The Pulse: Ceilings and fans

William JordanUS Elections Editor
August 23, 2016, 3:24 PM GMT+0

Hello, I'm Will Jordan and welcome to the Pulse.

Trump recovers lost ground and shakes up his campaign, but time may be running out

Is Hillary Clinton still winning?

Last week we put Trump on Meltdown Watch – will Clinton build on her big lead, or simply lose it? Not much has changed over the past week. Recent national polls suggest Clinton’s lead may be down a little from its post-convention peak, but she’s still ahead by 6 or 7 points. As 538’s Nate Silver has pointed out, polls of individual swing states suggest Clinton doing about as well as, if not better, than the national polls. YouGov’s own Battleground Tracker has found her with leads of five points or more in Florida (+5), Ohio (+6), Virginia (+12) and New Hampshire (+9). Giving Clinton those states, along with other reliably blue states and Colorado (which YouGov hasn’t polled recently, but is looking out of reach for Trump), puts the former Secretary of State at 320 electoral votes, 50 more than she needs. Drop Florida and Ohio from the list and she still wins.

Don’t some polls show a much closer race?

Yes. In particular, there’s the USC Dornsife/LA Times “Daybreak Poll”, a daily tracking poll that has shown Trump rising from a 5-point deficit to a narrow lead over the past week. The poll is unique for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s a panel study, which means a subsection of respondents from the same group of 3,000 are contacted every day, and the result is averaged over seven days. Some aspects of its methodology have drawn skepticism. Whatever the details, the poll has been consistently better for Trump compared to poll averages. At the same time, the fact that it re-contacts the same voters (YouGov does this in a more limited way for its Battleground Tracker) makes it especially useful for looking at changes in the race, if not necessarily absolute levels of support. So, even if you don’t believe Trump is ahead, there are reasons here to believe he’s recovered some ground.

Weren’t there some changes in the Trump campaign?

Last week, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who had replaced Cory Lewandowski at the helm of the Trump operation in May, resigned. The resignation came amid growing scrutiny of his political consulting work in Ukraine, as well as growing doubts about the campaign itself (as of last weekend, only 22% of voters believed the Trump campaign was well-managed, and 54% expected Trump to lose). Taking over are pollster Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon, the CEO of a Trump-friendly media company called Breitbart. Time will tell whether Trump is finally “pivoting” to a more general election-friendly message, or whether he is just doubling down.

What about the massive crowds?

Amidst all this, Trump and his surrogates have taken to making the argument that the size of the crowds that attend his rallies is a valid, if not superior measure of his support and his advantage over Clinton. If it sounds familiar, it’s because similar arguments have been made by supporters of President Romney and, more recently, Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders. As those examples suggest, it is not usually an argument made by winning campaigns. As Natalie Jackson of HuffPollster points out, the 10% of voters who attended rallies in 2012 fell considerably short of the 59% who voted that year. YouGov’s own polling suggests there is not more enthusiasm for Trump than Clinton on a national scale. 19% of registered voters say they are enthusiastic about Donald Trump, versus 21% who are big fans of Hillary Clinton. Rather than worrying about how many die-hard supporters he has, Trump should be worrying about the opposite development: the growing number of die-hard detractors.

Where is Trump’s ceiling?

What could make any argument about a Trump “pivot” irrelevant is if a critical mass of voters are really and truly #NeverTrump. YouGov’s polling suggests this number has risen in recent months. That is, the number of voters who say they would “never consider voting for” Trump has risen to 53%, from a low of 47% before the Republican convention. #NeverHillary has bounced between 45-48% since the question was first asked in June. This number is not immutable – during the primary, many #NeverTrump Republicans reconsidered – but it is not a promising development for a candidate who regularly polls in the 30s in swing states.

The Pulse is a weekly newsletter YouGov has launched ahead of the 2016 primaries and general election to give readers a one-stop-shop for the latest polling-related news from the campaign. In addition to YouGov’s own extensive coverage of the election, The Pulse gives you the five things you need to know about the state of the campaign each week.