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Why Trump's bump in the polls is more significant than ever

Popularity bounces are typical after a party’s convention, but his rise in the polls could be different when you consider that he is no ordinary presidential nominee

Why Trump's bump in the polls is more significant than ever

The Republican nominee has risen 3.5 points in national polling averages since he gave his acceptance speech. Photograph: UPI / Barcroft Images

In the past week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has risen 3.5 points in national polling averages. That might not sound like much, but it has been enough for him to nudge him 0.2 points ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton. And Trump’s latest polling rise is particularly significant because it might be based on more honest survey respondents.

Three major polls have been conducted since Trump delivered his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican national convention last Thursday (and a fourth poll was conducted from 18 to 24 July, so it included some respondents who might have also heard the speech). All four polls found that Trump was leading over Clinton. Together, they were enough to shift the average in Trump’s favor.
Three major polls have been conducted since Trump delivered his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican national convention last Thursday (and a fourth poll was conducted from 18 to 24 July, so it included some respondents who might have also heard the speech). All four polls found that Trump was leading over Clinton. Together, they were enough to shift the average in Trump’s favor.

Post-convention popularity bounces have occurred in previous election cycles, too – and they’re not always sustained. But this Trump bump could be different when you consider that Trump is no ordinary presidential nominee. The divisive candidate typically does better in online polling than in telephone polling. That gap suggests that some people who intend to vote for Trump are unwilling to say so when they’re being questioned by a human voice rather than a computer screen. It’s worth noting that in the lead-up to the British referendum about the European Union (another incredibly divisive political issue), online polls consistently got closer to predicting the eventual result than telephone ones did.

Three of the four latest polls that showed Trump ahead of Clinton were conducted via telephone. So, maybe the latest polling boost for Trump isn’t about increasing popularity but about emboldened supporters who now feel more comfortable expressing their voting intent to a stranger.

If that is the case, then maybe we haven’t reached peak Trump just yet.

And the timing of maximum Trump support is (to state the obvious) essential. At this stage in the election cycle, with almost four months to go before votes are cast, polling averages still need to be treated with caution – intentions can, and will, change. But that same logic also suggests that Trump’s latest rise in general election polling is more important than previous ones because voters are getting closer to making up their minds.
 

That said, the size of the bump in polling averages matters because national outcomes don’t neatly translate geographically. To win in November, Trump needs to win enough of the “right” states, meaning those states with a large number of electoral votes. Take Florida for example. The state wields 29 electoral votes (of the 270 that are needed to win the presidency), and it has been a fierce political battleground (Florida has flipped between Republicans and Democrats three times in the past six elections).

Currently, polling averages suggest Trump is ahead in Florida – but only just. The Republican will need to increase his current lead of 0.3 points if he wants to secure this important win. The question, in Florida and around the country, is whether these numbers accurately reflect the extent of Trump’s support or whether some voters are still keeping their political opinions to themselves.

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