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Why the Polls Are Tightening Up

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Maybe Hillary Clinton isn't going to be elected president after all. That's a thought that's evoking glee in some, nausea in others, terror in some and relief at the removal of an increasingly tedious figure from public view in still more.

The thought is prompted by the CNN/ORC poll showing Clinton trailing Donald Trump in four-candidate pairings by a 45 to 43 percent margin. Clinton's lead in the RealClearPolitics.com average of recent polls is down from 7.6 percent on Aug. 9 to 2.8 percent today. The FiveThirtyEight website has Trump's chances of winning up to 30 percent.

The CNN/ORC poll has been criticized for having more self-identified Republicans than Democrats. Since random sample polling was invented in 1935, there hasn't been a presidential election in which self-identified Republicans outnumbered self-identified Democrats. The closest was in 2004, when the exit poll showed both parties with 37 percent.

But there may be something to learn from CNN/ORC's decision to whittle their sample down to likely voters. The Clinton campaign's goal has been to replicate Barack Obama's 51 percent coalition in 2012. Assembling that coalition relied on spurring turnout among black, Hispanic and young voters.

There are plenty of signs Clinton is poorly positioned to do that. Black turnout and Democratic percentage is likely to be down, at least slightly, from when the first black president was seeking reelection. Polls have shown Hispanics less interested and motivated by this campaign than just about any other demographic group.

Young voters, while repelled by Trump, are not attracted by Clinton. She ran way behind Bernie Sanders among young women as well as young men in primaries and caucuses. Four-candidate polls typically show Clinton running far behind the 60 percent Obama won among under-30s in 2012, with as many as 20 percent preferring Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green candidate Jill Stein.

So turnout could tilt more Republican this time. And these polls mostly don't measure the impact of the recently released notes from Clinton's FBI interviews that took place over the weekend before July 4. They were released late Friday afternoon before the Labor Day weekend, and only two current national polls included some interviews conducted afterwards.

So most respondents had no time to digest the juicy bits, such as the BleachBit destruction of thousands of emails after they were subpoenaed by the House committee on Benghazi. Also revealed was the fact that Clinton used not one email device, as she claimed in March 2015, but at least 13, and that several were lost and two smashed with a hammer. When asked about the "C" notations on documents, Clinton said that perhaps they had something to do about alphabetical order, even though there were no documents labeled "A," "B" or "D." The candidate touted as the most qualified ever professed deep ignorance about government classification practices.

According to polls, more than 60 percent of Americans believe Clinton is not honest or trustworthy. The FBI interview notes provide further convincing evidence that she is a liar and a cheat. The kid gloves treatment she got from the FBI -- no recordings, allowing aide and co-conspirator Cheryl Mills in the interview -- confirm the impression, created by the intended-to-be-secret meeting of Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch days before, that the fix was in. So does the fact that Clinton and her aides in court-ordered interviews claimed loss of memory 378 times.

None of this is helpful to Hillary Clinton's candidacy. It helps explain why she has not subjected herself to a standard press conference in 278 days, and why the polls are suddenly tightening.

Another reason is that Trump finally found his bearings. When Clinton was fundraising in Hollywood, the Hamptons and Martha's Vineyard, Trump visited flood-stricken Louisiana and met with President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City, where he was treated as and acted like a serious national leader. That night in Phoenix he dialed back on unrealistic immigration promises (of deporting all 11 million illegals) and advanced a surprisingly plausible reform package.

In a world where FedEx and UPS can track packages and Visa and MasterCard can process purchases, why should it be impossible for the government to track visa holders and verify job applicants' legal status? And why shouldn't we revise immigration law to encourage high-skill and discourage low-skill immigration? The United States always needs more Einsteins but hasn't needed more low-skill job seekers any time lately.

Of course, Trump has proved himself capable of self-harm, and many voters will likely continue to find him unacceptable. But suddenly it's looking like a real contest.

Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.


See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentaries by Michael Barone.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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