Trump is gaining on Clinton

While Hillary Clinton reportedly is trying to “run out the clock,” Donald Trump is improving his status in the polls. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight puts Clinton’s national lead at 6.5 percentage points as of Sunday evening, down from 8.5 two weeks ago. He estimates Trump’s chances of winning at around one-fifth to one-fourth, also an improvement.

A 6.5 point lead is still pretty substantial. However, we’re ten weeks away from the election (though early voting will begin in about a month). As Silver reminds us, at the corresponding date four years ago, the Democrats had yet to hold their national convention.

What do polls from swing states show? Silver says that last week they were “all over the place.” But today comes good news for Trump from three big states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Emerson College finds Trump level with Clinton in Ohio, trailing by 3 points in Pennsylvania, and trailing by 5 points in Michigan. Couple these results in non-red states with Silver’s statement that “if you squint, you can perhaps perceive some movement back toward Trump in some of the red-tinged swing states, such as North Carolina,” and one can imagine a close race and even a Trump victory.

The Emerson results imply that Clinton has less than a 6.5 point national lead over Trump. They imply something closer to the national tie that the LA Times found last week when it surveyed almost 2,500 likely voters.

However, the LA Times has consistently found this race to be closer than other national surveys. We need to see more new surveys from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan before we put much faith in the Emerson results. Some new national surveys wouldn’t hurt either.

The 2 point national gain for Trump that Silver posits may just be regression to the polling mean. But if Trump has chipped further into Clinton’s lead, what might account for it?

For one thing, emails showing that Clinton Foundation donors had, at a minimum, a pipeline to Clinton’s top State Department aides recently hit the news. Concerns over Hillary’s corruption are thus revived and/or intensified.

For another, Trump is working hard to reinvent himself as a kinder, gentler blowhard. His outreach to Hispanics, via a revised stance of illegal immigration, and to African-Americans may be helping with electorate in general.

It’s not, I assume, that Trump is winning fans. But it may be that, for some voters, he’s crossing the line between blanket unacceptability and reluctant acceptance given the unpalatable and corrupt alternative.

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