Home Stretch: Any Way You Slice It, This Race Is Tightening

Posted: Oct 31, 2016 10:25 AM

The 'why?' piece to this public opinion puzzle isn't exactly a great mystery. After re-building a formidable national lead over the course of three presidential debates, Hillary Clinton's campaign has been buffeted by Wikileaks revelations that fuel pay-to-play allegations, a deluge of horrible news about the failing healthcare law that she first proposed and has championed, and now a reactivated FBI investigation into her email scandal. Big picture, the good news for her is that she still appears to be the clear favorite to win next week's election. The bad news is that much of the polling data pointing to a constricting Clinton advantage was gathered before FBI Director James Comey's explosive letter was made public on Friday, setting off wild damage-control attacks from Democrats. So things could plausibly get worse for her, as voters marinate in yet another round of brutal headlines that serve as timely reminders of why Hillary Clinton is so widely disliked and distrusted. A look at the national trend, and one early FBI-related data point:

Hillary's edge in four-way national polling has fallen to within most polls' margin of error, and while GOP leaners constitute the large majority of those who say the fresh email developments make them less likely to support her, every independent that shifts away from her could prove costly -- as could every Democrat leaner who decides to sit at home.  Again, the backdrop to all of this is that even though she's held a consistent and often sizable lead over Donald Trump, most Americans are not eager to support this woman.  As for key swing states, Trump has surged back into a tie in Florida, without which he has no prayer of accumulating 270 electoral votes.  Momentum, courtesy of Hillary's patented anti-momentum:

The early voting race appears to be going relatively well for the GOP in the Sunshine State, too, which is also good news for Marco Rubio's re-election chances. Two new polls have him ahead by nine and eight points, respectively (and north of 50 percent in both), which may help explain why national Democrats have all but abandoned his Democratic challenger.  Trump, meanwhile, holds extremely thin leads in both Ohio and Iowa.  Other battlegrounds remain challenging, however:

Even if Trump snags Ohio, Florida, and Iowa -- and locks down potentially wavering red states like Arizona and Georgia -- he'll still need to make serious gains elsewhere. That's why all eyes are on states like Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania (all of which are also hosting margin-of-error Senate races this cycle). Clinton has a very slim average lead in the Silver State, a modest but enduring lead in the Tar Heel State, and an apparently-durable advantage in the Keystone State. Right now, her firewall is holding up. That being said, state-level surveys often lag behind national polling trends, her once-secure path to 270 is looking more tenuous than it has in weeks, and then there's this:

Voters who haven't yet settled on a candidate in the presidential election are more Republican-leaning as a group than Democratic, suggesting that GOP nominee Donald Trump can make last-minute gains if he can persuade those voters to return to their home party. Some 30% of undecided voters call themselves Republicans, compared with 21% who call themselves Democrats, an analysis of Wall Street Journal/NBC News national polling shows. In another sign of the Republican tilt of undecided voters, some 42% of those voters say they want the next Congress to be controlled by the GOP, suggesting that they are Republicans at heart. Some 35% say they prefer Democratic control.

If that analysis of remaining undecided voters is roughly accurate, that could be a distinct advantage to Republicans trying to either close gaps or hang onto leads.  Team Clinton and their henchmen have been reduced to turning their fire away from the extremely unpopular Republican nominee, and training it on the FBI Director they've been praising for years.  This is a terrible, terrible posture to adopt in the closing days of a campaign:

Even if she survives and wins next week -- largely thanks to Trump's unacceptability to so many voters -- she'll be sullied, disliked, and hold no governing mandate.