a difference. Millions of votes have already been cast through absentee and early voting already. Those would reflect the race’s status quo ante rather than its current character, which means that Trump would need a very big boost in enthusiasm now and through Election Day to overcome it.
And there is another interesting twist to these enthusiasm trends: the expectations of likely voters on the outcome have barely changed at all. In early September, 57% thought Hillary would win, while only 29% thought Trump would prevail. Four days ago, it was 60/29, but now it’s 56/31 Hillary. Enthusiasm has not translated into optimism.
Langer points out a couple of other caveats, too. A one-point lead is better than trailing by a point, but in general both mean a tie due to issues relating to margins of error. Also, two of the past three presidential elections looked close a week out in their polling. Guess how those turned out?
As close as the election is, vote preference results a week out are not necessarily predictive of the final result. Mitt Romney was +1 vs. Barack Obama in comparable tracking poll results in 2012, for example, and John Kerry was +1 vs. George Bush a week out in 2004.
Still, either something has happened in this race and poll series to produce a thirteen-point swing in the gap in just eight days. Either Langer started polling exclusively in Pennsyltucky, or the ground has shifted in a big way over the past week.