The 2016 presidential polls are registering a tightening of the race nationally that started before, and is continuing after, the release of the controversial letter by FBI Director James Comey.
A major Washington Post/ABC News poll found Trump with a 1 percentage point national lead on Tuesday, a dramatic shift from a week ago. It measured part of the post-Comey period, Thursday through Sunday, and it showed a dip in enthusiasm among Democratic voters. (Read an analysis of that poll’s credibility here.) The same poll (and two others) showed the race a tie on November 2.
The RealClearPolitics polling average on November 2 shows Hillary Clinton with a 1.9 percentage point lead over Donald Trump in the four-way race (and 1.7 in the head-to-head), both of which are in the margin for error and are averages that have steadily dropped in recent days. However, although those polls are important, it’s the battleground states where the race will be determined in the Electoral College.
Who’s leading in the swing states on November 2? Are those state polls showing a similar tightening of the race?
The answer is that Clinton still leads in most of those states in polling averages, but the race is tightening in a host of key states in Trump’s favor as the election heads into its final days. That gives Trump hope, although sites that predict the Electoral College still have Clinton as the overwhelming favorite. That’s partly because she still has strong leads in a series of battleground states, including those in which there has been a tightening, that Romney won (like Virginia) and others are basically tied. Fivethirtyeight still gives her a 71.2% chance to win, for example. To win, Trump is going to have to run the table in states where he is tied and pick up a state where she is still polling between 4-7 percentage points above him (a Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Michigan or Minnesota, for example). This is why you see Trump suddenly reaching out to trending “blue” states like Michigan and Wisconsin.
There have been a smattering of battleground polls measuring the post FBI letter period, or part of it, and they generally show the tightening of the race. (See the state-by-state analysis of battleground state polling below). One example: North Carolina is now a virtual tie because Trump leads in the two most recent polls there, both conducted after the letter. On October 31, Clinton led in North Carolina by 3 percentage points.
However, in some battleground states, such polling has not been conducted yet. That’s a big wildcard. Some battleground states simply don’t have a lot of polling.
Fivethirtyeight’s polling average shows Clinton with a slightly higher lead (3.5%) but also a dropping one. Polling averages tend to stretch back in time, though, and encompass more of the pre-Comey letter period.
Fivethirtyeight has an informative chat with political experts who opine about what the shifts in polling mean – in multiple battleground polls, not just the national ones. The Fivethirtyeight political experts argue that Clinton is still in the strongest position to win the electoral college, but that the polls have indeed tightened. They say a few more points shifting toward Trump in national polling would put her in a much more perilous position, that polling in some battleground states is old or not very reliable (providing a bit of mystery), and that turnout will matter, especially of African-American voters. If the latter is down, that’s bad for Clinton.
See different pathways for each candidate for electoral college victory here. The breakdowns show how formidable the math is for Trump even with the tightening in the polls. He has a very tough route to victory – but not an impossible one if he can upset a state where Clinton has led in the polls. The battleground math does show the wisdom of the Tim Kaine selection by Clinton: He is helping deliver her Virginia, at least in the polls so far. That could end up decisive, theoretically, as the state went for Mitt Romney.
How much the Comey letter matters to voters will be interesting as more polling comes in. So far, Clinton has dropped in a slew of polls measuring all or part of the aftermath. In another poll, only 33 percent of voters were less likely to vote for Clinton because of the Comey flap, though, but most weren’t going to vote for her anyway. It could matter, though, in tight races if turnout is energized. And, of course, there’s the fact that early voting started weeks ago, and millions of people have already voted – before the FBI letter – and in a manner that has favored Clinton in some states.
Clinton is fighting back against the surprise letter that Comey injected into the race when he informed Congress over the objection of the U.S. Attorney General that the FBI had obtained a cache of new emails that it wanted to review to see if they bore any significance to the earlier investigation into Clinton’s private server. Trump has pounced on the news, although it’s unclear what the emails are.
NBC News said the emails number 650,000 and were found on a device owned by Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of long-time Clinton aide Huma Abedin, but the network expects, based on sources, that most won’t be related to Clinton. Still, some may be related. The FBI has now obtained a warrant to review the emails despite heated Democratic criticism of Comey for his letter’s timing.
Clinton and Harry Reid then struck back trying to tie Trump to Russia, but The New York Times reported that an FBI investigation into Russia’s potential interference in the presidential election found no direct ties between Trump and Russia and no evidence the Russians were trying to get Trump elected instead of just trying to disrupt the American process.
Whether a state is “tightening” or not also depends on how you look at it. In some states, Clinton in recent days is up incrementally, but she’s down several percentage points since mid-October, for example. So, technically, such a state could be placed in the “tightening” for Trump or Clinton category. That’s explained under each state name below, and the more recent days’ trends were used to decide whether a state was tightening for somebody or not. Again, polling averages stretch back into mid October, so they are still measuring more of the pre Comey period than after it. However, they are starting to provide clear indicators that, at least in some key states, it’s a tighter race. The few polls out since the Comey letter are showing the same.
It’s also important to remember that Clinton has turned some states into battlegrounds that are historically reliably red – like Arizona, forcing Trump to defend turf he shouldn’t have had to defend as a Republican nominee.
Here’s what you need to know as of November 2:
States Tightening For Trump
Pennsylvania – Clinton Leads
Pennsylvania is tightening in favor of Trump, and if he could pull off an upset Pennsylvania win, it would go a long way for him in the electoral math. It’s getting closer, but Clinton still leads.
A new poll came out November 2 that measures October 31-November 1, and it shows Clinton leading Pennsylvania by only 2 percentage points in the margin for error. The two other recent polls in the state show Clinton leading by 4. One of those also measured the post Comey letter time frame, and the other measured part of it.
The RealClearPolitics average shows her up 4.9.
On October 10, Clinton was ahead an average of 8.6 percentage points in polling there. A day ago, the average lead was 6.0, up from 5.8 on October 30.
Ohio – Trump Leads
The race was tighter in Ohio a few days ago. Now, Trump leads by an average of 2.5 percentage points. That’s still in the margin for error of most polls, though.
The most recent poll in Ohio, by Remington, found Trump with a 5 percentage point lead. It measured opinions on October 30, so it captured sentiment after the Comey letter. The poll before that one showed the race a tie in Ohio, but it was taken before the Comey letter.
The race is a virtual tie in Ohio when you consider polling averages.
Florida – Trump Leads
On October 29, the day after the Comey letter but before polling could register its impact, Clinton led in Florida polling averages – slightly. On November 1, Trump leads – slightly.
In both cases, the race is a virtual tie because the averages are in the margin for error.
A new poll released November 1 showed Clinton with an 8-point lead (an aberration compared to other polling in the state). The poll included many early voters. That poll is not included in the RealClearPolitics polling average of November 1, which finds Trump up by an average of 1 percentage point in Florida.
Colorado – Clinton Leads
Clinton has had a comfortable lead in Colorado, but it’s shrinking. She leads an average of 2.4 percentage points, down from 4.0 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics polling average. That’s down from an 8-point lead on October 17 and 6.2 the day before the Comey letter.
She’s up 3 and 1 – in the margin for error – in the most recent polls (which captured the post letter fallout period), and was up 3 in a CBS poll taken right before the Comey letter’s release. That’s getting closer to a tie.
Nevada – Trump Leads
Nevada is an extremely tight race with Trump having a 1.6% percentage point edge in RealClearPolitics polling averages, up about a point from the day before. However, that’s in the margin for error. Clinton was up 4.8 on October 24. Her lead has been shrinking ever since.
Trump led in the most recent poll by Remington by 4 and in a CNN poll by 6. Clinton led by 2 in the poll before that, but it was taken before the Comey letter. Both measured the time frame after the Comey letter.
Wisconsin – Clinton Leads
In Wisconsin, the home state of RNC Chair Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan, Clinton’s lead has been shrinking slightly in polling averages.
She leads an average of 5.7 percentage points, down from 6.2 on October 30 and 6.8 on October 23. That’s probably why Trump campaigned with Gov. Scott Walker in the state for only the second time on November 1.
The Remington poll taken after the Comey letter showed Clinton with a 4 percentage point lead, down from the previous poll. No other polls have measured the post Comey period. A new Marquette University poll released November 2 shows Clinton leading Trump 6 percentage points but a slight dropoff in support in the poll in the days after the Comey letter..
Virginia – Clinton Leads
Clinton still has a comfortable lead in Virginia, the home state of her running mate Tim Kaine, a former governor and senator from that state. But it’s shrinking.
She leads an average of 4.7 percentage points, down from 8 on October 28 and 6 on 6.6 on October 31. She led by even less – by 4 – in an Emerson poll measuring the days after the Comey letter, and 6 and 4 in two other polls that captured part of that period.
Georgia – Trump Leads
Trump’s lead in Georgia has grown more comfortable in recent days.
He leads by 5.7 percentage points on November 2, up from 4 percentage points the day before in the RealClearPolitics polling average. That’s up from 2.8 on October 30. One poll has measured the post-Comey letter period, by Emerson, and it has Trump leading by 9, up from 7 in the most recent poll right before the letter came out.
Arizona – Trump Leads
Clinton took a lead in reliably red Arizona on October 20. However, in most recent polling averages, the race was back to a virtual tie, as Trump was back ahead by 1.5 percentage points.
One poll captures the day the Comey letter was released, and Trump leads by 2 percentage points in it.
North Carolina – Clinton Leads
Since October 4, Clinton had slightly widened her lead in North Carolina, but it’s consistently been between 2 and 3 percentage points in recent weeks, which is in the margin for error. However, the polls have now tightened in Trump’s favor.
Clinton leads only 0.7% in the November 2 polling average on RealClearPolitics. That’s in the margin for error – a virtual tie. Trump led by 7 and 2 in the two polls to capture the post Comey letter time frame. A wildcard: A lot of voters have already cast early ballots.
New Hampshire – Clinton Leads
In recent days, Clinton’s standing in New Hampshire polling averages has dropped. She leads by an average 4.7 percentage points, down from 5.6 in the days before.
If you look farther back, she led by 8 points on October 24. One poll has measured part of the post-Comey period, and it shows her up 7. She was up by 3 and 4 points in the polls before that one, so it’s just the polling average that’s dropped. Her standing in the most recent individual poll had improved since the FBI bombshell.
States Tightening for Clinton
Iowa – Trump Leads
Trump leads an average of 1.4 percentage points in Iowa. That’s down slightly – from 2 on October 25 – but it’s down from 3.7 on October 1 and much more than that in September.
Two of the three recent polls in Iowa show the race a tie, and the third shows Trump leading by 4. However, there has been no Iowa polling measuring the post Comey letter period yet.
Michigan – Clinton Leads
Clinton’s lead in this Midwestern state has grown slightly in recent days but if you look back farther, her lead is not as strong as it once was, which is why Trump suddenly decided to hold rallies in Michigan and compete more aggressively for the state.
Clinton led by 7 percentage points on November 1, up from 6.2 the day before, but she led by 8.2% on October 26 and by 10.7% of October 14. Still, a poll conducted after the Comey letter showed limited fallout – she still led by 7, a comfortable lead.
State Where Clinton Is Holding Steady
Maine – Clinton Leads
Clinton’s lead in Maine is holding steady with an average 6.6% lead, down from 6.7% a few days before but up from several weeks and months before that. One poll has measured the post Comey period in part, and it shows her with a 4 percentage point lead, however.