by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The latest numbers suggest that Trump’s convention bounce has dissipated, and Hillary is enjoying hers. Most polls released this week put her up by 5 to 9 points. Crucially, though, her favorability ratings and voters’ opinion of her truthfulness and trustworthiness have not improved significantly, suggesting that her overall numbers will fade again soon.
But before we get too excited over the latest ups and downs, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Tune out until mid-September. The closer we get to the election, the more accurate polls are likely to be. Right now, the vast majority of Americans are paying little or no attention to politics. Consider that 34.9 million Americans watched Donald Trump’s acceptance speech, and 33.3 million watched Hillary’s. There was undoubtedly a huge overlap. But even if there was no overlap, that means half of those who will vote this November did not watch either one. And we are about to head into the Olympics, which will dominate the news and drown out the candidates’ messages for the next three weeks. Positions may be more hardened this year, because both candidates are so well known and so polarizing. Their partisans are unlikely to change their minds. But for the rest of the electorate, there’s a lot yet to come: the debates, non-stop advertising, world events. Who knows what Trump might say next, or whether there’s another scandal awaiting Hillary?
Is it a two-way, or a three- (or four-) way race? Some polls offer Trump and Clinton as the only options, forcing the binary choice. But when voters actually enter the voting booth, they will have other choices. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson will be on the ballot in all 50 states, and the Green Party’s Jill Stein is already on the ballot in 23 states and D.C. and has filed in 8 more. Polls since the convention have generally shown Johnson taking 8 to 12 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Traditionally, third-party candidates have faded as the election gets closer, but, as we have seen, this is far from a traditional year, and those numbers have held remarkably firm so far. Given that Johnson is still largely unknown, a great deal of his support may just be a proxy for none of the above. As such, he seems to be taking support about equally from both Trump and Clinton. But what happens if he picks up a couple of points and gets into the debates, or attracts enough funding to make a significant advertising effort? Would that change the campaign dynamics? Keep an eye out.