By Cary Gibson – – – – –
Last week, Democrats reacted in alarm to new polls of the presidential race, as the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appeared to be tightening. According to RealClearPolitics, Trump’s poll numbers on average stand at 40.6 percent, while Clinton’s stand at 43.6 percent. Although Clinton maintains a lead, it is lower than it has been in previous polls.
Adding to Democratic concerns were some polls that indicated Trump holds a lead over Clinton in some key battleground states. The new poll numbers led some Senate Democrats to panic during a recent meeting with Clinton.
Although the numbers may indicate a closer than expected presidential race, Democrats shouldn’t be freaking out just yet.
Democrats can first take comfort that it’s only July and there still several months between now and election day. That’s a lot of time in the life of a presidential race, and anything can happen between now and November that could have an impact. Additionally, because the election is so far away, most voters have yet to fully engage. This circumstance is evidenced by the fact that neither candidate is yet above 50 percent of the vote, indicating a large number of voters have yet to make up their minds. Clinton still has plenty of time and opportunity to capture these undecideds and widen her lead.
Additionally, the new poll numbers came out directly after Clinton was inundated with bad press from the FBI’s conclusion of its investigation into the private e-mail server she used as secretary of state. Although the FBI announced that it will not bring charges against Clinton, FBI Director James Comey did characterize her actions as “extremely careless.” The resulting criticism from that statement could be responsible for Clinton’s falling numbers, which means they could climb back up if the scandal dies down.
Moreover, as the Washington Post pointed out, pundits have noted that while Clinton’s numbers may be falling, Trump’s are not rising. This distinction is important because Clinton has seemingly already demonstrated that she can rise higher in the polls than her current standing while Trump has not. If Trump is unable to move up in the polls, he has little chance of defeating Clinton in the fall.
Democrats should be concerned, however, with the indication that the race may be closer than they had initially anticipated. When Trump became the nominee, many anticipated that a Senate majority would be within Democrats’ reach. A weak top of the ticket usually means defeat for close races down the ballot. Since Republicans are defending several marginal Senate seats, Democrats had good reason to believe that a Trump candidacy would benefit their efforts to gain control of the Senate. However, if the Trump-Clinton contest turns out to be closer than expected, it could benefit those marginal Republican Senate candidates and prevent Clinton from bringing the Senate with her if she wins.
The poll numbers will most telling after the national conventions for both parties. The conventions give each party an entire week to tout their nominee and candidates usually see an upward bounce in their poll numbers following their conclusion. If Trump sees a substantial bounce in his numbers or Clinton does not see a bounce in hers, then Democrats may have a reason to worry.
Cary Gibson is a government relations consultant with Prime Policy Group. She also spent several years working on Capitol Hill and has expertise in public policy with a focus on health care.