Is this just a natural, cyclical closing of the huge gap that existed a month ago? Is it something more significant? I think the answer is mostly fundamental and as simple as 'people don't like her and don't trust her'. Matt Yglesias explains. Bold emphasis is mine.
Hillary Clinton’s ongoing campaign to paint Donald Trump as unacceptable in the eyes of most Americans is working. It’s just not good enough. That’s the message of the spate of recent polls showing a dramatically tightened race that Trump may even be narrowly winning.
The truth is that Trump is not doing well. Even Trump’s very best recent polls (which, by definition, are outliers that likely overstate his true level of support) show him receiving fewer votes than Republican candidates usually get. A recent CNN poll of Ohio, for example, that gave him a 5-point lead in the crucial swing state also shows him only getting 46 percent of the vote. Mitt Romney and John McCain both did better than that. Clinton’s attacks and Trump’s well-known weaknesses seem to have him losing the support of some GOP loyalists, even in his best polls.
The problem is that Clinton herself is doing worse. Because despite her campaign’s emphasis on Trump’s weirdness and unpopularity, that isn’t the only force shaping this race. It’s profoundly unusual across two other dimensions — the strength of third party candidates and the weakness of the frontrunner — that will probably prevent Clinton from ever opening up a sustained comfortable lead unless she can do something to make herself better-liked.
"A freakishly unpopular frontrunner".
Despite a couple of days’ worth of bad polls, Clinton still leads in national polling averages. It remains the case that if the election were held tomorrow, she would win.
In that context, her 42-56 favorable/unfavorable split in national polling is truly, freakishly bad. Political junkies have probably heard the factoid that Clinton is the least-popular major party nominee of all time — except for Donald Trump. But conventional dialogue still underrates exactly how weird this situation is. John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Bob Dole were all viewed favorably by a majority of Americans on the eve of presidential elections that they lost, and Mitt Romney was extremely close.
It is totally unheard of to win a presidential election while having deeply underwater favorable ratings, and it is actually quite common to lose one despite above water favorable ratings.
Since there are only two major party nominees in the race and they are both far underwater right now, it’s pretty likely that precedent will be shattered. But we are in a bit of an undiscovered country in terms of the underlying opinion dynamics.
Here I am given hope that the two "major minor" candidates (since there are almost a dozen others that will appear on someone's ballot somewhere), more commonly referred to as third-party candidates, are still to rise.
RealClearPolitics’ four-way polling average shows Gary Johnson at 9.2 percent and Jill Stein at 2.7 percent.
If those numbers hold up (which of course they might not), they would make Johnson the strongest third-party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992. That’s a big deal. Stein’s strength is, however, even more unusual. She is polling ahead of where Ralph Nader did in 2000 and is the strongest fourth-party candidate we’ve seen in a 100 years, besting both the Thurmond and Wallace tickets from the infamously four-sided election of 1948.
To find a fourth-place candidate polling higher than Stein’s current results, you need to dial all the way back to the 6 percent of the vote Eugene Debs earned in the bizarre 1912 election that saw the GOP nominee (the incumbent, no less!) finish in third place behind a third-party bid spearheaded by ex-president Teddy Roosevelt.
Did you know that Perot was only polling in the eight-percentage-point range when he was allowed to be in the debates with GHWB and Bill Clinton in 1992? In context, he had polled as high as the thirties and forties as a tease candidate, before announcing that July he would not run, and then declaring as an independent on October 1, ten days before the first debate. If not for Perot's help, we might have never seen the first Clinton in the White House. (To be certain, Bush lost in '92 because of his own mistakes. Just like Al Gore, eight years later.)
But back to Hillary.
Lambasting Trump while being unpopular herself would be a clear winning strategy in a zero-sum, head-to-head race. But in a four-sided race, where the two lesser candidates aren’t receiving much scrutiny from the press or the campaigns, it tends to have the side consequence of pressing a lot of people to Johnson or Stein. The fact that there are two different third-party candidates in the race — one for people who think Clinton’s too left and one for people who think she’s not left enough — makes it really difficult to avoid bleeding voters.The polling this weekend and next week will reveal the trends in more detail. Clinton's campaign is already preparing "a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Trump" messaging, a demonstrative failure. Here's your Daily Jackass, by the way. These mules are not even going to get a featured post from here on out.
If polls stay very tight or Trump pulls into a lead, then anti-Trump messaging to Johnson and Stein voters could take the form of classic warnings about spoilers and wasted votes.
But the fact that Clinton has been consistently leading in the polls — and in August was doing so by a large margin — has itself undercut purely tactical arguments for voting Clinton. If she is overwhelmingly likely to win, which is what people have been hearing, then you may as well not vote for her if you don’t like her.
It’s simply going to be very hard for Clinton to open up the kind of stable lead that her supporters think Trump’s awfulness deserves while she herself is so little-liked. September of a general election year is probably not a great time to turn that around.
But the fact remains that her basic problem in this race is almost painfully simple. Over the course of her winning primary campaign she became a deeply unpopular figure. And it’s hard — indeed, unprecedented — for such an unpopular person to win the presidency.
The first presidential debate is Monday, September 26, ten days away. I don't know where Gary Johnson is going to be, but I expect Jill Stein will be outside the Hofstra University hall in Hempstead, NY, getting herself arrested, just like four years ago.
Here's Jeff Feldman, of Framing the Debate fame, with the "more".
Clinton is not just disliked for some abstract reason. She went out and actively made a key group hate her and her people. She alienated a key block that she now needs. She has not secured the Left that's tipped to Stein. Clinton's strategy with that part of the Left has been to shame them. It was a segment of the Sanders base. For months and months her campaign did it. They even hired people to do it under the guise of online commenting, etc. They're still doing it. The result is that a now significant percentage has left the party. She could have done something different. She could have gone after the Left -- brought them into the fold, worked more in public with Sanders, etc. She made no moves in this direction. And now it's probably too late. It will likely go down as a historic misjudgment on her part: believing it was still the 1980s and she could win by distancing herself from the McGovern wing. But it's not the 1980s. She alienated one of the most active, nimble and contemporary segments of the big tent. Take them back and she is on top. The crucial part of the vote that doesn't like her -- she invested time and money into making them hate her more, instead of doing the opposite.
Clinton will hold more of the Berners than she loses to Stein, but more than those two combined will choose the worst possible course of action and not vote (or write in Sanders). Stein has increased her numbers from four years ago by a multiple of at least nine -- but that only gets her to three percent. If her November tally winds up at four or six percent nationally ... well, that's still not saying much in the grand scheme. But it is certainly something to build a foundation upon. If the sheer number of people that Sanders pulled back to the Democrats, plus former Dems like me, have faded away -- this time forever -- we can now better calculate Clinton's opportunity cost, whether she wins the presidency or loses it.
Can she overcome all of this adversity and these setbacks of the past two weeks and still capture the White House on the strength of Republican crossover votes? That's essentially what she has gambled on, almost from the very beginning. If she can, then she will owe that caucus a very large debt. And won't it be swell to watch her pay that back over the next four years.