June 9, 2016
Donald Trump is even with Hillary Clinton in the key states of Florida and Pennsylvania. Or so you’ll hear. We have new polls from PPP in each state. The Pennsylvania version has Trump even or trailing by one, depending on inclusion of third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. In Florida, he leads by one or is tied, again depending on the quantity of choices.
This sure seems positive for him. The last Republican to win Pennsylvania was George H.W. Bush in 1988. Trump has argued he will compete better than any Republican in the past generation in this sort of Rust Belt state. Florida is a must for any GOP candidate, but after Mitt Romney and John McCain fell short the past two elections, being tied is still an upgrade.
Even better, PPP is a Democratic pollster. You wouldn’t think an organization that makes it’s income polling for Democratic candidates would have a bias in favor of Republicans. Their data shows Trump is holding strong because he’s pulling a higher percentage of his party than Hillary is of hers. Basically, not enough Berners are on board yet to put her ahead.
The surveys were taken over last weekend, meaning they were after Trump’s inflammatory press conference, after Hillary slammed him in her foreign policy speech, after he spent multiple days attacking Judge Curio’s supposed bias due to being of Mexican descent. It was before the AP declared Clinton had reached the delegate count needed to clinch nomination.
So she might be in better position now, but the polls took several potentially favorable developments for Clinton into account. If a Democratic pollster surveyed Pennsylvania and Florida voters after some positive developments for her, it should be good for him, right?
Here’s the thing. For whatever reason, PPP is favoring Trump in these polls. In Florida, only Florida Atlantic University leans as strongly his way. The surveys are taken intermittently and inconsistently so the overall shape of the race at the exact time of polling matters.
Still, PPP finds Trump doing better than other readings a few days before or a few days after. It could be a matter of chance, but they may also sample in a way that favors him.
Same deal in Pennsylvania. In the past year, 11 polls were taken comparing the two candidates against each other. Two are from PPP. He’s even in one, ahead in the other. Fox News had them tied once. The other eight showed Clinton leading.
None of this means PPP is wrong. They are not in the most highly regarded batch of pollsters, they are not at the bottom of the barrel. We won’t know if they know something the others don’t until November, and their results may move closer to the median by then.
In their notes, PPP determined Trump’s position was helped by Berners resisting Hillary to a greater extent than #NeverTrumpers passed on The Donald. They suggest a return to home from wayward Democrats/Dem leaners would give Clinton a few/several point lead.
That may or may not happen. The election season has plenty more twists and turns. When neither candidate is popular enough to win, some unconventional outcome is guaranteed.
At this point, we want to look for ceilings and floors, not absolutes. When reviewing a new survey, the first question is if it’s either of those or down the center. Trump supporters will point to this favorable number in Pennsylvania as evidence he can go where no recent Republican has.
With smaller than normal deficits in Connecticut and New Jersey as well, it’s a convincing argument. Just remember the difference between can and will.