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New GW Battleground Poll: Clinton Begins to Pull Away from Trump, and Voters Think She’ll Win

Clinton Widening Margins on National Issues, Personality Traits; Both Candidates Disliked

October 17, 2016
Jason Shevrin: [email protected], 202-994-5631
John Brandt: [email protected], 202-994-3199
WASHINGTON (Oct. 17, 2016)—Hillary Clinton is beginning to pull away from Donald Trump in the presidential race, according to the latest George Washington University Battleground Poll. Almost half (47 percent) of likely voters surveyed chose the Democratic candidate while only 39 percent chose the Republican nominee. Clinton gained 5 percentage points since the previous GW Battleground Poll in early September, while Trump lost 1. Third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein collectively lost 3 points, polling at 8 and 2 percent respectively. Four percent of the likely voters polled were still undecided. 
The poll was conducted Oct. 8-13, after a tape of Trump from “Access Hollywood” came to light, and spanned the second presidential debate. Amid those campaign milestones, the GW Battleground Poll found a clear majority of voters (62 percent) think Clinton will win, while less than a third (27 percent) believe Trump will take the presidency. 
“Read together, these poll results indicate that increasing numbers of voters are accepting the Hillary Clinton/Democratic Party frame of this election as a referendum on Donald Trump’s unfitness for the presidency,” said Michael Cornfield, associate professor at GW’s Graduate School of Political Management and research director of GW’s Center for Political Management. “Down-ballot it will be fascinating to watch Democrats continue to lash Republicans about Trump and to see how Republicans situate themselves with respect to him.”
Clinton supporters are much more confident in their choice than others polled. Almost nine out of 10 respondents (89 percent) who will vote for Clinton believe the former secretary of state will win. Sixty percent of Trump supporters think he will win, while more than a quarter (27 percent) of the businessman’s backers believe Clinton will win instead. Most third-party supporters believe Clinton will win (Johnson voters: 72 percent; Stein voters: 64).
Despite voters’ election predictions, both major-party candidates remain deeply unpopular. More than half (53 percent) of those polled had an unfavorable view of Clinton (45 percent favorable), just less than those who viewed Trump negatively (61 percent unfavorable, 36 percent favorable).
National Issues Give Clinton an Edge
Voters were asked to choose a top priority from a list of issues on which the next president should focus. The economy continued to lead with a plurality (23 percent) with another 10 percent choosing jobs; next was dysfunction in government (14). Notably, foreign threats jumped to 13 percent (from 9 in the previous GW Battleground Poll). Health care received 10 percent of the tally. 
When it came to which candidate voters believed can best address those issues, Clinton opened some wide leads. On tax issues, voters chose her 53 percent of the time to Trump’s 41; that signified a 4 percentage point gain by Clinton and a 6 point drop by Trump since the last GW poll. On foreign affairs, Trump dropped 7 points and Clinton gained 5 (to 33 and 60 percent, respectively). And on health care, Clinton gained 4 points while Trump dropped 5, widening a 58 to 37 percent gap. Changes to candidate preference on the economy, jobs and fighting for the middle class stayed within the margin of error. 
“While Trump trails Clinton on every issue tested on the issue handling series, the Republican Party has the advantage over the Democrats on a variety of issues, including the economy by an 18-point margin, taxes by an 11-point margin, jobs by a 6-point margin and foreign affairs by an 8-point margin,” said pollster Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group. “Republican candidates across the country will be able to run with the advantage in the minds of voters on the key kitchen table issues and on one of the signature issues of the Clinton campaign, foreign affairs. With or without the active assistance of Trump, Republican candidates will be able to run as their own independent entities, whose electoral fortunes will not be tied to the sinking presidential candidate of their party.”
Candidates Continue to Have Distinctive Images
As may have been expected given the events of the past week, Clinton made gains on questions of personality. Voters were asked to choose which of the two major-party candidates better represented a slate of personal qualities. Trump lost 6 points on the question of who is more honest and trustworthy, while Clinton gained 3 (for a 33/38 split, respectively). Trump also dipped on the question of who has the best temperament to serve. Clinton won that matchup 60 percent (a gain of 3 points) to Trump’s 28 (a loss of 3). 
Clinton has a marginal lead on which person is a strong leader (48 to 44 percent) and maintained leads on “cares about people like you” and “represents your values.” Trump maintained his wide margin on “says what they believe” and took a slight lead on “is healthy enough to be effective.”
“Hillary Clinton is well-positioned to win,” said pollster Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. “She is capitalizing on Trump’s slippage with women and independents; Democrats are increasingly energized; and Democrats down-ballot are ahead as well in the generic vote. ‎Clinton has pulled ahead on issues and character, which gives her the mandate to lead the country forward.”
Vice Presidential Candidates in the Spotlight
This edition of the GW Battleground Poll was placed in the field a few days after the vice presidential debate. That contest clearly raised the profile of both running mates. In the previous GW Battleground Poll, from late August and early September, many voters had either not heard of, or had no opinion of, vice presidential candidates Tim Kaine or Mike Pence. Now, only 16 percent have not heard of Kaine, and 15 percent don’t know who Pence is. Of voters who do know the candidates, Pence leads in favorability (44 percent of voters view him favorably, 31 percent unfavorably) over Kaine (37 favorable, 33 unfavorable). 
A Brighter Picture for President Obama
Continuing a recent trend, President Barack Obama’s approval rating rose nominally, with 53 of voters approving of the job he is doing (2 point gain) and 44 percent disapproving (3 point drop). Similarly, voters seem to be gaining optimism on the state of the nation. While only 30 percent of those polled responded they think the nation is heading in the right direction, and 63 percent said it is on the wrong track, those two figures each swung 3 points in favor of a rosier outlook toward the future. 
In a generic party choice for Congress, voters’ preferences remained the same. Forty-seven percent of respondents chose the Democratic Party (increase of 2 points since the last GW poll) and 42 chose the GOP (no change).
For complete data and results, including additional numbers on the 2016 elections and national issues, visit the GW Battleground Poll homepage. Follow @GWmedia on Twitter for a deeper dive into the new GW Battleground Poll data.
Interview Opportunities
  • Michael Cornfield, research director and associate professor at GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (contact Jason Shevrin at 202-994-5631)
  • Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group (contact Brian Nienaber at 703-684-6688)
  • Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners (contact Anderson Gardner at 202-776-9066)
The George Washington University Battleground Poll is a nationally recognized series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) serve as the university’s home for the partnership. GW’s Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library houses the data archive of the survey results dating back more than two decades.
The poll, which is distinguished from other surveys by its presentation of separate analyses from these top pollsters representing both sides of the aisle, surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters nationwide Oct. 8-13 and included a protocol for reaching mobile phone users. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.