For a moment, it looked as if August 9 were the day the election was over.
Hillary Clinton was up by nearly 8 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average. High-profile members of the Republican Party were criticizing their own nominee. And Donald Trump, suffering through perhaps the most brutal stretch of his campaign, added to a spate of self-inflicted wounds when he made a remark that day suggesting Second Amendment supporters could take action against a President Clinton to prevent her from nominating Supreme Court justices who favor gun control.
Fast-forward five weeks. Trump, having overhauled his campaign staff and displaying a new approach on the campaign trail, has caught up.
“I think big picture this has been a 3-5 point race nationally that’s had periods where it’s blipped 5 points in Clinton’s direction or 5 points in Trump’s direction, but those blips have never been permanent and things eventually settle back where they were before,” said Tom Jensen, the director of Public Policy Polling.
He added: “Clearly we’re in one of those pro-Trump blip periods, like there was for instance in mid-to-late May. Time will tell if the shift is more lasting this time.”
And so, seven weeks before Election Day, the race is as tight as can be. National polling shows Clinton leads by an average of 1.5 points in a head-to-head race. Her lead is even smaller in a four-way split including Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein – about 1.1 points.
Trump has also improved his standing in key battleground states. The biggest shocker came in Michigan, a state he has promised to put in play but so far has stuck to its reliably Democratic swing, having voted for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election since 1992. A recent Detroit Free Press/WXYZ-TV poll of the state, however, found Clinton’s lead shrinking from 11 points to just 3 – within the poll’s margin of error.
Michigan wasn’t the only state that swung toward the Republican nominee:
- In Ohio, Trump has a clear advantage at this point in the race. Polls there showed him up 3, 4, and 5 points this week. Iowa, which has voted Democratic in six of the past seven elections, also looks firmly in the Trump camp right now. A Monmouth University survey of the state found him up 8. Florida is as much of a toss-up state as they come, with a bit of a Trump bend in the past week. Two polls there gave the real-estate mogul a 4-point lead, while another showed Clinton up 2 points. Colorado and Virginia, two Democratic-leaning states that leaned more and more toward Clinton in recent weeks, both saw significant recent swings toward Trump. In the former, an Emerson College survey put Trump up 4 in the state. In the latter, Trump trailed by just 3 in a University of Mary Washington poll, though a Public Policy Polling survey found Clinton up a comfortable 8 points. In Nevada, a Monmouth survey found Trump up 2, a 6-point swing from August. Clinton leads by less than a point in the state’s polling average.
Reuters’ projections now see Election Day coming down to a photo finish, showing a 60% chance of a Clinton win by 18 electoral votes. Nate Silver’s forecast at FiveThirtyEight also gives Clinton 60% odds as of Saturday.
It comes after perhaps the most disastrous stretch of Clinton’s campaign, as the former secretary of state took fire for referring to “half” of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” and amid continued fallout over her campaign’s decision to reveal she had been battling pneumonia only after a health scare at a 9/11 memorial event.
It has become apparent that the bad-news cycle is affecting Clinton’s standing. (It’ll take a bit to reveal whether Trump again fanning the “birther” flames, a subject that has done him no favors, will have any moving effect on polls.)
As Silver noted, her decline appeared to be leveling off late last week but continued further into this week. He said if polls still look like this a week from now, right ahead of the candidates’ first debate, at Hofstra University, it’ll be time for Clinton supporters to panic.
“My overall feeling about the race is pretty much what it’s always been even when the polls were great for her a month ago – she’s a modest favorite nationally but it’s certainly close enough for Trump to be able to pull it off, and one of the greatest dangers to her is people assuming it’s impossible for her to lose.”