Among political prognosticators, there have been two main camps in this election. One camp argued that the country has become rigidly polarized to a point where any Republican or Democratic nominee starts out with 40% support and the battle is only over the 20% of voters who don’t align with either side. The other camp, represented by me, argued that there was nothing permanent about our relatively stable red/blue state split and that we’re reaching an inflection point where one side or the other would decisively “win the argument.”
I’ve often pointed out that Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and Vermont, and that it was possible for a Democrat to win in states like Arizona and Georgia and South Carolina. For more than two years, I’ve been identifying signs that this could well be a landslide election, and I predicted that it wouldn’t be a close election with even more confidence than I predicted that the Democrats would win.
As Nancy pointed out, the polls are now pointing in the direction of a Reagan-sized blowout. Among the signs to look for are evidence that red states are going to fall into Clinton’s arms, that Trump is cratering below the 40% floor, and that Clinton is polling above 50% in the four-way race with a healthy number of undecideds still out there.
Today we can see all three things.
There’s a Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll showing Clinton with a six point lead in the Grand Canyon State. There are (admittedly dubious) SurveyMonkey polls showing Clinton in the lead in Georgia and only two points down in Texas. That Texas number is supported by a University of Houston poll and a SurveyUSA poll showing Trump leading in the Lone Star State by three and four points, respectively. There are two recent polls of Alaska showing Trump leading within the margin of error. And, of course, it seems like everyone is talking about Utah, where Trump is still favored but could conceivably come in third place.
A non-partisan PRRI poll out this morning shows Clinton with a 51%-36% lead among likely voters (up from a 43%-43% tie in September). A Bloomberg poll shows Clinton with 47%-38% lead in the four-way race. As for swing states, Nate Silver currently has Clinton winning in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, and Nevada, all of which have been in Trump’s column in the recent past. Silver’s current Electoral College forecast has Clinton winning 347-191, but that’s without giving Clinton Georgia, Utah or Alaska.
The race has also narrowed in states like Indiana, Missouri, and (perhaps) Montana. The last poll out of South Carolina, which was conducted between September 18th and 26th (before all the sexual assault allegations against Trump) showed him leading there by only four points.
It’s clear which candidate has the momentum. It’s also clear that Trump is responding badly by acting in a very erratic way. The gender gap is exploding to unprecedented levels. Trump’s lead in the Census Bureau-defined South has shrunk to 1.2% (Romney won it 7.1%).
In the primaries, Trump consistently performed poorly with late-deciding voters.
Voters on the fence have not been supporting Trump. Among the three in 10 Nevada GOP voters who made up their minds in the final week, Rubio won four in 10 of them, compared to about a quarter for Trump and Cruz each. Cruz has also seen more success than Trump with late-deciders, though slightly less than Rubio.
Similar patterns appear in other early voting states, with Trump winning just 14 percent of late-deciders in Iowa and 17 percent of late-deciders in South Carolina – both behind Rubio and Cruz in states where almost half of voters made final decisions in that time period.
That seems to be repeating itself now, and with a large pool of undecided voters and voters who are flirting with third party candidates, a late tilt in Clinton’s favor rather than a roughly even split would move the popular vote margin even higher and put some of these close-polling red states in serious jeopardy.
As of now, Clinton seems stalled at about 51% (roughly Obama’s total four years ago) and Trump seems to have a floor in the high-thirties (about seven points below where McCain finished eight years ago). If Clinton wins the battle for late-deciders, her totals will rise into the low or even mid-fifties. It doesn’t seem possible that she can match Reagan’s 59% total in 1984 or Nixon’s 61% total in 1972, but exceeding the 53% that Poppy Bush got in 1988 and Obama received in 2008 definitely looks within her reach.
Tonight’s debate may play a roll in the final margins, as a poor performance by Trump could result in an accelerated collapse, while a surprisingly strong win for him might stop or even reverse his bleeding.
For now, though, it looks like I was right. This is not going to be another red state/blue state election. Trump has lost the argument.