Keeping your hopes up on a losing political campaign is a bit like playing Jenga. As more and more pieces get knocked out, it’s harder and harder to keep upright. Those pieces can be varied: poor fundraising numbers, gaffes, hard-hitting ads from opponents. They can also be poll numbers — and a handful of new state polls knocked some significant blocks out of Donald Trump’s tower.
In New Hampshire, a survey from WBUR shows Hillary Clinton leading Trump by 17 points. In Pennsylvania, a Franklin & Marshall College poll has Clinton up 11 among likely voters. In Michigan, a Detroit News poll shows Clinton up 6 points in a head-to-head match-up.
These come hot on the heels of polls from CNN/ORC and Fox News showing that Clinton’s got a wide national lead (plus-9 in CNN’s and plus-10 in Fox’s). The polls also follow day after day of negative press for Trump, including his poorly received fight with the family of a soldier killed in Iraq, his declaration at a rally that he “always wanted a Purple Heart” and reports that his campaign staff is becoming demoralized.
He’s in bad shape, and these new state polls will not help his shaky position. The New Hampshire and Pennsylvania surveys break out how various demographics feel about the candidates. As usual, women are far more supportive of Clinton than Trump — plus-31 in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania and plus-21 in Michigan — but Clinton’s running closer to Trump among men than in past polls. In New Hampshire, a state she lost badly in the primary and Trump won easily, Clinton’s actually leading with men.
Part of Trump’s problem is that Republicans aren’t solidly on-board. Clinton gets 89 percent of Democrats in New Hampshire and 78 percent in Pennsylvania. Trump gets two-thirds of Republicans in the Granite State and only slightly more in Pennsylvania — and this is in a head-to-head match-up. More remarkably, Clinton’s net favorability in each state — the percentage of those saying they view her positively minus those who view her negatively — is about even. Trump’s is minus-30.
This week — an epically bad one for Trump — has seen a number of prominent Republicans bail on his candidacy. If Trump manages to reel Republicans back in, to get them to back him at the rates they backed Mitt Romney in 2012 or John McCain in 2008, these numbers would improve a great deal. If the party continues to gingerly step away, though, that would likely become a lot harder.
The worst news in these polls is in Pennsylvania. The state is essential to Trump’s candidacy, both because he has argued that working class white voters in the Rust Belt will flock to his candidacy and because he needs to pick up some states Romney lost four years ago to beat Clinton, and Pennsylvania’s been shifting more Republican. In an interview with a local news program in Florida on Tuesday, Trump said that, “in Pennsylvania, we’re doing fantastically.” He isn’t.
It’s critical to remember that, however wobbly it might be, Trump’s Jenga tower hasn’t collapsed. This is a very good moment for Hillary Clinton, but that doesn’t mean she can maintain the leads she’s seen in these polls.
If we compare the RealClearPolitics polling averages from these three states to where Barack Obama was in 2012, you can see that Clinton’s margins aren’t that much better, and that in 2012, Obama hadn’t yet had his convention. The most important part of the graphs below, though, is what happened after the first debate between Romney and Obama. That debate was disastrous for Obama, and his poll numbers tanked afterward.
Political Jenga is more like a Jenga competition, where each campaign is trying to hold its own tower together. Trump’s tower isn’t stable right now, but if he can use moments like the debates to shake Clinton’s — which Romney did to Obama in 2012 — he can still win this thing. In that Florida interview, Trump indicated that this was his strategy. “More focus on Hillary Clinton causes a disaster,” he said. “We’re going to focus more on Hillary Clinton.”
He just has to make sure his tower doesn’t collapse first.