Is the presidential election over? It’s sure looking that way.
Fueled by gains among women and independents, Hillary Clinton has surged to a lead averaging about 5 points in national polls on a four-way contest that includes third-party candidates. She leads nationally by more than 6 points in a head-to-head matchup with Donald Trump.
Only once since 1952 has the clear mid- to late October poll leader lost the election: Jimmy Carter in 1980, who lost to Ronald Reagan.
It’s not just the national lead that suggests a Clinton victory. Independents and women are pouring into Clinton’s camp, as Clinton solidifies her hold on Democrats who had had doubts about her candidacy. And Trump’s struggling to win conservative states that should long ago have been comfortably his.
The relentless news – and social media chatter – about Trump’s alleged sexual behavior with several women, coming days after news surfaced about a videotape full of his lewd remarks, is blowing open a race where Clinton had had a slight but not insurmountable lead.
“To be down as much as he is and in a place where voters have formed opinions pretty hard and fast, it’s very, very difficult to fundamentally change where the race is,” said Jeffrey Horwitt, senior vice president at Hart Research Associates, which conducts the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Trump has only been accused of sexual misbehavior and has vigorously denied all allegations. But the media furor has reached an important tipping point, where accusations become truth in the minds of many voters.
There are parallels to Bill Cosby’s case. The comedian has been accused by dozens of women of improper behavior. Cosby has not been convicted of anything, but in the public eye his reputation has been irreparably damaged.
“The people for Trump are for him no matter what. But for those people in the middle, he’s at that point where this is feeling like the Bill Cosby case,” said Glenn Selig, principal at The Publicity Agency, a firm based in Tampa, Florida, that specializes in crisis management and political strategy.
It does feel very much like the Cosby case, where people are starting to pile on.
Glenn Selig, principal and founder of The Publicity Agency, a political strategy and crisis management firm
Selig noted that people tend to believe news about others from traditional sources, while they’re skeptical about accusations concerning people they personally know.
“The damage has been done,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a veteran Boston-based political media consultant.
He and others, though, have one caveat: Little about Trump’s political success has been logical, so don’t write him off.
“If I had to bet the farm, I’d count him out. But it’s Donald Trump, so what can you say?” said Berkovitz.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. His backers say he’ll do fine, because voters see Clinton as disastrous. “She’s evil and a pathological liar,” said Steve Scheffler, a member of the Republican National Committee from Iowa.
Those who are opposed to abortion need remember only one thing, he said: “Supreme Court. Supreme Court. Supreme Court.”
Even before news about his alleged sexual behavior surfaced, Trump faced the sort of gender gap that’s dogged Republican White House candidates for years. Women were 53 percent of the 2012 electorate, and President Barack Obama won 55 percent of them.
Clinton’s topping that number. In a PRRI/The Atlantic poll taken partly after news broke late on Oct. 7 about an 11-year-old videotape featuring lewd Trump remarks about women, Clinton’s lead among women ballooned to 61 percent to Trump’s 28 percent. Trump maintained a 48-37 percent lead among men.
A key reason for the change has been younger Democratic women moving firmly to Clinton, particularly those who had been attracted to Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein.
Clinton leads Trump 44.4 percent to 39.1 percent in the latest poll averages compiled by RealClearPolitics.
Clinton was up 53-27 percent among 18- to 49-year-old women in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken after the video release, with 11 percent for Johnson or Stein. Last month, Clinton was up 46-22.
Trump has done little to build momentum with women, said Susan Carroll, senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics in New Jersey.
“I don’t see that he can recover with women. The campaign isn’t doing anything on a positive note,” she said.
Its chief tactic, Carroll found, is to demonize Clinton as much as possible – hardly a logical way to win over women.
Polling also found that independents have fled from Trump “in droves” – as Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, put it – even before the tape’s release.
Many live in America’s suburbs, and new polling in the Philadelphia collar counties this week found Clinton with an overall 28-point lead. Obama had won those counties by 10 points.
People in those areas tend to be better educated, and while they’re worried about the economy and their security, “they’re living pretty contented lives,” said Ann Selzer, an Iowa-based pollster. “Change is not necessarily their friend.”
Clinton is up between 2 and 4 points in new North Carolina post-debate polls from NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist, Suffolk University Political Research Center and Emerson College Polling Society
All this is particularly hurting Trump in states he has to win.
Scott Jennings, a political strategist who ran 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s Ohio campaign, saw Arizona, Georgia, Utah and North Carolina as crucial to Trump’s hopes, because failure to win all four would be fatal. And polls find the race is tight in all four states.
Romney carried all four, which have a total of 48 electoral votes. Polls say Clinton is on track for 256 votes, meaning she needs only 14 more to win the election. Trump is estimated to have 181 firm electoral votes.
Fighting to survive in those four states means resources are diverted from traditional battlegrounds, and gives Clinton significantly more paths to 270. Trump has to win Ohio and Florida plus Iowa and one other usually Democratic state, Jennings said. Ohio is a virtual tie, and Clinton is slightly ahead in Florida.
Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist based in Raleigh, North Carolina, saw Clinton gaining an edge in his state. Thanks to the latest news, he said, “They’re in a heck of a fix.”
Maybe most telling of all: The NBC/Journal poll found Clinton’s positives slightly up, and better than Trump’s. Trump’s ratings, said Horwitt, “have not budged at all since he announced (his candidacy) last year.”