It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for Donald Trump. Recent polls show him trailing badly to Hillary Clinton — between 5 and 7 points nationally. In state polls, the tale is even uglier; Clinton has double digit leads in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, and a 9-point advantage in Ohio. According to Nate Silver’s first projection for the election in November, Clinton has an 80 percent chance of being elected president.
As bad as this might seem, Trump may be in more political peril than these numbers suggest.
For example, it’s more likely than not that recent polls are under-counting non-white voters and weighting the electorate as being more white than it will be on election day. By some estimates, the percentage of non-white voters could be 30 percent — and, with reports of record high voter registration increases among Hispanic voters, that number could be even higher. However, many recent polls show an electorate that is around 25 percent non-white. And when polls count Hispanic voters, they are coming up with some odd results. For example, the recent Quinnipiac poll, which shows a close race between Clinton and Trump, gives the Democrat a 50-to-33 advantage among Hispanic voters. If that ends up being correct, I’ll eat this computer.
But the undercounting of non-white voters, a phenomenon that was evident in 2012, is only a small part of Trump’s problem. The much bigger issue is that he’s not really running a presidential campaign. He has little money and staff, and is running few ads. He has no plan for mobilizing occasional Republican voters, can’t rely on strong support from members of his own party, and has largely outsourced his campaign to the Republican National Committee.
Ironically, for Trump, who brags incessantly of his wealth, money is his biggest problem. According to the most recent FEC filings from both candidates, Trump has a meager $1.3 million cash in hand. That’s the kind of number associated with a competitive House race, not a presidential campaign. To date, Clinton has raised more than $240 million through May. (That doesn’t include her super PAC). Trump has raised $14 million, in addition to the $45 million he loaned his campaign.
As a result, Trump is simply being overwhelmed when it comes to campaign advertisements. Clinton and her allies spent $26 million on campaign ads in June. Trump and his supporters have spent nothing. Looking ahead, Clinton and her supporters have booked $117 million in ad buys between now and November. Trump has reserved $700,000 worth of ads.
Clinton’s money advantage also means she has a more than a 10-to-1 edge in campaign staff. In state races, Trump is relying almost exclusively on the RNC, which of course has responsibility for not just the presidential campaign but also downballot races. Although considering that Trump has downplayed the importance of analytics and data collection for mobilizing voters, it’s hard to say how much advantage Trump would receive from actually having a full campaign team on the ground.
This, however, gets to why Trump is in so much trouble. Not only is he badly trailing in the polls, but he doesn’t have the resources to easily make up the ground. There are a rather large percentage of voters who are undecided or perhaps considering a third party candidate. How will Trump persuade them when he is being almost completely shut out in ad spending and is facing an opponent with plenty of cash that she can use to attack him? It’s not as if voters don’t know anything about Trump. He has huge name recognition and is deeply unpopular, which means he would need to actually change the minds of voters in order to make up the gap with Clinton. Right now, Trump’s poll numbers are right around 40 percent. How does he get that number up to a point where he could be in striking range of winning?
Even if one could identify a plausible path to Trump winning the White House, it’s hard to see how he could feasibly implement it. All of this is a long way of saying that if you think the last few weeks have been bad for Trump, it might get worse.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.