- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Donald Trump has once again slipped in the polls, and even a steady performance in Sunday’s debate does not appear to have rescued him — but he insists the massive crowds he’s drawing are proof he’s going to prove the pollsters wrong.

More than 15,000 supporters who packed a rally in Ocala, Florida, buoyed Mr. Trump’s spirits as he barnstormed across the Sunshine State.

The huge crowd, which has been a staple of his populist run, demonstrated that the political movement was going strong, the New York billionaire boasted to another packed house at his next stop in Lakeland.

“There is a movement going on,” he said. “It’s a choice between the pessimism of Hillary Clinton and the optimism of a moment powered by millions of people from all over the country. She’s been there for 30 years and hasn’t done anything but fail.”

Still, Mr. Trump lost ground in almost all the latest national and battleground polls.

He trailed Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, by 4 points in a Rasmussen Reports national survey, down from holding a 1-point lead in the same poll a week earlier.

A national tracking poll by Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California, which has been the only poll to consistently show Mr. Trump out in front, found the race narrowed to a tie at 44 percent.

The day before, the tracking poll had Mr. Trump ahead of Mrs. Clinton by 2 points, and he led by 4 points a week earlier.

Mr. Trump also suffered defections from dozens of Republican lawmakers after a 2005 videotape surfaced Friday with a caught-on-tape private conversation in which Mr. Trump speaks lewdly about women and his sexual exploits.

The Republicans fleeing Mr. Trump, led by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, said it was the last straw.

Mrs. Clinton widened her lead to 7 points in Wisconsin in a Marquette University poll, 44 percent to 37 percent, and she enjoyed a 3-point advantage in Florida in an Opinion Savvy survey, 47 percent to 44 percent.

At the end of September, Mr. Trump was gaining or breaking into the lead across battleground and national polls.

Then he stumbled in the first debate and suffered a series of setbacks, from reports about calling Miss Universe Alicia Machado a “Miss Piggy” in 1996 to claiming a more than $916 million tax write-off in 1995, capped by the video in which he said his celebrity status gave him license to kiss and grope beautiful women.

Mr. Trump delivered a strong performance at the second presidential debate Sunday in St. Louis, but his aggressive confrontation of Mrs. Clinton, followed up by intensified attacks on her from the stump, has yet to register in polls.

Bruce Level, executive director of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, said the polls are missing the momentum behind Mr. Trump.

“You can’t gauge this campaign based on a traditional playbook,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is a campaign that is unlike any campaign in the history of the United States.”

He pointed to the record turnout in the Republican primary that helped deliver Mr. Trump the nomination despite fierce opposition from the Republican Party establishment.

“With that type of euphoria or that type of turnout, you can’t discount the fact that that same type of euphoria will resonate in the general [election]. You can’t discount it,” Mr. Levell said.

Vanderbilt University political science professor Marc J. Hetherington agreed that polls could be skewed. But he said it was hard to imagine a grass-roots uprising defying all the pollsters.

“Trump has locked up support of the people who are coming to his rallies. Where he has a real problem is people who have been longtime Republicans who look at this guy and think, ‘He doesn’t seem like Ronald Reagan to me,’” said Mr. Hetherington, an expert on party polarization, voter behavior and polls.

He said the loss of support from Republican leaders does not bode well for the nominee.

“It sends messages to people that maybe I ought not be so enthusiastic. So there is that hard-core group of people who are with him, but he’s underperforming in just about every other demographic that Republicans usually do well with,” he said.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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