It was inevitable the polls would tighten before November. What is striking in contrast to 2012 and 2014 is how much variance there is in the polls. Consider the latest RCP compilation of polls.
In polls conducted since the start of July we have seen Trump leads as high as 7 points (Rasmussen) to Clinton leading by as much as 11 (Reuters). Most polls have split the difference with Clinton up by 3 or 4 points. Yet, a CBS/NYT survey found the race tied and most recently a LA Times/YouGov survey found Trump up by a point.
To be sure, the national polls might be tightening but they still show a 2-3 point Clinton lead. However, it is the state polls where we have seen the biggest movement. In the swing states of Colorado and Virginia Clinton has vaulted ahead of Trump. But, in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania (Trump’s trifecta), her lead has shrunk.
Again, taking into account the variance in the surveys most polls are showing it neck and neck in these battlegrounds. So perhaps we should look at the battleground counties in these crucial states. Enter a polling firm called Axiom Strategies.
I will be the first to admit I have not heard of them (a subsidiary of Remington Research Group which I have) but the data they present runs flat in the face of national polling.
Axiom, on a weekly basis, is polling voters in 7 seven battleground counties in 7 swing states. They are Hillsborough County, Florida, Jefferson County, Florida, Watauga County. North Carolina, Sandusky County, Ohio, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, Loudoun County, Virginia and Washoe County, Nevada.
In every state the winner of these counties has won the state in the last 6 Presidential contests. Not surprisingly, this means the trending blue counties like Jefferson and Loudoun voted for Obama in 08 and 12 while Watauga went for Romney in 2012.
The latest batch, if it is to be believed, indicates a Trump win. Trump leads in every county minus Loudoun (highlighting his uphill climb in Virgina). He narrowly leads in Jefferson (again, not a good sign). But in the batch of states he must win (Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, North Carolina) and even Nevada, a state he does not need to win, he is leading. By some surprising margins.
Most surprising of all are Trump’s massive lead in Luzerne and Sandusky counties. Both are blue-collar counties that have been friendly to Democrats historically. Wautauga and Washoe counties have historically leaned red but are turning a shade of blue. Finally, Hillsborough County is a heavily populated county nestled in the suburbs of Tampa. Trump has a narrow 3 point lead there.
Put simply, Trump is massively outperforming expectations in all these counties relative to 2012 (even the counties he is narrowly leading in or trailing). It appears the Clinton email scandal is taking its toll on the former Secretary of State.
But as mentioned earlier, these polls fly in the face of what national and many state polls are telling us. From their 40,000 feet up perspective the race is Clinton’s to lose. But, from these battleground county surveys, Trump has to mess up to lose.
Reconciling the polls are is not an easy task. Sampling techniques, weighting, the turnout estimation, all matter. It is possible the impact of Clinton’s email scandal have yet to be reflected in the polls. But in battleground counties, where staffers and the campaigns are, in turn which means voters are in the know, the damage is being done and felt in a way insulated from larger surveys.
One other possibility does pop up and obviously must be correct by default. One set of polls are wrong. Either Trump really is doing well in battleground counties and probably outperforming the polls or these county results are off. It is hard to think Trump is winning by over 20 points in Luzerne and double-digits in Sandusky but these counties have been hammered by job loss and cultural alienation from the Democratic Party. It is not inconceivable.