Donald Trump likes to boast about polls, but only when he is ahead, which he is getting to be in some new ones and closing the gap in others just in time for this election’s most spectacular face-off, the first presidential debate on Monday.
“Tremendous polls keep coming in,” Trump told supporters straight off the bat at a rally here in a state that will play a significant role in determining the outcome of the 2016 race. “A brand new Rasmussen poll has us up 5 points nationwide.”
It put Trump ahead with 44% support to 39% for his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who continues to lead the national average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics — but by a narrowing margin that stood at 2.5% the day before the debate.
FiveThirtyEight’s compilation of polls, which uses a different methodology, had nearly the same result with Clinton ahead by two points, 46.7% to Trump’s 44.7%. But it put Clinton’s chances of winning the White House at 58.2% to Trump’s 41.8%.
Trump trailed Clinton by 8 points in the RealClearPolitics average mid-August, capping a dismal run after the Democratic convention when he clashed with parents of a fallen Muslim soldier and fought with his own party leaders.
His campaign was in complete disarray shortly thereafter as aides tried to reboot him, urging him to stay close to script and not get himself into trouble with stray remarks — such as the one that made him look like he was inciting violence against Clinton.
Trump fired them instead, and got himself a new team, headed by Steve Bannon, a hard-charging media executive, and Kellyanne Conway, a well-regarded pollster and strategist, and they set him back on course; disciplined, but himself.
His numbers have been improving since, helped in no small measure by Clinton’s troubles over her use of a private email server as secretary of state, and a health scare on September 11, when she appeared unable to walk or stand by herself.
On September 18, the two candidates were separated by only 0.9 points — Clinton at 44.9% to Trump’s 44% — which was a statistically insignificant gap, and which was encouraging enough for Trump to start talking numbers again.
In the most recent poll, a weekly tracking by LA Times with University of Southern California for a period ending Saturday, Trump led Clinton by 4 points — 46% to 42%; to the 5 point lead given him by Rasmussen.
But Americans don’t directly elect their president, the electoral college does, and it is the aggregate of members of US House of Representatives and the Senate and three members allotted to the District of Columbia, which together is 538.
According to RealClearPolitics, Clinton had a grip on 198 of them now to Trump’s 165, with 175 up for grabs — winning threshold is 274. And FiveThirtyEight projected that Clinton will win 284.9 of them and Trump 252.8.