As the Democrats stumbled towards the start of their national convention in Philadelphia to nominate former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for president, they were greeted with alarming news on Monday: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump received a sizeable bump in the polls following his controversial acceptance speech in Cleveland last Thursday.
In a head-to-head matchup, Trump now leads Clinton by three points in a new CNN/ORC poll, 48 percent to 45 percent, although that lead is within the 3.5 point margin of error. The results mark a 6-percentage-point swing for Trump compared to his previous showing in the poll. When Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party standard bearer Jill Stein are added to the mix, Trump leads Clinton, 44 percent to 39 percent, with Johnson garnering 9 percent and Stein 3 percent.
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According to CNN, the latest findings represent Trump’s strongest showing against Clinton in their polling since September 2015. Two other new national surveys, by the Reuters/Ipsos Poll and Morning Consult, show the race either tightening in Trump’s favor or the billionaire businessman moving slightly ahead of Clinton.
Clinton now leads Trump by just 41 percent to 38 percent in the latest Reuters/Ipsos Poll, while Trump had trailed her by 10 points shortly before last week’s GOP convention. The Morning Consult poll shows Trump now leading Clinton by four percentage points, 44 percent to 40 percent, which is a sizeable swing from the last polling results that had Clinton ahead by two points. The lead is larger than the margin of error of 2 percentage points.
Trump’s surge in national polling wasn’t unexpected. Historically, presidential nominees enjoy at least a momentary increase in their standing after days of nationally televised party hoopla and major speeches. Clinton is likely to benefit from the same phenomenon after she delivers her acceptance speech Thursday night.
CNN also cautions that while national polls are a good barometer of where a presidential campaign likely stands, they generally don’t have a large enough sample to gauge how Trump’s performance last week has impacted the president race on a state-by-state basis. A candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to win the presidency, and the election will turn on the outcome of a handful of battleground states that currently are up for grabs.
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But with her party in an uproar over leaked emails showing that the Democratic National Committee had in fact worked behind the scenes to undercut liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders challenge to Clinton – forcing DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign — the new polling underscores the mounting threat that Trump is posing to a party nearly as badly divided as the Republicans.
Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told reporters in Philadelphia Monday that by his lights, Trump did serious damage to his campaign by failing to present “a clear plan about what he is going to do to help get this economy for everyone” and by striking a relentlessly gloomy tone that did little to unite his party.
“All that said, there’s a clear trend historically that after your convention you always get a bump,” Mook said. “So I would suspend any polling analysis until after our convention, and then we can interpret once voters have had a chance to see both sides of the argument, and both side have had four days of convention and the communications that happens during that. And then we will see where we are. But I wouldn’t read anything into what you’re seeing right now.”
Trump’s lengthy acceptance speech Thursday night was sharply criticized by the news media as far too dark and apocalyptic in describing the nation’s economy and national security, and overly focused on his bitter attacks on Clinton’s character, honesty and judgement in shaping foreign policy. Moreover, glaring divisions within his party — including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump in a major speech and a boycott of the convention by many prominent Republicans – were thought by many to have further tarnished Trump’s standing as a leader.
During an appearance Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, Trump insisted that his 75-minute-long acceptance speech was “very optimistic.”
“To me, it was an optimistic speech,” he told host Chuck Todd. “Because we’re going to stop the problems. We’re going to stop the problems … In other words, sure, I talk about the problems, but we’re going to solve the problems.”
The CNN/ORC poll suggests that voters who watched the convention agree with Trump and came away with a much more positive view of him as a leader and potential government policy maker, much to the detriment of Clinton.
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Trump's new edge rests largely on increased support among independents, who before the convention split 34 percent to 31 percent in Clinton’s favor. Now, 46 percent say they are backing Trump while just 28 percent favor Clinton, 15 percent are supporting Johnson and 4 percent like Stein.
But there is other bad news for Clinton as she and her new running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, attempt to unify their party this week. The new poll suggests that Trump is more trusted than Clinton in handling the economy and terrorism. And even on managing foreign policy – Clinton’s strong suit as a former secretary of state – Trump is cutting into her lead.
Perhaps one of the most troubling findings for Clinton and her supporters that a vast majority of the electorate continue to distrust her, in the wake of her email scandal, her close ties to Wall Street and relentless attacks from conservatives about her handling of foreign policy. Sixty-eight percent now say that Clinton is neither honest or trustworthy, which is her “worst rating on that measure” in the history of their polling, according to CNN/ORC.
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Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, wrote last week that it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Trump benefit from a bump in the polls in light of the history of presidential campaigns. Republican presidential candidates going back to the 1988 convention on average benefitted from a 4.5-point bounce the week after they were nominated, while Democratic presidential nominees enjoyed a similar 5-point jump on average in the week following their nomination.
“The main point is that conventions almost always generate an increase in a nominee’s polling numbers during and after his or her convention, but often times the bounce is short-lived,” Skelley wrote.