Hey, we need to talk.
Wait, who said that?
It’s me, your panicked liberal friend. Remember me? The one who is convinced Donald Trump is going to be our next president and is looking for rental properties in Canada.
Oh, hey, how are you doing?
Not so good. Two weeks ago you told me that it would take a miracle for Donald Trump to win the presidency, and now I’m seeing all these polls that show Trump either tied with or beating Hillary Clinton. I’ve been in a fetal position for two days, living on Ritz crackers and marshmallow fluff.
OK, take it easy. You have to remember that the election is still 5½ months away and you can’t read too much into polls in May. If you panic over every poll that shows the race tight between now and November, you’re going to make yourself crazy.
But, I’m panicked now! If you’re sure Trump is going to lose, why is he leading in the polls?
There are a few reasons. First of all, we shouldn’t freak out over a single poll, especially one that stands in contrast to what other polls are telling us about the race. We should always look at polling averages to get a sense of where the race stands.
So if polling averages are the thing to look at, why shouldn’t I freak out over the fact that Pollster.com shows Clinton ahead by 2 points and Real Clear Politics has Trump up by 0.2?
You mean, aside from the fact that it’s May and the election is in November?
I already told you, I’m panicking now!
OK, OK. There are a few things to look at in some of the polls that are included in these averages. First, they include a Rasmussen poll that shows Clinton losing by 5 points to Trump and winning less than half the nonwhite vote.
That doesn’t seem right.
It’s not. She will likely win 70 to 80 percent of the nonwhite vote. Along the same lines, the Fox poll has Trump getting 23 percent of the Latino vote (which is what Mitt Romney received in 2012). It shows the electorate +1 Republican even though Democrats have a 6 to 7 point advantage in voter registration. The NBC poll that has Clinton up by 3 points gives Trump 28 percent of the Latino vote. Other polls suggest that the percent of white voters will go up this year, even though that number has declined every year since 1992. For example, that year 87 percent of the electorate was white. In 2012, it was 72 percent. Any poll that shows Trump doing as well as Romney with Hispanics, and also shows a rising number of white voters, should be viewed with suspicion.
So, you’re saying the polls are skewed?
I wouldn’t use that word, but I would say that a few of the polls that show a close race seem to be using some problematic methodology — and it’s always important to look closely at poll internals before jumping to conclusions.
OK, forget the head-to-head polls; if Trump is such a toxic candidate, why is he even close to Clinton in the polls? Shouldn’t she be crushing him?
Not necessarily; and certainly not right now. It’s important to keep in mind where we are in the race — the Republican campaign is over and the Democratic one is not. That goes a long way toward explaining what’s happening right now. Republicans are rallying around their likely standard-bearer. Even some of Trump’s harshest critics are urging voters to back the presumptive nominee. A couple of weeks ago, Senator Lindsey Graham said he “cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump.” Now he’s urging conservative donors to get behind him. So Republicans accepting reality is almost certainly pushing up Trump’s numbers.
On the Democratic side, since the race is ongoing, with more primaries remaining, you have a lot of Democrats who support Bernie Sanders and are not yet willing to put their backing behind Clinton. As my colleague James Pindell put it, the race “has tightened . . . because Republicans have come around to Trump, while Clinton is still dealing with a divided party.” For example, according to the recent New York Times poll, which has Clinton up 6 points over Trump, 28 percent of Sanders voters say they won’t back her in November.
Oh no, she’s going to lose, she’s going to lose! Run for your lives!
Wait a second. Calm down. Back in April 2008, 35 percent of Clinton supporters said they would vote for the likely GOP nominee, John McCain, over Barack Obama. At the end of the day, however, the overwhelming majority of Democrats voted for Obama.
Unless Bernie Sanders refuses to endorse Clinton — and I can’t imagine he would do that — the vast majority of Sanders backers will vote for the party nominee. Indeed, when the last primary occurs on June 7 and Clinton wraps up the nomination, I expect that you will see a jump in her poll numbers, as Democrats unite behind the nominee.
So when the Sanders supporters on my Facebook page say they’re not going to vote for Clinton in November, I shouldn’t take it too seriously?
That would be my advice. People talk a lot during primaries, but, in the end, partisan affiliation is a pretty powerful thing, especially in a highly polarized political environment like we have today — and especially with a candidate like Trump. If Sanders endorses Clinton and works for her in the fall and encourages his supporters to get behind her, I fully expect she’ll win upwards of 90 percent of the Democratic vote.
But what about all these new voters that Trump is bringing out? What if they all turn out to vote in November?
There are lots of myths around Donald Trump’s support, and this is probably the biggest one. What Trump is doing is energizing Republicans who have been reliable GOP voters for years to cast a ballot in the Republican primary. These aren’t new voter. They traditionally voted in the general election but sat out the primary, and the overwhelming majority are likely to vote in November — for a Republican — with or without Trump on the ballot.
The basic structure of this race — and, in fact, of presidential politics — hasn’t changed all that much. Democrats begin the race with a slight advantage in the electoral map and in the popular vote. They have a big demographic advantage in that 28 to 30 percent of the electorate will be nonwhite and Democrats have a huge advantage among those voters — an advantage that will likely be even bigger this year. They have a big edge with women, one that will be accentuated by having Trump and the first female nominee on the ticket. And, if recent reporting is any indication, in key battleground states like Ohio and Florida, the Democrats have a significant infrastructure advantage. Plus, there are still many months to go before the election. Lots of voters still aren’t paying attention. We still have the conventions, the debates, campaign ads, etc. It’s way too early to be focused on head-to-head polls.
So you’re saying maybe I shouldn’t put down the deposit on that house outside Vancouver.
Well, I hear British Columbia is lovely, but I might hold off on that for now.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.