Polls Find a Competitive Presidential Race in Rust Belt States

A new series of 'rust belt' polls by Emerson College shows Hillary Clinton with a small lead over Donald Trump in Michigan and Pennsylvania, while Ohio was tied. All of these results showed a closer race than the averages for these individual states.

Ohio: The race is between Clinton and Trump is tied at 43%, with Gary Johnson at 10%, Jill Stein at 2%. Several polls in late July also found the race tied, although several subsequent polls had Clinton ahead by several points. With this poll, Clinton's head-head average lead is now 3.8%. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio.

In the Ohio Senate race, Rob Portman registered a 15 point lead over challenger Ted Strickland, 40-25%. That seems like a pretty large number of undecideds for two well-known nominees. 

Pennsylvania: Emerson finds a three point Clinton lead here, 46% to 43%. Gary Johnson received 7% support, Jill Stein 2%. Clinton has led every poll here since mid July, several of them by double-digits. Her average lead remains wide at 9.4%. While Pennsylvania seems to be in play each election cycle, it last voted for a Republican in 1988.

In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Pat Toomey led by 9 points over challenger Katie McGinty. This result is also quite different than other recent polls, all of which had McGinty at least slightly ahead. 

Finally, in Michigan, Clinton leads by five over Trump, 45% to 40%, with Johnson at 7%, Stein at 3%. This five point spread is more in line with other recent polls, although, as in the other two states, it shows a closer race than the average. With this result, Clinton now holds an average 7.6% lead over Trump. As in Pennsylvania, Michigan last went red in 1988. There is no Senate race in Michigan this year.

Conclusions

Emerson shows a closer presidential race in all three states than other recent polls. Whether that reflects a shift back toward a tighter race or is just an outlier based on pollster methodology remains to be seen. While it wouldn't surprise us to see some tightening of the race after several rough weeks for Trump, it is notable how much stronger the Republican incumbents also did in the two Senate races than in recent polls.  This might hint that the reversal in the presidential race may not be quite as sharp as this set of polls indicates. It is why it is always best to look at an average of polls. This will become easier after Labor Day as the state-level polling becomes much more frequent.

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