Clinton vs. Trump: How Much Did Clinton’s Lead Drop in Polls After Comey Letter?

Hillary Clinton quid pro quo, FBI emails, Clinton FBI investigation, private email server, Hillary Clinton email server, Hillary Clinton crimes, Hillary Clinton indicted

FBI Director James Comey (Getty)

The surprise letter that FBI Director James Comey injected into the waning days of the 2016 presidential election on October 28 has been hotly criticized and much debated.

However, how strong is the “Comey Effect” on the presidential race? Did Comey’s October Surprise give Donald Trump a boost?

In 12 of 14 battleground states, a review of RealClearPolitics’ polling averages found, support for Clinton dropped from October 27 (the day before the letter’s release) through November 3. Only in Maine has Clinton’s support risen since the day before the Comey letter. However, Maine is a rarity; it splits its electors by Congressional District, and Trump is doing better in its Second Congressional District, where the race is tighter.

Iowa has had no polling since the Comey letter’s release. (See the end of this article for a detailed state-by-state breakdown.) The drops have been steepest in Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Arizona.

In the national polling averages from FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics, Clinton’s support fell 2.7 and 2.6 percentage points since the day before the Comey release.

Thus, it’s clear there’s been a tightening of the race in Trump’s favor since the letter came out.

It’s harder to tease out for sure, though, whether the news of the new FBI review was the driving force for that. In some states, the race had already started to tighten. Most pollsters’ public releases do not mention the letter. Those who did found some effect, but it varied from one to a few percentage points (see below for more details by state). In some critical battleground states, the new investigation might be helping Trump, though. In New Hampshire, pollsters found the Comey letter/new email developments were moving independents away from Clinton. That state saw the largest drop off in RealClearPolitics’ polling averages since October 27: 5.7 percentage points. And in a close race, that could matter. FiveThirtyEight says New Hampshire is one of the “firewall” states that Clinton needs to ward off a Trump victory.

Donald Trump, New Hampshire, New Hampshire polls, Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire on October 28. (Getty)

That’s because Trump’s pathway in the electoral college is still extremely tough, meaning he needs to pick up some states (like a New Hampshire, Colorado or Pennsylvania) that had been trending fairly comfortably for Clinton before the letter in addition to running the table and winning a series of states that are virtually tied or almost tied (like Ohio and Florida, to name just two). FivethirtyEight still gives Clinton a 66.5% chance to win the presidency based on the toughness of the electoral college math for Trump.

It’s clear Trump is now in a better polling position than he was before the letter; however, another caution: Some states have had very little polling and, the little polling there is, sometimes shows wildly contradictory results. For example, one recent poll in Colorado shows the race tied, but another shows Clinton up by 6.

The Washington Post discusses how more polls lead to a better sense of the state of the race because they smooth out anomalies.

MinnPost reported that political polling has become more expensive, and, thus, less of it is being done this presidential race. That’s partly because more people screen out telemarketers’ calls, so pollsters have to make more calls to get a large enough sample size, MinnPost said (the last poll in Minnesota was on October 22, rendering that state’s attitudes to the Comey letter a mystery). The New York Times said there were 39 live interview polls from September 15-October 15, 2012, and 20 over the same period this year, which the newspaper attributed to the cost and news organizations being less interested in “horse-race polling.”

clinton greenville rally photo

Hillary Clinton campaigning recently in North Carolina. (Getty)

Furthermore, the pollsters also queried voters about other news – such as the rise in Obamacare premiums (expected to rise in the double digits in 31 states next year, says The Fiscal Times) – and found that that issue mattered to them. Pollsters asked about other issues too, and, in some states, like Arizona, Trump was benefiting from voters’ preferring his stances on issues like the economy and terrorism. Independents were breaking Trump’s way in some states.

The race has been this close before, in September and in July, so it may be that Trump has simply recovered from the sudden drop he took in the polls after the Billy Bush videotape first came out showing him making lewd comments to women (as well as the spate of sexual misconduct allegations he denies).

However, at this stage in 2012, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were basically tied in the polls too, and, obviously, Obama went on to comfortably win. Turnout will be a factor, as could polling error if the race gets even closer (whether Clinton can maintain Obama’s high turnout among millennials and black voters is a key question, for example). There are four days left before the election, and Clinton’s numbers could begin to stabilize.

Critics say Comey interfered in the presidential election and deviated from past practice when he sent Congress his letter 11 days before the election. Comey and his supporters say he felt obligated to update his earlier testimony to Congress that the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was closed. Comey told Congress the FBI had discovered a new cache of emails (on the device belonging to disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner) and wanted to investigate whether they are significant to the Bureau’s past investigation into Clinton’s server. The FBI now has a warrant to do so.

early voting ohio

Women exit a voting precinct open for early voting on October 25, 2016 in Akron, Ohio.(Getty)

Here is a listing of battleground and national polls that measured only the post Comey letter time frame. Polls that measured both pre and post Comey letter time frames were excluded. Comey sent his letter to Congress on October 28. The polling averages encompass multiple day periods, so the polling average for November 3 still includes a few days (in most cases 2) before the Comey letter was released (but includes more of the post letter period now).

As of November 3:

FiveThirtyEight Polling Averages

November 2: Clinton +3.1
October 27: Clinton +5.8
Clinton -2.7

RealClearPolitics Polling Averages

November 3: Clinton +2
October 27: Clinton +4.6
Clinton -2.6

Clinton led even more in mid-October as Trump dealt with post Billy Bush tape fallout. The race was also a virtual tie in September and in July after the Republican National Convention, so some of the shrinking might be due to Trump recovering from the Bush tape and sexual misconduct allegations now that more time has passed.

National Polls

Clinton Leads

CBS/New York Times +3
Reuters/IPSO +8
Gravis +1
ABC/Washington Post +2
Economist You/Gov +3

Trump Leads

Rasmussen Reports +3



Battleground Polls


RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Clinton +5
RealClearPolitics polling average on November 3: Clinton +3
Clinton -2 drop

Three of the four Pennsylvania polls since the letter are in the margin of error.

Susquehanna: Clinton +2
Gravis: Clinton +1
Monmouth: Clinton +4
Remington: Clinton +2

The first two polls and the last one did not mention the Comey letter. The Monmouth pollster found, “Clinton is still in the lead, but the race has tightened in the past four weeks. It looks like this shift was in the works even before Friday’s FBI bombshell, which has made only a small contribution to this overall narrowing.”

Four percent of those polled said they changed their mind because of the FBI letter. Monmouth concluded, “overall presidential vote margin shifted by no more than one percentage point specifically due to this breaking news.” Rather, the poll found that Trump had improved his standing with white women since October.


RealClearPolitics polling average on November 2: Trump +3.3
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Trump +1.1
Trump +2.2 gain

Quinnipiac: Trump +5
Remington: Trump +5

The Quinnipiac pollster did not mention the Comey letter but found, “The 48 – 30 percent lead for Donald Trump among independent voters is pretty overwhelming. Ohio has a large number of voters that the Trump campaign has targeted. The Buckeye state is full of those who feel they have lost their jobs because of unfair trade treaties, and non-college educated whites.”


RealClearPolitics polling average on November 2: Tied
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Clinton +1.2
Clinton -1.2 drop

Fox 13/Opinion Savvy: Clinton +4
Gravis: Clinton +3
Remington: Trump +4

None of the releases for the three polls mentioned the Comey letter.


RealClearPolitics polling average on November 3: Clinton +2.6
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Clinton +6.2
Clinton -3.6 drop

University of Denver: Tie
Magellan Strategies: Clinton +6
Emerson: Clinton +3
Remington: Clinton +1

According to The Denver Post, the pollster who conducted the University of Denver survey said the poll was “reflective of the fact that this environment has turned negative for Clinton,” which the newspaper said was “notably the FBI inquiry into additional e-mails with possible ties to her tenure as secretary of state.”

Magellan found Clinton’s support up from its last poll in mid October, attributing that in part to Green Party and Libertarian voters switching to her. Similarly, Clinton did better in the Emerson poll than she had done in it before.

North Carolina

RealClearPolitics polling average on November 2: Tie
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Clinton +2.4
Clinton -2.4 drop

Quinnipiac: Clinton +3
WRAL-TV/Survey USA: Trump +7
Remington: Trump +2

The Quinnipiac pollster attributed the close race in North Carolina to the fact that both candidates have similar high unfavorable numbers.

WRAL noted, “Trump has flipped the gender gap in recent weeks, cutting Clinton’s 12-point lead among women down to 7 points while widening his dominance among male voters from 9 points to 23 points. He also has erased her lead among voters 50 and older, moving from a 5-point deficit to an 11-point advantage, while maintaining his slight lead among voters ages 18 to 49.”

Why? WRAL-TV said Trump has a huge advantage over Clinton on national security and cut into her lead on health care when it comes to how North Carolinians see the candidates.

New Hampshire

RealClearPolitics polling average on November 3: Clinton +0.8
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Trump +6.5
Clinton -5.7 drop

Boston Globe/Suffolk: Tie
ARG: Trump +5
WBUR/MASSInc: Trump +1

The Boston Globe found that independents were influenced by the Comey letter. “Among New Hampshire independent voters, 52 percent said the FBI announcement made them less likely to vote for Clinton, while 40 percent said it wouldn’t affect their vote. The Globe found that the FBI news solidified the positions held by partisan Republican and Democrats,” the newspaper reported.

In the WBUR poll, 85% of voters had heard a great deal or fair amount about the new email investigation and more voters ranked Clinton untrustworthy than Trump (although neither candidate was perceived as trustworthy overall). Seventy-six percent said they had heard about an increase in Obamacare premiums.


RealClearPolitics polling average on November 3: Trump +2
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Clinton +2
Clinton -4 drop

CNN/ORC: Trump +6
Remington: Trump +4

The CNN poll did not ask about the Comey letter, but rather queried voters on whom they preferred on a series of issues. More voters aligned with Trump on more issues, such as immigration, the economy, and terrorism.


RealClearPolitics polling average on November 3: Clinton +5.4
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Clinton +6.7
Clinton -1.3 drop

Remington +4

There was also a Marquette poll that came out November 3 and included both pre and post Comey time frame. It showed Clinton up +6. It’s included in this summary because there is so little polling out of Wisconsin. The Marquette poll did find a drop off in Clinton’s support that was stark after the Comey letter came out.

However, about the same percentage that were concerned about Clinton’s email server after the FBI announcement were concerned about it beforehand too, said the pollsters. Still, Clinton’s lead was 11 points before the letter and 6 points afterwards, in the poll.

The pollster said: “In Wednesday and Thursday interviews, 47 percent favored Clinton and 36 percent favored Trump. In Friday interviews (the day of the letter), Trump was supported by 48 percent and Clinton by 40 percent. Interviews completed Saturday through Monday found Clinton with a 46 percent to 40 percent advantage over Trump.”


RealClearPolitics polling average on November 3: Clinton +5.7
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Clinton +6.2
Clinton -0.5 drop

Fox 2 Detroit/Mitchell: Clinton +3

Michigan is another state without a lot of recent polling. (The two most recent polls before the letter showed Clinton leading by 7 each). The pollster for Mitchell said, “Clinton’s weakness with 65 and older white women continued again last night and Trump maintained his small lead with men. Clinton did take back most of the support she lost with Democrats on Tuesday night. Although she stanched the bleeding, Clinton’s problems are taking a toll on her candidacy in Michigan and the state is now in play.”

The poll didn’t ask about the Comey letter but did ask about Obamacare premium increases and found they would make voters more likely to support Trump.


RealClearPolitics polling average on November 1: Clinton +6.6
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Clinton +5.2
Clinton +1.4 gain

Emerson: Clinton +4

Maine is another state without a lot of polling data. The Emerson pollsters found that Clinton had higher favorability ratings than Trump in Maine and was holding her own with independents.


RealClearPolitics polling average on November 2: Clinton +4.7
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Clinton +9.7
Clinton -5 drop

Emerson: Clinton +4
Remington: Clinton +4

The Emerson poll found that independents were breaking for Clinton in Virginia, and her favorability rating was better than Trump’s. Her running mate, Tim Kaine, is a former Virginia governor and senator.


RealClearPolitics polling average on November 3: Trump +5.6
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Trump +2.8
Trump +2.8 gain

NBC/WSJ/Marist: Trump +1
Emerson: Trump +9

The fact that almost one-third of likely voters in Georgia are black is helping Clinton, who is favored by non-white voters, said NBC.

Emerson said Trump has a dramatic lead in Georgia with independents.


No polls cover the post-Comey letter time frame, so the RealClearPolitics polling average stops on October 27.


RealClearPolitics polling average on November 3: Trump +4
RealClearPolitics polling average on October 27: Clinton +1.5
Trump +5.5 gain

NBC/WSJ/Marist: Trump +5
Emerson: Trump +4

(There was also a CNN/ORC poll that found Trump up 5, but it started the day before the Comey letter). NBC noted that, although Latino voters in Arizona favor Clinton, it’s not as wide of a margin as, say, black support for Clinton in Georgia.

Emerson found a large Trump lead among independents in Arizona.