A Notable New Poll

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September 18, 2016 10:05 a.m.

A new Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll of Pennsylvania is out last night shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by 9 points in a head to head match up and 8 points when third party candidates are added.

A few points of context about this poll are worth noting.

First, this is a highly respected in-state pollster. And the margin is significantly above what was the PollTracker Average (a 4.3 percentage point margin for Clinton) prior to this poll. Needless to say, if polls didn’t show Clinton with a lead in Pennsylvania that would signal fairly dire election scenario. But this poll shows a margin higher than the current trendline. Indeed, the last time the average was in this territory was in early August. (With the addition of this poll, the PollTracker Average moved to Clinton +6.3.

Now, what does this tell us?

It may just tell us that Clinton likely still has a lead in Pennsylvania, which is nice to know but something we assume. I believe it suggests something more though. The last polls recorded for Pennsylvania were from the first week of this month. The final date on which the most recent poll was in the field was September 9th – in other words, entirely before but just before “deplorables” and Clinton’s health scare. This poll was taken from Monday to Friday of last week, 9-16th. If the rapid contraction of Clinton’s lead that began that weekend were persisting, or if Trump’s upward momentum were continuing and propelling him into a clear lead nationwide, we would expect to see some further tightening of the margin in Pennsylvania too. But we don’t. We actually have a Clinton lead about twice as large as average before the poll was released. That’s significant.

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Now, a few obvious caveats. This is one poll in one state. Muhlenberg is a highly-rated in-state poll – they know Pennsylvania. But I believe this is their first poll of the race this year. So we have no earlier Muhlenberg poll to compare it to. Like any poll, this one has a margin of error which, from a statistical point of view, could place the race near a tie. With all that said, though, this poll is significant because it’s one possible piece of evidence for what we discussed as a possibility Friday: that the shift in the numbers we saw last week wasn’t a decisive turn in the race but an ephemeral response to two fairly high intensity news events that demoralized Clinton’s supporters and energized Trump’s.

We’ll need more state and national polls to know whether what I call the ‘Clinton Wall’ remains intact. But this poll is more consistent with that hypothesis than a true shift in the dynamics of the race.

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