“Over-Inflating Impressions Of Trump’s Strength”: Clinton’s Lead Over Trump May Be Bigger Than You Think
A fresh round of hand-wringing among Democrats broke out over the weekend, and at the core of it was the same old storyline that we keep hearing again and again: Donald Trump is unconventional and unpredictable! The normal political rules don’t apply! Democrats are getting caught off guard by this, and you should be terrified!
But what if Hillary Clinton’s national advantage over Trump is actually larger than it appears? And, more to the point, what if the reason for this is a thoroughly conventional one?
NBC’s Chuck Todd and Dante Chinni have served up a useful analysis of the current national polls that suggests this is a very real possibility. They looked at three recent polls that currently show the race very close: The NBC News poll showing Clinton up 46-43 among registered voters; the New York Times/CBS poll showing her up 47-41; and the Fox News poll putting Trump up 45-42.
But then Todd and Chinni took into account the fact that a sizable chunk of people supporting Sanders are now saying they cannot back Clinton. These are the “Sanders-only voters.” They took the additional step of assuming that Clinton wins back 70 percent of those voters. Here’s what happens to the national numbers:
In the NBC/WSJ poll, Clinton’s advantage over Trump goes from three points to eight points and she leads 51 percent to 43 percent….
In the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, Clinton’s advantage grows from six points to nine points with 70 percent of Sanders-only voters — she leads 50 percent to 41 percent. In the latest Fox News poll, where Trump currently leads Clinton, the Sanders-only voters make it a tied race — 45 percent to 45 percent.
Now, in my view, we shouldn’t place too much stock in national polling at this point, because it historically has not been predictive. But if we are going to obsess over it, let’s keep this in mind: In two of these polls, once you allow for the possibility that Clinton could win over many of Sanders’s supporters once he concedes and endorses her, Clinton holds sizable national leads, of eight and nine points. Nate Cohn has similarly concluded that, if Clinton can consolidate Sanders supporters behind her, she could gain a “considerable advantage” against Trump.
And we’ve seen this before: As Todd notes in his video presentation of these numbers, in 2008, Barack Obama picked up three points against John McCain in NBC polling after Clinton surrendered in the primaries.
If this is right, the point is that the tightening in the polls between Clinton and Trump — which is real — may reflect a particular moment in this race that may prove fleeting, in ways we’ve seen in the past. To be sure, Democrats should not underestimate Trump or imagine that defeating him will be easy. They should work to determine the true source of his appeal, i.e., his suggestion that our political and economic system is failing people and he’d snap it over his knee and get it working again. They should work on making an affirmative case for Clinton that addresses this voter dissatisfaction in addition to relying on the low hanging fruit of attacking his business past and highlighting his wretched comments. Nor does any of this mean that Clinton’s high negatives aren’t a real problem. Democrats should obviously be prepared for any manner of attack that Trump will throw at her, and they’ll need to figure out how to create a more positive narrative around her.
Rather, the point is that we should stop over-inflating impressions of Trump’s strength. We should stop ascribing magical political powers to Trump based on the questionable notion that his “unconventional” and “unpredictable” campaign makes him a more formidable foe than anyone expected. Trump will be difficult to beat, but that might be mainly because these elections are always hard. It is perfectly plausible that the “old rules” will end up applying to some degree. For instance, Clinton may be able to beat Trump, at least in part, by offering up more convincing policies and revealing his to be the nonsense that they are. Maybe assuming that Trump has rendered policy debates meaningless actually gives him too much credit. Maybe we shouldn’t accept Trump’s boasts of super-human appeal in the Rust Belt at face value: they may well run headlong into demographic realities. Meanwhile, we should keep focused on what the aggregate data is actually telling us.
One other point: The Todd/Chinni analysis could have important implications for the endgame of the Dem primaries. Once the voting is over in June, Sanders will have nothing left to do but win actual concessions in exchange for working to swing his supporters behind Clinton. You could see a real shift in how this race is covered, with more and more analysts — and high profile party leaders, such as Elizabeth Warren, and, yes, Barack Obama — pointing out that the failure to unite Democrats is making the prospect of a Trump presidency more likely. That could make it harder for Sanders to hold out. We don’t know if Sanders’s supporters will get behind Clinton in the numbers she needs, and she will have to do her part to make that happen. But despite all the tensions, Sanders, too, will probably end up doing all he can to ensure that it does.
By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 31, 2016