When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, a standard chunk of his stump speech was devoted to extolling how well he was doing in the polls or, alternatively, how the latest polls were wrong.
Trump isn’t talking so much about polls this year. Then again, there hasn’t been a lot for him to say that is positive.
But in the post-convention surveys, this has changed. Trump has closed the gap nationally from being down 9 percentage points to Joe Biden in July to down 7.5 percentage points now, according to the RealClearPolitics average. He has also moved the polling needle slightly in swing states.
It was enough that Trump was talking about polling again during an interview on Fox News on Wednesday night.
“I think we are leading in Florida. We’re leading in Wisconsin. We’re leading in Pennsylvania. We’re leading in North Carolina. I think we are leading in New Hampshire. We are leading by a lot — and we are really leading by a lot in Ohio, I just saw a poll a little while ago. I think we are leading all over the place, frankly,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity.
For the record, he is not leading public polls in any of those places. And he is most certainly not winning Ohio by a lot. The most recent Ohio poll was done by Rasmussen, which often gives Trump is most favorable poll numbers, found Biden ahead there 49 percent to 44 percent last week.
That said, there has been a tightening in other swing states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina. This is clearly good news for Trump. He isn’t in a double-digit polling free fall like he was just a few months ago.
For example, Biden once led Florida in the RealClearPolitics by an average of 8 percentage points in late July, an advantage that now is 1.2 percentage points. During the same period in Pennsylvania, Biden’s lead shrunk from an average of 8.5 percentage points to 4.3. In North Carolina, it went from Biden leading on average by 4.7 percentage points to leading by 1.5 percentage points. In late July, Trump was fully tied with Biden in Texas according to the polling average, but now is up, on average, by 3.5 percentage points.
These numbers have created some understandable concern in Democratic circles in recent weeks. After all, Hillary Clinton led in national polling by 2.1 percentage points in 2016 and won the popular vote nationally, but that translated into only 227 electoral votes and a loss.
But here is the bad news for Trump. While his polling hasn’t looked this good for months, he is still behind. And a few weeks removed from the Republican National Convention, there is no sign that he has actual momentum to keep improving on his poll numbers.
And Trump is not running television advertising this week in the swing states of Arizona, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, or Pennsylvania, while Biden is running ads in those states, according to the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics. It can be tough to move numbers without running ads.
The current polling situation means two things going forward.
First, besides a credible coronavirus vaccine being announced before Election Day, Trump’s only chance at reelection will be strong debate performances.
Second, a new goal for Republicans might be to give up on the White House, while hoping that Trump makes the presidential race just competitive enough that it doesn’t sink their chances at retaining control of the US Senate.