Dems brush off polls showing close Clinton-Trump race

Dems brush off polls showing close Clinton-Trump race
© Greg Nash

Democrats on Tuesday brushed off polls showing Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Top diplomat said request for specific probes in Ukraine was 'contrary' to US policy Feehery: What Republicans must do to adapt to political realignment MORE in a dead-heat with Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE across three crucial general-election states.

Most Democratic strategists insist that it is very difficult to see a path to the White House for Trump, given his low approval ratings with a number of crucial groups, particularly Hispanics. They also cast a skeptical eye on polls conducted at this point in the election cycle.

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“It’s May — and I’m pretty sure no general election was ever decided in May,” laughed one Democratic strategist, who asked to remain anonymous.

Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom Line Bottom Line Lobbying world MORE (D-Nev.), said that, in politics, “there is always reason to be nervous.”

“But folks shouldn’t read too much into these polls. There is a long way between now and November, and I continue to believe that Donald Trump is highly radioactive when it comes to the general election,” he said.

One poll released by Quinnipiac University on Tuesday showed Clinton four points adrift of Trump in the key state of Ohio, which has voted for the winner of every presidential election from 1964 to the present day. The same organization’s new polls also showed her leading him by just a single point in Pennsylvania, which has not voted for a Republican since 1988, and by the same margin in Florida.

All those results were within the polls' margin of error. But the idea that Clinton could be tied with Trump in those states bolsters his claim that he can expand the electoral map, in part because of his appeal to blue-collar men. 

The Quinnipiac poll also got some pushback on social media from liberal-leaning skeptics who noted that its assumptions about the 2016 electorate were questionable — specifically, the idea that white people would cast a larger share of the total vote than they did in 2012.

However, the idea that the election could be close was further strengthened by a poll released Tuesday morning by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) firm, which found Clinton leading by four points nationwide — an adequate, but hardly overpowering, advantage.

The PPP poll also found a close similarity between the level of comfort expressed by supporters of both parties about their probable nominee. 

Despite the tumultuous GOP primary process, 72 percent of Republicans said they are comfortable with the idea of Trump being the party nominee. Seventy-five percent of Democrats said the same about Clinton. The findings suggests that divisions between Trump and Republican leadership in Washington are not replicated among rank-and-file supporters.

It is all but impossible to find a Democratic strategist who believes that Clinton will lose the general election, but some do urge caution, suggesting that Trump’s appeal should not be underestimated.

“A lot of Democrats, labor people, liberals, think this is a done deal,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “And I keep saying, ‘We have underestimated Trump before, don’t do it again.’ I, personally, am cautious. Trump has a way of reaching people’s emotional gut level that neither Bernie SandersBernie SandersTech firms face skepticism over California housing response Press: Another billionaire need not apply Ex-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick mulling 2020 run: report MORE nor Hillary Clinton have." 

Clinton could also face some tricky moments over the next few weeks, deepening Democratic concerns. 

Anything short of a full exoneration over her use of a private email and server while secretary of State will create negative headlines. Meanwhile, Sanders, the left-wing senator from Vermont whose campaign has far surpassed early expectations, continues to notch victories. He defeated Clinton by around 15 points in Tuesday's West Virginia primary.

There have also been long-standing concerns among some Democrats about Clinton’s prowess as a candidate, and about her likability. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month, 56 percent of voters said they held a negative view of Clinton while just 32 percent held a positive view.

Trump is even more personally unpopular, however. And many Democrats believe that Clinton’s experience will alleviate some other doubts voters may have about her as the campaign goes on.

“I think that Hillary's favorables will go up after the primary is over,” said one Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen. “There isn't a class of people that Hillary has taken on that limits her growth like Trump with women, immigrants, Latinos. A general election match-up will have her look like the class act she is compared to him.”

Others take reassurance from the idea that Trump’s celebrity will have less magnetism as voters ponder the stakes in November.

“It’s a little early in the process for people to wrap their heads around the idea that Donald Trump could have the nuclear launch-codes,” said another Democratic strategist unaffiliated with the Clinton campaign, Evan Stavisky. “As the election comes closer, that suspension of disbelief will end.”

Stavisky added that Democrats had some in-built advantages with the electoral college and with the nation’s shifting demographics that Trump would struggle to overcome.

“Most polls continue to show Hillary Clinton with a significant lead. Most electoral maps continue to show some advantage to the Democratic candidate,” he said. “And, ultimately, I think most Democrats would have difficulty thinking of Donald Trump as President of the United States, for no other reason than the demographic changes in the country.”