Four months before the presidential election, Hillary Clinton is ahead of Donald Trump. Three factors will determine the November 8th outcome.
As of July 8th, Hillary has a 5.8 percentage lead in the Huffington Post poll of polls; of the last 10 major polls, only one showed Trump ahead. The respected Cook Report projects Clinton with 304 electoral votes, Trump with 190, and 44 contested (Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Ohio). The esteemed statistician, Nate Silver, says that Trump has only a 20 percent chance to win.
Nonetheless, it's possible for Trump to prevail in November. Three factors will determine the ultimate outcome.
Character: While most presidential contests are, to a great extent, determined by perceptions of candidate personality, the 2016 campaign is singular because of the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump. According to the latest Gallup Poll 59 percent of respondents view Trump unfavorably versus 50 percent that see Clinton unfavorably. (The Huffington Post poll of polls shows that Trump's unfavorability spread is about 10 percentage points greater than Clinton's.)
As would be expected, favorable perceptions shape the vote. According to the most recent Ipsos/Reuters poll Clinton gets 78 percent of Democratic votes and Trump gets 70 percent of Republican votes. (As of July 7th, Hillary's email kerfuffle does not appear to affect her approval ratings for Democrats and Independents.)
Meanwhile, President Obama has a high approval rating (50 percent plus) and has promised to campaign for Hillary Clinton. This gives an advantage to Hillary. Trump has no comparable surrogates and his unfavorability marks appear more durable.
Issues: 70 percent of Americans are worried about the future of the country; their concerns center around the threat of terrorism and the economy.
Donald Trump has made trade, terror, and immigration the three legs of his campaign. He moans that ill-conceived trade deals have resulted in the loss of millions of US jobs and that unchecked immigration has cost citizens millions of other jobs and hastened the cause of terrorists. Of course, Trump's claims are largely false but, nonetheless, they resonant with unsophisticated voters who search for easy answers for the decline of their fortunes.
Clinton has to both embrace the Obama legacy and stand apart from it. (Obviously she desires the President's support.) The reality is that while the US economy has improved under Obama's stewardship it has not benefitted everyone; while the fortunes of the top 1 percent have improved, the median income of the working families has stagnated. While Democrats can blame Republicans for this -- for failure to embrace measures to lessen inequality -- many voters will blame the Party in power.
Trump's advantage is that he can blame economic stagnation on the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton. His disadvantage is that he has no plan other than renegotiate trade deals and "get tough" with China. A recent CNN poll found that voters trust Trump (51 percent) than Clinton (43 percent) to deal with the economy.
The threat of terror attacks is a big concern for Trump voters, many of whom are impressed by his tough guy demeanor. Once again, Trump has been vague about how he would handle ISIS saying his approach is flexible and he doesn't want to give away his plans, in advance of the election. A recent poll found that voters trust Clinton (50 percent) more than Trump (39 percent) to deal with the threat of terrorism.
Only on immigration is Trump specific: he would build a high wall along the Mexican border, deport all 11-million undocumented immigrants, and ban all Muslims from entering the United States. A recent poll found that voters trust Clinton more than Trump on the issue of immigration.
These three issues give a slight advantage to Trump. But one that could easily decay given that his plans are so vague.
Campaign: While perception of character and positions on issues matter, so too do the mechanics of a presidential campaign. By every metric, Clinton leads Trump: money raised, TV advertisements, swing state political organizers, etc. Clinton has an army. Trump has Trump.
Ten days before the Republican convention, the GOP is in disarray. The convention agenda is not set and the attendance list is unclear.