Hillary Clinton has emerged from the two major party conventions and their aftermath with an eight-point lead over Donald Trump, aided by a consolidation of support among Democrats and a failure so far by Republicans to rally equally behind their nominee, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Clinton and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (Virginia), now lead Trump and his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence (Indiana), by 50 percent to 42 percent among registered voters, double the four-point advantage the Democrats held on the eve of the Republican convention in mid-July. Among likely voters, the Democratic nominee leads by 51 percent to 44 percent.
In a four-way race that includes Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, Clinton leads Trump by 45 percent to 37 percent, with Johnson at 8 percent and Stein at 4 percent. Before the Republican convention, she had a four-percentage-point lead in a four-way matchup.
The poll confirms that Clinton received a larger post-convention bounce than Trump did from his convention. But she appears to have been aided as well by days of controversy that Trump generated with his sharp criticism of a Muslim American family whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004 and who rebuked Trump on the stage of the Democratic convention.
When asked about the criticisms Trump exchanged with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, 13 percent of registered voters said they approve of the way the business mogul handled the matter, while 74 percent said they disapprove. Overall, 56 percent said they strongly disapprove of the GOP nominee’s handling of the controversy.
The conventions did not ease public dissatisfaction with the choice in this election. Almost 6 in 10 registered voters say they are dissatisfied with the choice between Clinton and Trump as the major-party candidates, virtually unchanged from mid-July.
The Post-ABC survey is in line with most polls conducted in the days after the Democratic convention in Philadelphia ended. Advisers to the two major-party nominees agree that it will take several more weeks before it is clear where the race stands, as convention bounces generally dissipate over time. After that, the next big opportunity for a shift in the race probably will not come until late September, when the first of the three scheduled presidential debates takes place.
Clinton’s lead resembles the six-point post-convention leads for Barack Obama in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2004, both of whom won their bids for second terms. Yet Al Gore’s five-point lead after the 2000 convention shrank to a narrow popular vote lead on Election Day, with Bush garnering more electoral votes.
Beyond the upcoming debates, external events or major embarrassments or mistakes by one candidate or the other could affect the balance between Clinton and Trump. In 2008, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, caught up with Obama after his convention but fell well behind after the financial collapse weeks later.
Trump appears to have done little to improve his overall image, despite efforts primarily by his children to use their convention speeches to portray him as a loving father and a successful business executive. Almost 6 in 10 voters say he is not qualified to be president, unchanged from before his convention, and 3 in 10 say they would feel comfortable if he were to become president.
The underlying structure of the race as it now stands leaves Trump in a precarious position. His inability to command greater support among Republicans, if it continues into the fall, will give Clinton a significant advantage in the overall popular vote and probably in the key battleground states. Rather than taking steps to unify the party, Trump has done the opposite in recent days by declining to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, and McCain in their primary contests. On Friday, Trump reversed course and endorsed all three.
The Post-ABC poll shows Clinton winning 92 percent support among self-identified Democrats. That compares with 86 percent support just before the Republican convention and is an indication that the Democratic convention helped consolidate supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) behind her candidacy. Those Sanders Democrats favor Clinton by 86 percent to 5 percent over Trump, larger than the 79 percent to 10 percent in July.
In contrast, Trump is winning 83 percent of self-identified Republicans, nearly identical to the 82 percent support he had among Republicans before his convention in Cleveland. Among those who favored candidates other than Trump in the Republican primaries, Trump leads Clinton by 74 percent to 17 percent – no improvement over the 76 percent to 12 percent before the convention.
Trump enjoyed about equal support among Republican men and Republican women heading into the conventions. In the new poll, his support among Republican men has increased, but his support among Republican women has declined marginally.
Among self-identified independents, Trump edges Clinton by 46 percent to 42 percent. In 2012, exit polling showed Republican nominee Mitt Romney won independents by about the same margin while still losing the election to President Obama by four percentage points, as self-identified Democrats outnumbered Republicans.
Overall, Trump leads Clinton among whites by 52 percent to 40 percent. Romney led Obama among whites by 59 to 39. Among nonwhite voters, Clinton leads Trump by 57 percentage points (75 percent to 18 percent), which is only slightly smaller than the 61-point margin by which Obama led Romney among this group.
The survey highlights a potentially significant fault line within the electorate that could shape the outcome: the division based on education levels. Among whites without college degrees, Trump leads Clinton by 58 percent to 33 percent, while Clinton has a 50-to-44 edge among whites with college degrees.
Trump enjoys a roughly 40-point lead among white men without college degrees but only a high single-digit lead among college-educated white men. Among white women without college degrees, he leads by low double-digits but trails by nearly 20 points among college-educated white women. At this point, he is outperforming Romney among white men without college degrees but trailing Romney’s performance with the other three groups.
One other factor working in Clinton’s favor is Obama’s popularity. His current approval rating is 55 percent among adults overall, about where it has been since June, while his disapproval rating is 42 percent. As many say they strongly approve of the way he is handling his job as who strongly disapprove, a positive shift over the past year.
Trump’s persistent image problem is reflected in a variety of questions. More than three-quarters of registered voters say Trump does not show enough respect for people with whom he disagrees. A majority say he is biased against women and minorities. On the question of whether he goes too far in criticizing people and groups, 57 percent say he does, while 42 percent – equal to the support he receives in the ballot test – say he tells it like it is.
Trump’s overall image is still highly negative, with 36 percent saying they have a favorable impression of him and 61 percent unfavorable. That is marginally better than it was before the conventions.
Clinton has residual image problems, as well. Almost 2 in 3 voters say she is too willing to bend the rules, and 6 in 10 say she is not honest and trustworthy. But those who have a negative opinion of her outnumber those who see her positively by the smallest margin since January, with 52 percent unfavorable and 46 percent favorable. Just before the conventions, her image was net negative by 17 points.
Meanwhile, roughly 6 in 10 say she is qualified to be president, and 44 percent say they would feel comfortable if she were to become president, compared with 54 percent who say they would feel anxious.
The two candidates are mirror images on two questions related to qualifications for the presidency. About 6 in 10 voters say Clinton has the temperament and personality to serve as president, while nearly two-thirds say Trump does not. Just over 7 in 10 say Clinton has a good understanding of world affairs, while more than 6 in 10 say Trump does not.
In direct comparisons, voters say by nearly 2 to 1 that Clinton has the better personality and temperament than Trump and by 51 percent to 39 percent say she understands the problems of people like them. Clinton edges Trump by three points, within the error margin, when asked which candidate is more honest and who would do more to make the country safer and more secure. The second is notable because of Trump’s effort to make issues of safety from terrorism and law and order at home major themes of his candidacy.
Clinton and Trump are trusted about evenly by registered voters to deal with the economy, taxes and terrorism. But Clinton leads Trump by nine points on handling immigration and by 10 points on international trade agreements, two of Trump’s signature issues. She has a more-than-20-point advantage in trust to handle race relations and international crises.
In a campaign in which Trump is running as a political outsider who would shake up Washington and not be beholden to the establishment, the electorate currently favors someone with experience working in the political system by a margin of 55 percent to 42 percent. That represents a marginal shift in the direction of experience since before the conventions.
After the conventions and the nominees’ acceptance speeches, the campaign season has been described as a choice between messages of hope and fear, with Trump drawing a portrait of a nation beset by crime, terrorist threats and a struggling economy and Clinton and other Democrats proclaiming that America remains an exceptional nation, despite its problems. Asked how they see the two candidates, 7 in 10 describe Clinton as an optimist about the nation’s direction, while 4 in 10 say the same of Trump.
A narrow majority say they themselves are pessimistic about the next 12 months.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Monday to Thursday among a random national sample of 1,002 adults interviewed on cellular and landline phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.5 points and 4 points among the sample of 815 registered voters.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Dan Balz, Scott Clement