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The key word for 2016 poll-watchers this week has been "tightening" as a series of national and state polls have shown Donald Trump drawing nearer to Hillary Clinton.
But look at the numbers closer and any tightening looks more like a mini Clinton swoon, than a mini Trump boom.
Comparing polls from the same organizations over recent weeks shows that Clinton’s numbers are almost universally down, in some cases by noteworthy amounts. But Trump’s numbers have not seen equal increases. In fact, in some cases his numbers are down as well, just not as much as Clinton’s.
Consider the four-way national presidential polls from Monmouth University, featuring Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein alongside Clinton and Trump.
On August 8, that poll showed Clinton at 50 percent, Trump at 37 percent and all other candidates an undecided at 13 percent.
Monmouth’s national poll later in August, the 29th, showed Clinton had dropped 4 points to 46 percent, but Trump’s number had only grown by 2 points to 39 percent.
The other half of Clinton’s drop went elsewhere –Johnson/Stein/Other. That share of the vote went from 13 percent to 15 percent.
So a 13-point race became a 7-point race, but more because of a Clinton decline than a Trump bump. In other polls the Clinton drop is even more noticeable.
Over the same time period, the NBC News/Survey Monkey Poll showed a narrowing in its 4-way presidential race – from a 6-point Clinton lead to a 4-point Clinton lead – with both major party candidates seeing drops in support.
But again, Johnson/Stein/Other gained in the poll and by 4 points, that’s fairly significant movement in a month’s time and it was movement away from the Clinton and, to a lesser extent, Trump.
And the movement could be seen on the state level as well. A Marquette University Law School poll showed a tightening race in Wisconsin. A 9-point Clinton in early August had dropped to a 5-point Clinton lead at the month’s end. But again both Clinton and Trump lost in that poll as well.
The big winner was Johnson/Stein/Other, a voter group that saw its percentage increase 6 points.
Welcome to the 2016 election where many voters are none-to-pleased with their choices and looking for options. And that could mean a very good year for third-party candidates.
A merge of data from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal July and August polls shows Johnson and Stein are pulling about 15 percent of the vote in the four-way race with Johnson winning 10% and Stein capturing 5 percent.
But as the homestretch the campaign nears, it’s unclear how firm those Johnson/Stein voters are. In 2012 Johnson and Stein were both on the ballot and when all their votes were added together they earned about 1.5 percent of the popular vote.
Registered voters who favor Johnson and Stein have a pretty specific profile.
Johnson and Stein supporters are young. For both candidates more than half of their supporters, 51 percent, are 34 years of age or younger. They are not particularly diverse. More than 80 percent are white. And supporters of both Johnson and Stein give much higher “positive feeling” ratings to Bernie Sanders than they do to Clinton or Trump.
Sanders plans to hit the road in support of Hillary Clinton on Monday for the stretch run. That doesn’t mean Clinton will win those voters, but it looks like she going to make a play for them – and at least try to end her late summer mini swoon.