clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Reality check: Hillary Clinton's lead over Donald Trump is not that big, and could vanish

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

1) Since Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, many liberals have assumed Hillary Clinton will easily defeat him in a landslide.

2) This may well end up true! It's probably what I'd expect to happen at this point. Trump is tremendously unpopular. Hispanics and women particularly despise him. And Democrats haven't even begun to attack him in a sustained way.

3) But let's be clear — the polls right now do not show a landslide. Currently, Clinton leads Trump by about 6 points in polling averages. That's a lead, and Clinton accordingly begins the general election as the favorite. But it's no landslide.

4) Additionally, there's precedent for presidential candidates' leads of about this size at this time of year to vanish — as they did for Jimmy Carter in 1980, Michael Dukakis in 1988, and George H.W. Bush in 1992.

5) As far as the state-by-state electoral map goes, it's still pretty early; there hasn't been a ton of state polling yet. But so far, on average, there aren't many Clinton landslides to be found here either. She's ahead by 3 points in Florida, 4 in Pennsylvania, and by just 1 in Ohio. (NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist polling tends to show her better off, while Quinnipiac polling tends to show her worse off.)

6) If Donald Trump holds on to all the states Mitt Romney won in 2012, and adds just Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to that — well, then he wins the presidency.

7) I find it tough to imagine Trump winning Florida, given the increasingly large and increasingly liberal Hispanic share of the electorate. He'd have to rely on overwhelming turnout among older and white voters. But, again, the polls currently show him close.

8) Some liberals have gotten excited about a couple of polls in deep red states — one showed Clinton down by just 1 to Trump in Georgia, and another showed her actually ahead in Utah. If these margins are corroborated by other polls, and if they hold up, Clinton probably would be headed for a landslide win. But right now, we're talking about one poll in each state. They don't seem to match other swing state polling, and even if they are accurate, there's still ample time for partisanship to rear its ugly head and shrink those margins.

9) Many political scientists prefer to use "fundamentals"-based models rather than polls to forecast election outcomes at this point. But as John Sides recently wrote, a model incorporating Obama's approval rating, economic growth, and the number of years Democrats have held the presidency currently suggests that Republicans should have the edge.

10) The nomination of a candidate as unpopular and polarizing as Donald Trump could very well scramble these models. Political scientist Alan Abramowitz, who usually uses a model similar to that described above, tweeted recently that he thinks "Trump's nomination means Hillary Clinton" is "now almost certain to win in November and by a comfortable margin." But this election will likely prove a major test of just how important these candidate effects are, compared with fundamentals.

11) A key question at the heart of this is just how the electorate's desire for change might play out. "Elections that occur after eight years of a two-term president focus around how much change you want," political scientist Norm Ornstein, one of the few who saw Trump's rise coming early on, told me in a recent interview. "And Hillary Clinton still has that hurdle to overcome that she’s not exactly a candidate of change."

12) Hillary Clinton will be the second-most-disliked presidential nominee ever. The most disliked is, of course, Donald Trump. But being No. 2 is … not great.

13) While Trump has weaknesses that his GOP rivals never exploited, so does Clinton — namely, the federal investigation involving her email practices at the State Department. Trump has also indicated he'll bring up accusations about Bill Clinton's sexual history — some of which, like Juanita Broaddrick's, are legitimately troubling.

14) Finally, there's the possibility that, er … things could happen. Ornstein told me that he thought either "turmoil in the global economy" or "showy, Paris-type" ISIS terrorist attacks in the US could redound to Trump's benefit. "If events occur that create more of a desire for change, then people might roll the dice with Trump," he said.

15) With all of that in mind, I'll repeat that Clinton is currently the favorite, and that I expect her to win. But, judging by the current state of polls, liberals shouldn't be too smug that she's got this locked up just yet.

Watch: Why Donald Trump can't become a moderate for the general election