The 2012 election presented the clearest contrast in any election to date between the national polling and the state level polling. Up until the final days of the campaign, the national polls looked pretty favorable to Romney. The state level polls, on the other hand, showed Obama winning by a small but measurable margin. Quite a bit of heat was generated on the Internet about which set of polls was right – the national polls or the state polls?
In the end in 2012, the state polls turned out to be right (although in the final days of polling, most of the national polling caught up with the state polling and also showed Obama holding a slim lead). If there is something that Trump supporters can take comfort from, in light of several national polls showing Trump trailing Clinton by a measurable and ever-increasing lead, it is that the state-level polling from swing states appears to show a much more competitive race than what the national polls show.
For instance, this CBS/YouGov poll of “battleground states” shows Clinton leading in Colorado by 1, Florida by 3, Wisconsin by 5, and North Carolina by 2. That’s consistent with what you would expect from a national picture that has Clinton up by 3 or 4, not 10 or 12. Likewise, a UNH poll shows Clinton leading in Maine by 7, and a recent Q-poll showed Ohio as a tie, Clinton up in Pennsylvania by 1, and up in Florida by 8. Again, all this points to a close race, not one that Clinton is leading by 10-12.
However, there is reason for concern that the national results might be true, in spite of relatively tight polling in traditional “swing” states. For instance, multiple polls have been taken recently which show that Arizona is a competitive state for Clinton, and two polls within the last two weeks have shown Clinton within single digits of Trump in Texas. Much has already been written about the fact that Clinton is running neck and neck with Clinton in places like Utah, Georgia, and Mississippi.
Meanwhile, although Clinton is putting a number of traditional Republican cakewalks into play, Trump is doing almost none of this on the Democrat side. He is polling closer in Pennsylvania than would be expected, but Pennsylvania has been early polling fool’s gold for GOP hopefuls since at least 2000; every cycle we convince ourselves that our guy might win PA, and he never comes close.
Otherwise, the big population states where the Democrats run up the vote count look to remain solidly Democratic this cycle. Polls show Clinton besting Trump easily in California, New York, and Illinois, for instance. This illustrates how it is entirely possible that Trump might well remain competitive in traditional “swing” states like Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and Pennsylvania (but ultimately lose those by strong margins), but also drastically underperform in traditional Republican strongholds. Meanwhile, Trump might not actually put any traditional Democrat strongholds even marginally into play. The end result of such a dynamic could well be a scenario where Trump ends up losing Ohio by 4 or 5 but the whole country by 10 or 12.
Or, of course, polling might just be missing the boat entirely, both statewide and nationwide. Given its performance the last three elections, this result should not be ruled out.