He makes major gains among Republicans, while Clinton drops among Democrats.
The Trump Bump has arrived.
After wrapping up an acutely fractious primary in which Donald Trump and his opponents lobbed scores of personal, playground insults at one another, the presumptive GOP nominee has quickly unified the vast majority of Republican voters around one goal: defeating Hillary Clinton, his prospective Democratic opponent.
Entering the general election trailing by about 7 points, Trump has rapidly erased most of that gap: As of Friday, Clinton’s advantage was down to roughly 2 points, according to the HuffPost Pollster average. And some polls, like a Fox News survey out on Wednesday, show Trump inching ahead of Clinton.
The main reason for Trump’s surge over the past few weeks? He is earning increasingly larger shares of the Republican vote — even as some prominent GOP leaders, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, haven’t yet committed to supporting their party’s apparent nominee. But rank-and-file Republican voters are lining up behind Trump in large numbers, closing the gap with Clinton’s support among Democrats, which had been higher during earlier stages of the campaign.
“Republican voters are consolidating around Trump, and it’s been beneficial to him not to have other Republican opponents constantly attacking him,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, who advises the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA.
The data point to a close race in the fall, with about a dozen or so states likely to be decisive in the Electoral College — all consistent with recent history.
In the Fox News national poll, Trump led Clinton among all registered voters, 45 percent to 42 percent – a reversal from last month, when Clinton had a 7-point lead, 48 percent to 41 percent. In the new Fox poll, Clinton wins 83 percent of self-identified Democrats, while Trump takes 82 percent of Republicans. Trump’s lead is built on a 16-point edge among independents, 46 percent to 30 percent.
A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted over roughly the same period found Clinton up by 6 points, 47 percent to 41 percent. But, like the Fox poll, Clinton earns roughly the same percentage of Democrats (88 percent) as Trump does of Republicans (85 percent). The CBS News/New York Times poll, unlike Fox, showed a tied race among independents.
In the states, polls over the past two weeks in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Arizona and Georgia all showed the candidates locked within 5 points. Together, these states alone are worth 98 electoral votes.
Other data also point to Trump’s consolidation of Republicans — combined with, or perhaps because of, Clinton’s unpopularity — as the primary driver behind a tightening race.
Gallup has been tracking the candidates’ images among their own partisans — and interviews over the past week, conducted May 12-18, find Trump as popular among Republicans (65 percent favorable/30 percent unfavorable) as Clinton is among Democrats (66 percent favorable/29 percent unfavorable).
Trump’s solidification of the Republican vote is only half the story, however. The Gallup data show Clinton sliding among Democrats: She dropped four points in the week between Gallup’s two most recent surveys.
Both candidates remain historically unpopular among the broader pool of all Americans: The Gallup data show Trump with only a 34-percent favorable rating among all adults, compared to 39 percent for Clinton. Majorities have unfavorable opinions of both.
Among independent voters, Trump’s numbers have improved since he vanquished his remaining GOP rivals in the Indiana primary on May 3.
“His number among Republicans certainly is getting better. And that’s going to be a key, holding that vote,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in New Jersey. “But, right now, independents are looking at this populist message, and it’s resonating a little, at least while Democrats are fighting among themselves.”
Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway noted other improvements in Trump’s numbers, including the fact that he’s tied in the Fox News poll with Clinton among voters with a college degree and was winning 35 percent of voters younger than 35.
“Trump’s recent polling gains represent both a coalescing of rank-and-file Republican voters and portend a broader trend. It is not just simply among Republicans where he is developing support,” Conway said, adding that Trump “has made great gains in the process of unifying the party behind his candidacy.”
While Trump has undeniably surged, it’s also likely he remains behind Clinton. Excluding surveys from the automated pollster Rasmussen Reports, which has been significantly biased toward Republicans in the past, Trump’s lead in the Fox News poll was his first advantage over Clinton since a Suffolk University/USA Today poll conducted immediately following Trump’s victory in the New Hampshire primary.
Clinton’s allies claim the tightening in the race is natural, and they always expected Trump to challenge Clinton.
“I said several weeks ago, ‘This is going to a close and competitive election,’” said Garin. “That wasn’t spin. That was our honest assessment of what the race is likely to be. To me, there’s nothing particularly shocking or surprising that recent polls show the trial heat to be closer.”
But just as anti-Clinton sentiments have helped Trump unify Republicans, Democrats expect the same to happen when their nominating process concludes.
“I think it’s certain that Clinton would benefit from putting the intra-party divisiveness behind her in the same way that Trump has benefited from that on his side,” Garin said. “Polling in 2008 reflected a unification among Democrats after the last primary as a result of Hillary expressing her support for Obama and encouraging her own supporters to also get behind him.”
Conway, the GOP pollster, disagreed, noting that Clinton’s numbers among Democrats have been sliding as the race has neared the finish line, as opposed to Trump’s, which ticked up as time went on. And Trump, Conway said, had more room to grow among GOP voters than Clinton will have with Democrats once she wraps up the nomination.
“She has been stronger among Democrats than he has been among Republicans for a while now,” said Conway.
But Clinton herself is still making the argument that the party will unify in the general election to defeat a common enemy, just as Republicans appear to be uniting now.
“I think what brings us together is Donald Trump,” Clinton said Thursday in an interview with CNN. “I think that’s what brings us together.”