New Polling Gives Trump A Lead Over Clinton, But Don’t Freak Out Just Yet

Following the frankly terrifying spectacle that was the Republican National Convention, on an equally terrifying note, Republican nominee Donald Trump has seen gains in polls, even leading Hillary Clinton in some. Trump leads by one percentage point in a new CBS poll, by five points in a CNN poll, by four points in this week’s edition of the Morning Consult poll, and by four points in a USC Dornsife and Los Angeles Times tracking poll. Additionally, Clinton’s leads over Trump in other polling have substantially narrowed. But Trump-Clinton polling right now shouldn’t scare you that much, and you can hold off from moving to Canada (for now), because polling during the conventions has historically been all over the place. There’s a much more accurate way to gauge a candidate’s chances during the conventions than taking the numbers at face value.

Following their respective conventions, the nominees of both major parties tend to see substantial boosts of anywhere from five to seven percentage points in the week after the convention, before their numbers stabilize to roughly where they were before. In 2008, prior to the Republican convention, Arizona Senator John McCain trailed then-Senator Obama by four points; by the end of the RNC, McCain held a lead of more than five points over Obama. And we all know what happened, after that. Study after study conducted by political scientists over the decades heeds similar results.

Party conventions offer their respective candidates not only greater exposure, but far more positive exposure through speech after speech of positive remarks about the nominee. Additionally, the average American who probably isn’t following The Hill or CNN Politics on Twitter isn’t keeping up with the primary races too closely, and (with this year’s exception, as Trump refuses to close his mouth) things don’t heat up or get that interesting until campaigning for the general begins.

The goal of conventions is to unify a party’s constituents behind the nominee, which is why the ultimate way to gauge a convention’s success, and, ultimately, a candidate’s chances at the presidency, is to note how unified the party appears to be behind the candidate at the end of the convention. Surprisingly enough for all the dissent among moderate Republicans and even various coups, alleged and real, Trump appears to have done a pretty solid job winning Republican support, even without former rival Ted Cruz’s endorsement.

Meanwhile, for all the praise notable speakers like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, actress and comedian Sarah Silverman, First Lady Michelle Obama, and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders offered Clinton, booing and dissent by Bernie-or-Bust supporters was persistent throughout the DNC Monday evening.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton Holds National Security Discussion In Hampton, Virginia
CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Additionally, Five Thirty Eight notes that Sanders attracted “irregular” voters to the electoral process who got involved specifically for Bernie and are more loyal to him than they are, the Democratic Party. To further complicate matters, leaked DNC emails revealing anti-Sanders plotting among party officials further divided the Sanders and Clinton camps ahead of the convention. On the other side of the aisle, the voters who supported Trump’s rivals are all relatively homogeneous, and Trump won’t have much trouble winning them over.

Ultimately, Sanders’ supporters aren’t guarantees for Clinton, but this doesn’t mean Trump’s leads over Clinton in polls released Monday are totally accurate. We’ll just have to see how much of the Sanders camp Clinton manages to win over at the end of this week, and go from there. For the time being, let’s all take a minute to calm down and hold off on packing for Canada.

Early polling during January through April tends to predict the results of a general election far more accurately than the chaotic period of May through July, and Clinton held a cozy lead over Trump during that time. Polling during fall, just ahead of the general, tends to be even more accurate, according to a study by Princeton’s Sam Wang. So, let’s hope you don’t need that suitcase.