Did Donald Trump really just surge past Hillary Clinton in two of the election’s most important battlegrounds?
New swing-state polls released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University show Trump leading Clinton in Florida and Pennsylvania — and tied in the critical battleground state of Ohio. In three of the states that matter most in November, the surveys point to a race much closer than the national polls, which have Clinton pegged to a significant, mid-single-digit advantage over Trump, suggest.
The race is so close that it’s within the margin of error in each of the three states. Trump leads by three points in Florida — the closest state in the 2012 election — 42 percent to 39 percent. In Ohio, the race is tied, 41 percent to 41 percent. And in Pennsylvania — which hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential nominee since 1988 — Trump leads, 43 percent to 41 percent.
Clinton’s campaign responded to the surveys by cautioning that while the swing states were always expected to be close, the urgent stakes of a possible Trump election remain high.
“We know the battlegrounds are going to be close til the end. That’s why we need to keep working so hard,” Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon tweeted Wednesday morning. “Trump is a serious danger, folks.”
Trump, meanwhile, thanked his supporters for the strong showing, tweeting a celebratory series of images featuring Fox News graphics showing the Quinnipiac results. “Thank you!” Trump tweeted, adding “#ImWithYou,” an implicit shot at the Clinton campaign’s initial slogan, “I’m With Her.”
In another blow to Clinton, a McClatchy-Marist poll of registered voters nationwide released on Wednesday showed Clinton’s lead over Trump slip to three points, 42 percent to 39 percent, after leading by six points in a Fox News poll conducted in late June.
But other polls give Clinton an advantage in all three states. Including the new Quinnipiac surveys, POLITICO’s Battleground State polling average — which include the five most-recent polls in each state — gives Clinton a 3.2-point lead in Florida, a 2.8-point edge in Ohio and a larger, 4.6-point advantage in Pennsylvania.
By Wednesday afternoon, a quartet of battleground polls painted a hazy picture of the race in those three states, as well as in Colorado and Wisconsin. The latest NBC News/Marist/Wall Street Journal polls showed Clinton up by three points against Trump in Iowa (42 percent to 39 percent), tied in Ohio (41 percent to 41 percent) and up by nine points in Pennsylvania (45 percent to 36 percent), in contrast to her two-point deficit in the Quinnipiac poll.
Monmouth University’s survey of likely Colorado voters found Clinton with a significant 13-point advantage, while Trump cut into Clinton’s Wisconsin advantage by five points compared to last month, trailing 45 percent to 41 percent compared to last month, when Clinton led 46 percent to 37 percent.
While the Quinnipiac results are eye-popping, they don’t represent any significant movement — except in Florida. In three rounds of polling over the past two months, the race has moved from a four-point Trump lead in Ohio in the first survey, then tied in the next two polls. In Pennsylvania, Clinton led by one point in the first two polls and now trails by two.
But in Florida, the race has bounced around. Clinton led by one point in the first poll two months ago, but she opened up an eight-point lead in June — a lead that has been erased and more in the new Quinnipiac survey.
The polls from the Connecticut-based school are likely to be met with some skepticism. When Quinnipiac released their first round of polls in the same three states two months ago, they prompted a round of sniping from Democrats and an F-bomb on Twitter from Nate Silver, the FiveThirtyEight founder who has built a career using poll results to make political predictions.
But subsequent polls later confirmed the May Quinnipiac surveys: Trump pulled virtually even with Clinton nationally after knocking out his rivals for the GOP nomination.
It’s possible the results of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s private email server dating back to her service as secretary of state — FBI Director James Comey called Clinton and her staff “extremely careless,” even as he said the government shouldn’t press charges because there wasn’t evidence of criminal intent — are driving Clinton’s poll numbers down leading into the conventions, typically a critical time for campaigns.
In the poll release, the school suggested the investigation could have played a role, pointing to other lingering questions about Clinton’s honesty and trustworthiness. “While there is no definite link between Clinton’s drop in Florida and the U.S. Justice Department decision not to prosecute her for her handling of emails,” Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown said, “she has lost ground to Trump on questions which measure moral standards and honesty.”
But the Quinnipiac polls are imperfect measures of a post-email investigation race. That’s because, like many of the school’s other polls, they were conducted over an unusually lengthy, 12-day time period: June 30 through July 11.
The national polls conducted since Comey’s statement are mixed: Clinton posted a 3-point lead in this week’s NBC News/SurveyMonkey online tracking poll, down from a 5-point lead the week prior. Morning Consult, another online tracking poll, gave Clinton identical 1-point leads in the days before and after Comey’s statement.
Overall, Clinton leads by 4.3 points in the latest national HuffPost Pollster average, and she has a 3.7-point advantage in the RealClearPolitics average.
The polling in other battleground states since the announcement are also cloudy. Monmouth University surveys conducted after the Comey statement gave Clinton a 4-point lead in Nevada — but showed Trump ahead by two points in Iowa.
In the Quinnipiac polls, there are warning signs for both candidates in all three states. First, despite near-universal name-ID, neither candidate can break out of the low 40s on the ballot test. That points to two very unpopular candidates.
But, in a reversal from earlier surveys, it’s a more acute problem for Clinton. Clinton’s unfavorable ratings (59 percent in Florida, 60 percent in Ohio, 65 percent in Pennsylvania) are higher than Trump’s (54 percent in Florida, 59 percent in Ohio, 57 percent in Pennsylvania) in all three battleground states. And majorities in all three states — which together account for 67 electoral votes, or nearly a quarter of the 270 necessary to win the presidency — have a “very unfavorable” view of Clinton.
Another measure of voters’ ambivalence about Clinton in the Quinnipiac poll: a second ballot-test question, this time adding two third-party candidates to the mix. When voters are asked to consider the general election again, this time given the option of choosing Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Trump’s advantage over Clinton grows in each state. Trump leads on the four-way ballot by five points in Florida, one point in Ohio and six points in Pennsylvania.
There are some eyebrow-raising results from the polls, however. On the two-way ballot test in Florida, Clinton trails Trump despite the Republican winning just 21 percent of non-white voters in the increasingly diverse state.
In Ohio, Clinton wins 90 percent of Democrats, but Trump only captures 77 percent of Republicans, putting him at a significant disadvantage. In Pennsylvania, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by close to 10 percentage points, both candidates are at 82 percent among their own partisans, with Trump only three points ahead among self-identified independents.
Former presidential candidate Herman Cain on Wednesday said he was not surprised by Trump’s upswing.
“And that’s because Donald Trump’s substance is finally starting to cut through some of the media clutter and Hillary Clinton’s shallowness is also starting to emerge. She is the free-stuff candidate disguised as wanting to help people, but that’s not coming through. But Donald Trump’s substance is what’s finally starting to emerge,” Cain told “Fox & Friends,” in the same interview in which he praised former 2012 rival Newt Gingrich as the right choice for Trump’s vice president.
For Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s dismal showing is more proof that his former rival needs to more effectively make her policy-based case against Trump.
“This is not a beauty contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton,” Sanders said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “This is the fact that the middle class of this country is in trouble. Which candidate has more to say about education, more to say about health care, more to say about climate change, more to say about income and wealth inequality, more to say about a sensible foreign policy? And I think the more the people hear the contrast between the two I think Secretary Clinton’s support will grow.”