The Slatest

What the Heck Polls: A Weekly Guide to the Trump-Clinton Numbers

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump leave the stage after the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on Sept. 26.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The polls—so many polls. They will just keep coming between now and Election Day, making it easy to forget the golden rule of polling: Don’t get distracted by a single survey. With that in mind, Slate will be checking in once a week to see what’s changed—and what hasn’t—in the 2016 presidential polls.

Where Do the Polls Stand Today?

Hillary Clinton’s predicted post-debate bump has arrived. As of late Tuesday morning, we have the results of eight head-to-head national polls conducted entirely after last week’s debate, and Clinton is up in six of them. She leads Donald Trump by 7 points in Politico/Morning Consult, 6 points in both CBS News and CNN, 5 points in both YouGov/Economist and Fox News, and 4 points in Public Policy Polling. The only exceptions are a single-day survey taken by Gravis on the day immediately after the debate, which found the race knotted at 50 percent apiece, and the notably Trump-friendly Los Angeles Times/USC tracking poll, which has the GOP nominee up 4 points as of this past Sunday. Each of those surveys was factored into at least one of the two major polling averages, but not necessarily both:


  • Head-to-head: Clinton +3.8 (Clinton 48.1 percent, Trump 44.3 percent)
  • Four-way race: Clinton +3.7 (Clinton 44.3, Trump 40.6, Gary Johnson 7.4, Jill Stein 2.6)

Huffington Post:

  • Head-to-head: Clinton +6.0 points (Clinton 47.2 percent, Trump 41.2 percent)
  • Three-way race: Clinton +4.9 points (Clinton 43.5, Trump 38.6, Johnson 8.0, other 3.4)

Depending on which average you prefer, Clinton’s lead has grown by somewhere between seven-tenths of a point (HuffPo three-way) to as much as 2.1 points (RCP four-way) in the week since the debate. The new national polling—combined with similarly rosy numbers from post-debate surveys in battleground states—have driven Clinton’s odds of winning upward in the numbers-centric forecasts. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight now gives Clinton a roughly 73 percent chance of victory in its polls-only forecast and the New York Times’ Upshot has her odds at 79 percent. The former is up a whopping 17 points in the past seven days, while the latter is up 9 points. The Princeton Election Consortium, meanwhile, pegs Clinton’s chances at 90 percent, 5 points higher than it was on Friday.

What’s going on?

The debate seems like the most obvious cause, but it’s impossible to say how much of the change in the polls has to do with what happened on stage and what happened afterward. Trump was widely seen as last Monday night’s big loser, but things turned even worse for him in the days that followed as he failed to explain away his poor performance and wasted time needlessly (and cruelly) attacking the character and weight of a former Miss Universe.

How Should Trump Supporters Feel Today?

Somewhere between nervous and terrified. As poorly as Trump performed on the debate stage, and as poorly as he handled the crucial news cycle that followed immediately thereafter, the current poll numbers are likely lagging behind today’s reality on the ground. Most of the post-debate surveys were conducted at least partly before this weekend’s New York Times bombshell suggesting Trump may not have paid federal taxes for nearly two decades, Monday’s Associated Press report detailing allegations that Trump repeatedly sexually harassed women on the set of the Apprentice, and the news that the Trump Foundation had been ordered by New York authorities to stop raising money because it was raising money illegally. There’s still time for Trump to rebound, but it stands to reason his numbers are going to get worse in the near future. Also, there’s another debate on the horizon.

How Should Clinton Supporters Feel Today?

Pretty darn good. According to the rolling averages, their woman’s national lead is now either roughly equivalent to President Obama’s margin of victory in the 2012 popular vote (3.9 points) or a point or two higher than that, with five weeks to go to Election Day. The good news is likely to keep coming, too, as the remaining pre-debate polls in those aggregations are replaced by additional post-debate ones, most of which will have been conducted during the Trump paid no taxes news cycle that took over for the Trump bombed the debate one that preceded it. Also, there’s another debate on the horizon.

How Do Things Look at the State Level?

More or less like they do at the national level: good for Hillary. As Silver pointed out on Monday night, Hillary leads in 18 out of 20 post-debate polls in swing states, trailing in only one (Ohio), and is effectively tied in another (one of four Florida polls). Perhaps the best news for Clinton is in Pennsylvania, where the latest Franklin & Marshall survey has her with a 12-point lead on Trump in a two-way race and a 9-point lead in a four-way race, and the latest Quinnipiac poll has her with a 5-point lead in a two-way race and 4-point lead in a four-way. With those results taken into account, Clinton’s lead in the RCP state average is 3.5 points (four-way) or 4.6 points (two-way). The Keystone State, meanwhile, is pretty close to a must-win for Trump.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 campaign.