The puzzling gap between state and national polls

First, one could focus on the national polls and mostly ignore the state polling for the time being. Right now there aren’t that many swing state polls, and there are a number of swing states (e.g. Wisconsin and Nevada) where there aren’t even enough polls to calculate an RCP average. And many voters are still undecided. So it might be prudent to give state polls time to fall in line with national polls and not sweat the discrepancy too much yet.

Second, it could be that Clinton really is up by seven points nationally, but that the electoral map is being remade. For example, suppose that Trump’s coalition relies more on non-college-educated whites than Romney’s, but that Trump underperforms traditional Republican candidates with Hispanics. This could push his margins down in heavily Hispanic Arizona while helping him in Pennsylvania. Additionally, Trump has been performing relatively poorly in some conservative states – he leads Clinton by seven points in the most recent Utah poll, but Sen. John McCain won there by almost 30 points in 2008 and Romney won the heavily Mormon state by nearly 50 points four years later. So maybe Clinton’s underperformance in some of the swing states will be balanced out by an over-performance in states where social or ideological conservatives refuse to vote for Trump.

It’s important not to get too carried away with this approach. Every political junkie and election wonk would find a new map fascinating, so it might be tempting to look at the data and convince yourself the map is radically changing. But it’s still early, and there are relatively few polls. And if Clinton and Trump do shift the map somewhat, the changes will likely be at the margins – most deeply red states will probably still go for Trump and most deeply blue states will likely still go for Clinton.