Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will meet Monday night for their first debate in a virtual dead heat in the race for the White House, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, with the Democratic nominee’s August advantage erased after recent difficulties and the GOP nominee still facing doubts about his qualifications and temperament.
Likely voters split 46 percent for Clinton and 44 percent for Trump, with Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson at 5 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein at 1 percent. Among registered voters, Clinton and Trump are tied at 41 percent, with Johnson at 7 percent and Stein at 2 percent.
In a two-way matchup between the major-party nominees, Clinton tops Trump by 49 percent to 47 percent among likely voters, and the two are tied at 46 percent among all registered voters. Clinton’s two-point edge among likely voters, in both the four-way and two-way ballot tests, is within the survey’s 4.5 percentage-point margin of sampling error.
The findings underscore how much the presidential contest has tightened in recent weeks, after Clinton emerged from the two national conventions with a clear lead and with Trump on the defensive. In early September, Clinton led Trump by five points among likely voters. In early August, she led by eight points.
As Clinton has run into some turbulence, Trump has worked to present himself as a more disciplined candidate in an effort to attract more support from voters who traditionally have supported Republican nominees.
Some other national polls currently show Clinton with a slightly larger lead, but on balance, the pre-debate survey averages show the margin in the race in low single digits. The tightened race is a reminder of how much will be at stake Monday night at Hofstra University when the two meet at 9 p.m. before what could be one of the largest television audiences ever for a presidential debate.
Eight in 10 voters say they plan to watch Monday’s debate, and 44 percent expect Clinton to win vs. 34 percent expecting Trump to come out ahead. Expectations for Clinton are lower than they were for President Obama against Mitt Romney ahead of the 2012 debates, when 56 percent thought Obama would prevail vs. 29 percent for Romney. Although 17 percent of registered voters say the debate could change their minds, only 6 percent say there is a good chance of that occurring.
Most Americans say they are following the campaign diligently, but a higher percentage of Trump supporters appear to be paying close attention than Clinton backers. Also, more Clinton backers say they are not registered to vote, which adds to pressure on her team to get them registered and to the polls.
Another potentially worrying sign for Clinton is that she is getting a smaller share of voters who supported Obama in 2012 than Trump is getting among those who backed Romney.
Obama’s approval rating continues to be a potential boost for Clinton, however. His current approval among all adults is 55 percent, dipping from a high of 58 percent two weeks ago. But Clinton is facing a greater challenge reuniting Obama’s winning coalition. Roughly 8 in 10 likely voters who supported him in 2012 currently back Clinton today, while Trump wins 9 in 10 of those who supported Mitt Romney.
SOURCE: Dan Balz and Scott Clement
The Washington Post