Could Donald Trump actually win the presidency? A slew of recent polls shows the presumptive Republican nominee closing in on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in traditionally Democratic states, suggesting that this year’s race could scramble the presidential electoral map that has remained relatively stable since 1992.
Since Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee following the end Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s bid on May 3rd, the New York billionaire and reality TV show star has closed the gap with likely Democratic candidate Clinton in general election polling.
While Clinton led Trump by an average of 11.5 points at the end of March, today that lead has fallen to just 1.9 points according to the Huffington Post aggregate of polls. According to RealClearPolitics Clinton’s lead is even narrower – a mere 1.5%. In both cases the average of polls now shows Trump in a statistical dead-heat with Clinton.
More surprisingly, however, has been Trump’s surge in traditionally ‘blue’ states – states that have voted consistently Democratic since the electoral realignment in the 1992 election.
While Trump has underperformed in historically Republican-leaning states like Texas, Arizona, and Mississippi, he has performed surprisingly well in states that make up what Democratic strategists have relied upon as the “Blue Wall” – left-leaning states along the coasts and in the upper Midwest that have become consistently Democratic at the presidential level.
In New Jersey, for instance, a Monmouth poll released Tuesday showed Trump trailing Clinton by a mere four points, though no Republican has won the state since 1988. In 2012 Romney lost the state by 18 points to President Obama. Prior to Cruz’s exit from the race, Trump trailed Clinton by 14 points according to polling by the Rutgers-Eagleton firm.
In New Hampshire, a Democratic-leaning battleground state that has voted Republican only once since 1988 when it narrowly went for George W. Bush in 2000, a poll released Tuesday by the Boston Herald showed Trump tied with Clinton. Romney lost the state by five and a half points in 2012, and polling as recently as April showed Clinton crushing Trump by a whopping 19 points.
And in the rustbelt state of Michigan in the upper-Midwest, Trump found himself just four points behind Clinton in a Detroit News poll released on Wednesday. In March Trump trailed Clinton by 16 points in Michigan. The state has voted consistently Democratic in every election after 1988. Romney lost the state by 9.5 points in 2012.
Most surprisingly, however, was a Clout Research poll released on Friday which showed the GOP nominee leading on the West Coast, beating Clinton in Oregon by two points. If Trump did manage to carry Oregon, it would be a first for the GOP since Ronald Reagan’s 49-state victory in 1984. Romney lost the state in 2012 by 12 points.
Despite his significant gains in both state and national polling, some observers have cautioned against premature predictions of a Trump victory. Charlie Cook, a political analyst for NBC and the National Journal said that while Trump has surpassed expectations, the election is still Clinton’s to lose.
“[T]he probabilities still are in her favor,” writes Cook. “No longer are we looking at a Republican nomination fight with an electorate dominated by the tea party. We are beginning to focus on a November electorate that is broader, more diverse, and considerably more moderate, in both ideology and temperament, than the one that selected Donald Trump. Chances are high that these voters will behave much differently than the ones in the GOP primaries.”
Cook attributed much of Trump’s recent success to lingering divisions among Democrats, who have yet to rally around the presumptive nominee. Continued in-fighting has kept Clinton’s polling numbers low, Cook argues, though they are likely to rise once Clinton formally receives the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in July.
Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics made a similar prediction, suggesting that despite the intense rhetoric by Sanders supporters, most Democrats would rally behind Clinton in November. According to Sabato, Clinton begins the campaign with a clear advantage, with 347 electoral votes leaning towards Democrats, compared to Just 191 for Republicans.
Nevertheless, Trump’s improving poll numbers do reflect a genuine shift, argued Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight. The former New York Time’s political analyst said that while Clinton was still favored to win the election, the odds were shifting in Trump’s favor.
“Trump has closed from being a 3:1 underdog to a 2:1 underdog, roughly speaking,” Silver said.