POLITICS

Democrats Shouldn't Panic Over One Poll Showing Donald Trump Ahead

Hillary Clinton still has a strong advantage in the Electoral College, but her supporters need to vote if she's going to win.

02/11/2016 9:29 AM AEDT | Updated 03/11/2016 3:00 AM AEDT
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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles after the third presidential debate in Las Vegas on Oct. 19, 2016.

The ABC News/Washington Post national tracking poll shows Republican nominee Donald Trump closing the gap on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Over just 8 days, the poll went from a 50-38 strong Clinton lead to an insignificant 46-45 Trump lead as the presidential election approaches.

That poll is the most extreme example, but over the last week, Republicans are returning to their prior levels of support for Trump after a lackluster month.

Much of that movement in the polls, including the spread in the ABC/Washington Post poll, occurred before FBI director James Comey’s announcement that the bureau is looking into more emails that could be related to Clinton’s private email use while she was secretary of state. The FBI investigation doesn’t seem to have affected views of Clinton, but there’s evidence that it could have taken a toll on enthusiasm to vote for her.

Those two trends have a lot of Democrats on edge and some Republicans getting more hopeful. But a closer look at the polls, predictions and campaigns indicates that Clinton is still likely to prevail.

The ABC/Washington Post poll is a high-quality poll, but it’s the only one showing such a dramatic change in the last week. It’s very unlikely that voter preferences have changed by 13 points in 8 days. For example, the IBD/TIPP tracking poll, which favored Trump in its debut, has held steady, with Clinton leading by 1-4 points over the past week. All other national polls in the past week have shown Clinton leading by 1-7 points.

The HuffPost presidential forecast gives Clinton a 98 percent chance of winning. That runs counter to the narrative that polls are closing in and is very different from other forecast models ― most notably the 71 percent probability she has in FiveThirtyEight’s model.

One reason for that is the HuffPost model relies almost entirely on state-level polling data, which shows Trump still has a huge Electoral College deficit, rather than national-level data.

The Huffington Post
The HuffPost presidential forecast shows that Donald Trump only has a 1.8 percent chance of winning.

State polls show that Clinton is maintaining her lead in the key states she needs to win: Colorado (+5 points), New Hampshire (+5 points), Wisconsin (+6 points), Pennsylvania (+6 points) and Michigan (+7 points). Those five states, plus all of the Democratic strongholds, get her to 273 electoral votes.

Clinton also narrowly carries North Carolina (+2 points), Florida (+2 points), Ohio (+1) and Nevada (+2). That’s a total of 341 electoral votes ― more than Barack Obama’s 332 in 2012, but less than the 365 he garnered in 2008.

Trump, on the other hand, faces a steep uphill battle. He only has 164 electoral votes from states he leads by more than 5 percentage points, plus another 33 from Georgia, Arizona and Iowa, where he has a narrower lead. That’s still only 197 electoral votes. He needs to turn 73 votes over in order to win ― no small task.

Trump’s most likely path to victory would be through Nevada, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and either Colorado or New Hampshire ― states he has the best chances of flipping. If he loses Florida, there’s not much that will save him. In that case, he’d need Nevada, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado and New Hampshire, plus both Wisconsin and Michigan or Pennsylvania.

Trump only has a more than 10 percent chance of winning two of those states: Ohio and Nevada. Unless all the polls are wrong, there’s not much of a possibility that he’ll pull an upset.   

That still leaves the matter of the national polls closing in, though. National polls do provide a good indicator of the state of the race, even though the election happens in the individual states. And since state polls are generally slower to come in than national polls, it’s possible that we could see some narrowing in the state polls as well.

But if the state polls do close in to reflect the national poll movement, it probably won’t be enough to swing the race. Over the past week, Trump has gained about 1 percent in the HuffPost Pollster average, putting him just over 6 points behind Clinton in a head-to-head matchup and about 5.6 points behind her when third-party candidates are included. Even if he continues to gain, he’ll be behind on Election Day.

Trump supporters should be very worried.

Clinton supporters, meanwhile, should be concerned about get-out-the-vote efforts but remain calm. They should only get very worried if all the polls nationally and in swing states start tilting wildly toward Trump ― but short of a massive scandal much larger than other recent “October surprises,” that’s not likely to happen.

Other forecast models, most notably FiveThirtyEight’s, show that Trump has more substantial odds of winning than the HuffPost forecast model shows. As Nate Silver wrote last week, the FiveThirtyEight model differs from other models in four ways, the most important being that it allows for higher probability that the polls are wrong and that all of the states would be wrong in the same direction.

The New York Times Upshot
The New York Times compares Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency, according to different forecast models.

The possibility that polls could be wrong is factored into HuffPost’s model ― in fact, that assumption accounts for most of the 2 percent chance that Trump will prevail ― but not as aggressively. 

There’s always the possibility that FiveThirtyEight’s 71 percent chance of a Clinton win is closer to reality. But there’s just as much of a chance that we’re correct, and Clinton’s odds of winning are around 98 percent, even though that doesn’t make for much of a splashy headline right now.

Either way, all models still point to a Clinton win, and ― more importantly ― the Electoral College is stacked in her favor.

Democrats just need to vote. Republicans need to vote too, but they have a lot more reason to worry.

HUFFPOST READERS: What’s happening in your state or district? The Huffington Post wants to know about all the campaign ads, mailers, robocalls, candidate appearances and other interesting campaign news happening by you. Email any tips, videos, audio files or photos to scoops@huffingtonpost.com.

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