Benchmark Politics founder and BNR polling analyst looks at the trajectory of the Hillary-Trump race.
A cursory search of articles on Google News will reveal thousands of articles with a narrative: that the race between Hillary and Trump is closing, and that Trump is poised to be competitive in the general election.
Most of these articles are written about a single poll or a single pollster, with phrases such as “according to one general election match-up poll” or “these new state polls show a close race.” Of course, no single poll should ever be looked at in isolation – no election forecaster would ever try to make a prediction with a single data point and neither should you. This is the purpose of poll aggregation sites and trend lines.
We searched through all of the data to determine what the true state of the race is, and a single narrative has emerged — not only is the general election race not closing, it has widened in Hillary’s favor in recent months.
From December to February, by all accounts, this race was actually a close one. If the media are reporting now that the race is very close, it makes me wonder what they thought about the race over that time period. What were the headlines when this race was only a 1-2 point race? Luckily, we can check!
If this does not make sense to you, you are not alone. Somehow, when the race is separated by 5-7 points, it is a neck-and-neck horse-race but when the race was only separated by two points, it was a runaway. Let me propose a different idea – that now that the Republican nominee has been decided, a horse-race is a more compelling story to generate interest than a blowout of the type that is forecast under current polling levels.
In a sea of polls showing Hillary well up over Trump, the only ones that seem to be getting focused on are the ones showing a horse-race. The fact of the matter is, not only is Hillary well up over Trump, she has improved her standing in the past few months. When you compare poll to poll, she has gained 2.5 percentage points since Jan 1 – Feb 29.
Of course, the national election is not the only thing that matters. Hillary has expanded leads in key battleground states over Trump from earlier this year. For all contested states with enough polling to compare between the beginning of the year and now, Hillary has widened leads in every one. In some states, she has so dramatically improved her position that they have transitioned from swing states to fairly safe states for the Clinton campaign.
A simple truth emerges out of all of this: there is absolutely no metric that one can use to claim that the race has significantly tightened over the course of this election season. Polls will always come in above and below the true lead Hillary has on Trump. To only report on the ones that come in low and ignore the ones that come in high, or to ignore the polls as a whole in favor of the one that spins a narrative, is to ignore the true state of this race.
(Photo: Hillary for America)