Labor Day is over. The summer months are behind us. And the campaign season (which feels like it’s been going on for a year and a half) is now truly underway.
The next 61 days are the real scramble for control of the White House, the Senate, and House of Representatives. Polls have jumped up and down in the past few months, from the post-convention bump each candidate got to their leveling out a few weeks later.
But now polls are really going to start to show us where the race is headed. Here’s where the three big races stand as we hit the home stretch of campaign 2016.
The state of the presidential race: Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump, but it’s getting closer
Right now, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is beating Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Even with a few polls on Tuesday showing Trump running even or ahead of Clinton, she continues to the lead in the polling “aggregators,” which factor in the range of respectable polls and thus account for outliers. Right now Clinton is projected to receive around 42 percent of the vote, Donald Trump 39 percent, and Libertarian Gary Johnson around 8 percent. (Though political scientists expect Johnson’s numbers to come down as we near Election Day, as Vox’s Tara Golshan explained here.)
Americans tend to see Clinton, who served as a New York senator and President Obama's secretary of state, as much more qualified for the presidency than her foe. Polling also suggests that she is viewed as more competent, intelligent, and temperamentally suited to the role of commander in chief, according to Quinnipiac polling.
Those advantages — coupled with the wild unpopularity of her opponent — have helped give Clinton a small but meaningful lead in the presidential race. She’s also lost considerable ground since her high point at the Democratic National Convention, with Trump cutting her lead from around 8 points down to about 3. If that slide continues, she should be in trouble.
For now, she’s probably okay.
But Clinton also has her key vulnerabilities. She’s seen by wide swaths of the electorate as dishonest and untrustworthy. Questions about the Clinton Foundation and her private email server have hurt her. Her favorability ratings have even cratered among core constituencies — liberals, minorities, women — since the middle of August, according to ABC News.
Trump ran as a businessman whose outside expertise was needed to fix a broken Washington establishment, and there's reason to believe that strategy is at least somewhat working. Polling suggests he's seen as more likely to take on Washington's "special interests" and to improve the economy — a typical Republican advantage — than his Democratic foe. And at a time where record numbers of Americans are worried about the direction of their country, the polling suggests Trump is also widely viewed as the agent of change.
But Trump has even bigger obstacles to overcome. Polls show just 17 percent of Americans think he has the “personality and temperament” to be president, and swing state voters doubt his “judgment, maturity, and understanding of issues and policy,” writes election guru Charlie Cook in National Journal today.
We don’t have much reason to believe Trump will be able to climb out of that rut. “While the election is not over, it would take a pretty major event or turn of events for Clinton to lose, which can obviously happen but probably will not,” Cook says.
Democrats look poised to retake the Senate
While Clinton looks on pace to win the White House, the Democratic Party also looks poised to win back the US Senate.
Vox’s Andrew Prokop recently ran down the math, noting that Democrats need to gain just a net of four seats to do so. They look like favorites in five — Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. Polling in three of those states suggests Democrats are pretty safe bets, and they’ve raced out to narrow leads in two of the others. A sixth, North Carolina, looks like a toss-up at this point — and possibly gettable for the Democrats.
Republicans, meanwhile, only appear to have a shot of taking back one state — Nevada — from enemy hands.
If Democrats want to do even better than a very narrow Senate majority, they may have additional opportunities in Florida and Ohio, the two other Senate battles occurring in swing states. Both Republicans there — Florida’s Marco Rubio and Ohio’s Rob Portman — appear to be generally well-liked at home and strongly ahead in polling. But Trump may depress Republican voter turnout for down-ballot Republicans, at least raising the possibility that the Democrats can win a Senate majority beyond just one vote.
“The overall map is so favorable to Democrats this year — only 10 Democratic-controlled seats are up and only one is seriously contested out of 34 total — that Republicans essentially have to play whack-a-mole to try to minimize their losses,” Prokop noted. “And Trump is making that difficult game even tougher.”
The Republicans will probably retain control of the House
Most election watchers, meanwhile, think Democrats are probably not going to be able to flip the 30 seats they need to win back the House of Representatives from the Republicans.
Thirty seats is a lot. The last time the Democrats won that many was in 2006, when they were riding on the wild unpopularity of George Bush’s presidency, benefited from the fact many Republican Congress members were facing personal scandals, and were able to pick off many opponents who controlled liberal-leaning seats.
The map is much less favorable for them this year. Democrats would have to win not just in the House districts that lean conservative but also where the Republican incumbent is well-funded and generally well-liked by his or her constituents.
Trump is their best hope for doing so. In August, the House suddenly looked up for grabs, since Trump was losing by 6 points or more in the general election. That kind of blowout at the presidential level, at least according to some estimates, may depress Republican turnout to such an extent that it also dooms them to defeat in the House.
But since then, a Clinton landslide has looked much less likely. And as Trump has begun catching up in the polls, congressional Republicans will be breathing easier about winning reelection. So the House, for now, looks overwhelmingly likely to stay with the GOP.
“So far, it doesn’t seem as if (Trump) has done enough damage to the rest of the party to put the House into question,” wrote the New York Times’s Nate Cohn. “Many of the well-educated white G.O.P. voters with reservations about Mr. Trump appear to be sticking by Republicans, at least for now.”