The Slatest

Trump Is Closing the Gap in National Polls, but Clinton Holds Key Battleground Leads

Clinton at the Democratic National Convention on July 28 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Trump at the CNN Republican primary debate on Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas.

Alex Wong/Getty Images and Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As the crucial post–Labor Day period of the presidential election approaches, Hillary Clinton appears to be losing her once-huge lead over Donald Trump in national polls. The latest example of this can be seen in the Morning Consult poll released Sunday morning that shows Clinton leading Trump by a measly 2 points—42 percent to 40 percent—in a two-way race. That marks a 5-point narrowing from three weeks ago, when Clinton led by 7 points. And there are a lot of people still trying to make up their minds.

That narrowing of the race has been seen in other national polls as well. For example, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Friday showed Trump slightly ahead with support from 40 percent of likely voters, compared to 39 percent for Clinton, an effective tie that marks a huge plunge from the 8-point lead the Democratic candidate once enjoyed. This came on the heels of a Fox News poll that showed Clinton narrowing her lead to a measly 2 points. CNN’s poll of polls shows Clinton lead “has been cut in half,” with an average of 42 percent support, compared to Trump’s 37 percent. The analysis of polls by Real Clear Politics shows a similar trend, with Clinton cutting her lead to 4 points.

As fascinating as the national horse race is though, everyone knows it’s pretty meaningless when it comes to predicting a presidential election that is not decided by popular vote. In key battleground states, Clinton continues to hold decisive leads in two “states that Trump needs to win, given his current electoral map,” notes CBS News. Clinton is up by a comfortable 8 points in Pennsylvania—45 percent to 37 percent—and has a 4-point advantage in North Carolina—46 percent to 42 percent.

These key states explain why even as Trump is now celebrating national polls, it is still Clinton’s race to lose, because she has a much clearer path to gaining 270 electoral votes. Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times explains:

Let’s assume Trump wins the 22 states that have gone Republican in each of the past four elections and Clinton wins the 18 states that have gone Democratic in each of the past six. (Yes, we know Trump has talked about upending the conventional map and winning solidly Democratic states like New York, but that appears to be a pipe dream.)

Put the reliably red states in Trump’s column and reliably blue in Clinton’s. She starts off with 242 electoral votes to 180 for Trump. That leaves 10 potential battleground states — Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico — with a total of 116 electoral votes.

Trump practically has to sweep those states to win. But Clinton could lose every one of those states except Florida and still win the presidency. Or she could merely win Virginia (where she is heavily favored) and Ohio (where she narrowly leads). In other words, she has multiple paths, Trump doesn’t.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.