What Are They Seeing?

By Jim Ellis

May 17, 2016 — To listen to most media political pundits, the Democratic Party leaders, and even many Republican Party chieftains, one would think that Hillary Clinton is going to defeat Donald Trump in a November political tsunami.

Understanding that it is way too early to accurately predict the general election, the early polling numbers do not support the previous supposition. In fact, while the survey research certainly shows Clinton leading the race her margin is actually small, opposite to what one might conclude from watching and reading the various public pronouncements.

Six polls have been conducted since the 2nd of May from six different pollsters and all find Clinton leading the national popular vote. Now, we all know that the aggregate national vote does not elect a president, but it is a good gauge as to what people are thinking.

The six pollsters: NBC through Survey Monkey, Morning Consult, YouGov in partnership with the Economist Magazine, Public Policy Polling, Gravis Marketing for One America News, and Ipsos/Reuters all find the race within single-digits. The average Clinton margin from the combined six polls is 3.8 percentage points.

In only one of the polls is Clinton over 50 percent, and that comes from Gravis Marketing (May 10; 1,574 US respondents through automated device), but they also produce the unusual result of finding no undecided voters. Their ballot test reports a 51-49 percent Clinton edge.

Gravis is contrasted by Morning Consult (May 5-9; 5,005 US registered voters via the Internet) that finds an 18 percent undecided factor and projects Clinton ahead 44-38 percent, which, at six percentage points, produced the biggest spread among the half-dozen polls.

The most recent reported survey comes from Ipsos/Reuters (May 7-11; 1,611 US adults via the Internet) and they find Clinton leading Trump 41-37 percent with an eight percentage point undecided factor. Here, 14% of the respondents interestingly named a candidate choice other than Clinton or Trump. These results track closely with Public Policy Polling’s findings (5/6-9; 1,222 US registered voters through an Interactive Voice Response system). PPP posted Clinton to a 42-38% advantage with 13% undecided and six percent naming another individual.

The media pundits and the selected Democratic and Republican leaders might be right in suggesting, or fearing, a landslide election if Sen. Bernie Sanders were the candidate against Trump. Four of these same pollsters tested an unlikely Sanders/Trump national race, and found the self-proclaimed socialist leading the self-proclaimed rich and successful entrepreneur by an average of 11.8 percentage points. The biggest gap comes from the Morning Consult poll, which finds Sanders topping Trump 51-36 percent with 13% undecided. The closest of the four surveys is the YouGov/Economist poll that posts Sanders to a nine point, 48-39 percent advantage.

The early data proclaiming Clinton as the national leader is not surprising. In fact, it is most common in early national election polling to see the presumptive Democratic candidate leading the presumptive Republican on a national ballot test.

Even back in 1984 before President Ronald Reagan scored a 49-state landslide over former Vice President Walter Mondale (D), at an early point in that cycle, it was the Democratic candidate who clung to a small lead. Four years later, it was Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis who would open up double-digit leads over then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, only to decidedly lose in November. The same early positive numbers held true for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and of course, Barack Obama but only two would actually win.

The 2016 presidential election script is far from written. Many unforeseen events will help clarify the final determination, and are far more important than early polling results. Still, the preliminary data does provide us a significant beginning point, which has considerable value.

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