CLEVELAND – On the eve of two national political conventions that will shape the images of the major party presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are in a competitive contest nationally but with the presumptive Republican nominee facing deficits on key character attributes and issues, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The new survey shows Clinton leading Trump by 47-43 percent among registered voters. That represents a shift in Trump's direction since last month's Post-ABC survey, which showed Clinton leading by 12 points. In the new poll, among all adults, Clinton leads by 10 points – 50-40 percent – compared to a 14-point lead among this wider group last month.
Both candidates remain highly unpopular – the two most unpopular in the history of Post-ABC polling. By roughly 2-1 (64-31 percent), Americans view Trump unfavorably. Clinton's numbers are not quite so negative – 42 favorable and 54 unfavorable. Half of all registered voters say they have strongly unfavorable views of Trump, while 47 percent say they have strongly unfavorable views of Clinton – the highest ever in a Post-ABC poll for her.
The survey also highlights the degree to which Americans are motivated by negative impulses rather than seeing the choice in positive terms. Almost six in 10 say they are dissatisfied with the choice of Trump versus Clinton. Fifty-four percent of Clinton's supporters say they are mainly voting against Trump while 57 percent of Trump supporters say they are mainly voting against Clinton.
Given the dissatisfaction, there is the possibility that candidates from minor parties will attract the support of disaffected voters. In a four-way matchup that also includes Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party, the results are: Clinton 42 percent, Trump 38 percent, Johnson 8 percent and Stein 5 percent.
The new poll comes after a tumultuous two weeks that included the killings of five police officers in Dallas, and deadly police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. As the poll calling was closing came news of an apparent terrorist attack in Nice, France. All these events have added to the tensions of a country on edge and heightened the importance of security and racial issues in the choice of a new president.
The poll also comes after Clinton was spared prosecution by the government for her use of a private server as secretary of state. But in avoiding any criminal charge, Clinton earned a stern rebuke from FBI Director James Comey, who said she and her aides had been "extremely careless" in their handling of sensitive classified material in their email exchanges.
The previous Post-ABC poll showed Clinton with a larger lead than some other national surveys taken around the same time. Whether or how much the shift toward Trump in the current survey was affected by how the FBI investigation was resolved can't be measured. Other recent polls show the race nationally to be in low single digits, with Clinton generally enjoying the advantage.
Republicans begin their nominating convention here in Cleveland on Monday and will conclude Thursday with the expected nomination of Trump and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana as the vice presidential running mate.
The Democratic convention will begin on July 25, in Philadelphia, with Clinton poised to become the first woman nominated for president by one of the two major parties. She is still mulling her vice presidential choice and met with several possible contenders on Friday.
Trump hopes to produce a convention that helps to alleviate questions about his fitness to be president among many Americans but he starts facing an enormous deficit on that issue. The Post-ABC poll found that nearly six in 10 registered voters say he is not qualified to serve as president – with 49 percent saying they strongly believe that. Meanwhile, Clinton is seen as qualified to serve as president by a 56 percent majority of voters.
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, over seven in 10 see Trump as qualified to be president – but that still leaves almost one-quarter of that part of the electorate questioning their presumptive nominee's fitness.
The survey highlights familiar fault lines in the electorate. Trump leads among men by 49-41 percent while Clinton enjoys an even larger margin among women, 52-38 percent. Voters age 18-39 support Clinton by 54-34 percent while those age 65 and older back Trump 51-42 percent. Those between 40 and 65 are almost evenly divided. Trump leads by 15 percentage points among white voters while Clinton has a huge 52-point lead among nonwhite voters.
At this point, the Democrats are slightly more united behind Clinton than are Republicans behind Trump. One goal of the Trump campaign is to leave Cleveland at the end of the week with the party more united and enthusiastic about their nominee. Currently, 86 percent of Democrats back Clinton while 82 percent of Republicans back their presumptive nominee.
Independent voters lean toward Trump by 47-41 percent, though winning independents is no guarantee of winning the presidency. Four years ago, Mitt Romney won the vote of independents while losing to President Barack Obama.
Clinton enjoys the support of eight in 10 self-identified liberals while seven in 10 conservatives back Trump. Moderates go decisively for Clinton, 52-36 percent.
The contest between Clinton and Trump highlights one potential shift in the electorate that will be closely watched between now and November – the division among voters based on educational attainment.
Trump's most important block of voters are whites without college degrees, who overwhelmingly support Trump, by a margin of 60-33 percent. But college-educated white voters have been shifting toward the Democrats and the poll underscores that the competition for those voters will be hard fought and potentially decisive in the outcome. Republicans historically have carried the votes of whites with college degrees, and Romney won the group by 14 points over Obama four years ago.
The Post-ABC poll finds whites with college degrees are evenly divided-43 percent Trump, 42 percent Clinton, with an outsized 10 percent volunteering support for "neither." When gender is included in the analysis, the poll finds that white women with college degrees narrowly support Clinton while white men with college degrees support Trump by a slightly larger margin.
Of seven issues tested, Clinton has double-digit advantages over Trump on three – race relations, handling an international crisis and immigration. Clinton has smaller edges on looking out for the middle class and handling terrorism, while Trump holds small edges on taxes and the economy.
Across six attributes, Trump has an 11-point margin among registered voters on the question of which candidate does most to bring needed change to Washington. By a margin of five points, he is seen as more honest and trustworthy. Clinton has a similar edge on empathy with people's problems and representing people's values, and holds double-digit edges on having better judgment and having presidential personality and temperament.
In an election that will be framed as a choice of continuity with Obama's policies versus a change in direction led by a Washington outsider with no previous political experience, a bare majority of voters say they prefer experience in politics rather than someone outside the establishment. That's a narrower margin than earlier in the year when 59 percent said they favored a politically experienced candidate, caused by growing support for an outsider among Republicans and independents.
Clinton's trust deficit is highlighted on another question in the poll – whether she is too willing to bend the rules. Seven in 10 Americans (72 percent) said she is. The poll also asked whether they saw Trump as biased against women and minorities. On that question, 56 percent said yes. Then when people were asked which was the greater concern, a plurality (48-43 percent) cited Trump's possible bias.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted July 11-14 among a random national sample of 1,003 adults reached on cellular and landline phones. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the error margin is 4 points among the sample of 816 registered voters.