Sabato's Crystal Ball

Clinton Over the Hump, and Trump Gets a Bump

The state of the race after Clinton makes it official

Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley, Sabato's Crystal Ball July 27th, 2016

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(PHILADELPHIA) — After Donald Trump picked Mike Pence to be his running mate two weeks ago — that feels like two months ago, right? — we suggested that Trump could end up taking at least a temporary lead because of the convention bounce that presidential candidates typically get after their conventions.

It appears that Trump has in fact gotten a bounce, at least in some polls. The most dramatic change so far came in the CNN/ORC poll, which shifted all the way from a seven-point Hillary Clinton lead to a three-point Trump edge. On the other hand, the NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll didn’t change at all (it showed a 46%-45% Clinton lead both before and after the convention), and there were some other contradictory signs. Nonetheless, Trump’s numbers generally improved, as is common after a convention. Based on the median of five polls surveyed in the period after the GOP convention that have been released so far, Trump has experienced a three-point bounce relative to his median the week before Republicans gathered in Cleveland. That’s clearly a small sample, but put it all together and Trump has taken a small, one-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average, while Clinton has an equally small one-point lead in the HuffPost Pollster average (that average is less sensitive to short-term changes). Our advice would be to wait before drawing conclusions: Clinton still has an opportunity to get a bounce from her convention, and we also may have some more polls later in the week to further measure the size of Trump’s bounce.

For the time being, we’re sticking with our current Electoral College ratings, which show Clinton with 347 electoral votes safe, likely, and leaning to her, with 191 safe/likely/leaning Trump. We agree that if the election were held today, it would almost certainly be closer than that — and that Trump could very well win. But the election isn’t being held today — it’s actually still about 100 days away. Our ratings are a forecast for November, not a reflection of the day-to-day state of play, and we still see Clinton with an edge.

If the dust settles from the conventions the next few weeks and the numbers are still what they are today, then we very well may have to reassess. We’ve long suggested that a generic Republican may have been favored to win this election, but that Trump wasn’t a generic Republican. But maybe we’re wrong about that, and that the same factors that would boost a generic Republican, like a desire for change after eight years of Democratic rule, are enough to get Trump over the finish line, too. Sean Trende, friend of the Crystal Ball and astute RealClearPolitics analyst, has been urging caution over regarding Clinton as a big favorite, and his latest column is well worth reading in that regard.

Trump, in spite of everything, is hanging tough, and it seems like the vast majority of Republicans have embraced him as their own.

If the millions upon millions of largely unanswered campaign dollars that the Clinton campaign and its allies are pouring into the swing states are having an effect, it’s hard to say there is an obvious one. Perhaps the Trump strategy of holding his more limited resources back for later in the campaign is a wise one. In fact, there is scant evidence that early ad spending makes a lasting impression, although the Obama and Romney 2012 campaigns would disagree — those professionals believe Obama’s early ad blitz against Romney helped negatively define the Republican. But it may be that the early Clinton campaign ads are not making much of a difference.

Meanwhile, there are two days left to go at the Democratic National Convention. On Tuesday evening, Clinton became the first woman to be officially nominated by a major party for president. The stand-out event of the roll call vote was surely Bernie Sanders asking the convention to nominate Clinton by acclamation following the vote counting for every delegation. Sanders’ move was obviously a well-choreographed attempt to improve party unity, a key goal of the convention. But will it work? Thus far, polling has been a bit mixed on where Sanders voters lie. Pew found that 90% of “consistent” Sanders backers plan to back Clinton, which suggests there will be relative unity among Democratic and Democratic-leaning identifiers. But as for Sanders voters overall, the jury is still out to some degree, and there were some limited protests inside and outside the convention on Tuesday night.

Just like at the Republican confab, there are clearly some delegates and attendees here who have little use for Clinton, who is now the nominee. One Sanders die-hard told us she prefers four years of Trump to eight years of Clinton (as if either outcome would be guaranteed in 2020). But we also think the number of true #NeverHillary Democrats is small, just like the number of true #NeverTrump Republicans is also small. Conventions are supposed to be a positive public relations show for the party that spur party unity, and the pageant isn’t just for the TV viewers — it’s also for the delegates in the hall, a kind of shock therapy that wears down the resistance of the holdouts.

Despite some rocky moments, the GOP convention probably helped the Republicans achieve a greater level of unity. The same is probably true of the Democratic convention. Just think about it — on the first day of both the RNC and DNC, there was some very public dissent on both convention floors. But by the time of the nominating votes themselves, there were few major waves at either convention. Even Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement of Trump on the third night probably hurt Cruz more than it hurt Trump. And it does not seem like Clinton will have to suffer through a Cruz-esque speech tonight or Thursday. There’s the potential for further dissent at the DNC but day two was better for the party on that front than day one.

Clinton’s own speech looms large over the remainder of the proceedings. She clearly has a lot of work to do to improve her very weak favorability ratings. A little contrition for her email antics might be wise. Whenever the Trump campaign does go on the air, they will have some potent ads to cut on the issue, and whatever Clinton has done to try to defuse the issue has so far been clearly inadequate.