Do presidential election polls tell the whole story?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton poses for a cell phone photo with audience members after speaking at campaign event at John Marshall High School in Cleveland, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Pressed to back up the claim that Donald Trump’s is trailing behind Hillary Clinton, CNN’s Brianna Keilar had a simple defense: recent polling.

“Who says?” Michael Cohen, a Trump campaign supporter pressed Keilar when she cited polling that showed his candidate lagging.

“All of them,” Keilar responded.

Keilar’s statement was no exaggeration with as recent polling trending in Clinton’s favor.

“The results of the polls show a pretty clear lead for Hillary Clinton,” Dr. Michael Traugott, professor emeritus of communication studies and senior research scientist at the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research at University of Michigan said.

“It’s quite consistent across a large number of polls nationally and seems to be fairly consistent in the battleground states as well,” Traugott explained.

“The biggest story of the last couple weeks, if you will, is that they are fairly consistent in terms of Clinton’s lead,” Dr. Jeanne Zaino, professor of campaign management at New York University said when asked to describe recent polling.

Real Clear Politics averages show Clinton leading Trump an average of 5.8 percentage point. Polling released by Quinnipiac University Thursday showed Clinton with big leads in Colorado and Virginia and “on the plus side of a too-close-to-call race in Iowa.”

Polling consistently favoring Clinton and the numbers or days until the election shrinking, begs the question of how much these numbers could change in the coming months.

“Research on the predictability of polls suggests that this is about the time that they begin to calibrate toward the final result of the election,” Traugott said.

At this point the effect of the conventions has been factored in, campaigns are ramping up, news coverage beginning to focus on the two official nominees and people are starting to pay attention.

Historically, Traugott explained there is change across the campaigns but that change tends to be marginal, though there are two things that are unusual about this campaign.

The first is what we may eventually learn about Clinton that could affect her standing.

If there were some negative disclosure about Hillary Clinton that could depress Democratic turnout and mobilize Republicans in a way that could impact the election, Traugott said.

“But what we might learn is likely to come from an independent source,” Traugott explained, opposed to the Trump campaign itself.

The other factor Traugott offered is Trump’s inability to stay on message and the low quality of his campaign.

“I don’t think that Donald Trump’s standing in the polls is within his control,” Traugott said, explaining there are a couple of reasons for this.

For starters, a lot a campaign or the success of a campaign depends on advertising, Traugott explained.

“Trump has run a bare bones, low budget campaign,” Traugott said, describing how Trump has not raised that much money and is only just starting to think about running ads.

By comparison, Traugott noted, Clinton had a lot more money in the bank early on and bought up a lot of the time.

As a result, Trump will be precluded from getting advertising time or space in the best vehicles at the best price, Traugott said.

The second point Traugott made is that Trump “would have to demonstrate a significant improvement in his ability to stay on message and not to be distracted.”

“Which to date, he hasn’t demonstrated an ability to do.”

Asked what Trump could do to improve his poll numbers, Zaino noted that Trump “has time on his hands.”

“I don’t think he’s out of it by any stretch of the imagination yet, I think it’s way too early,” Zaino said.

Mentioning the “campaign shakeup” Zaino speculated that if Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and the team are able to put the focus back on Clinton that “could move the needle a bit.”

Zaino believes it’s a question of whether the Trump campaign can refocus attention on topics such as the Clinton foundation, the email controversy or driving down President Obama’s poll numbers.

“Anything the campaign could do to focus attention on driving down Obama’s numbers and focus attention on Clinton I think is going to benefit,” Zaino said.

“And then I think there’s also any world events that occur,” Zaino said.

If there were a terrorist attack or some sort of economic turmoil, such a disturbance could work to Trump’s advantage.

“Now, it’s still an uphill battle,” Zaino said describing how a candidate needs to have a “well-oiled machine out there” and Trump does not seem to have that.

“So I don’t know if he overcomes these things but theoretically I think he could.”

Adding another hypothetical to how things will pan out on Election Day is undecided voters.

“Undecided voters play a role but it’s only the undecided voters in swing states,” Zaino said, explaining that is a narrower swath of undecided voters.

“I think we’re looking in the swing states," Zaino said, speculating that this is where "a lot of the concern about Trump’s campaign is.”

“Are they looking in the swing states?” Zaino said, questioning the get out the vote drive in place in any of the swing states.

“Even if he’s up or within the margin with some of these swing states, if you can’t get these people out to the polls, if you don’t have a concerted get out the vote drive, none of these polls even matter.”

“As the number of swing states that he could possibly influence narrows, that’s a huge challenge for Republicans at this point,” Zaino said.

In order to continue to gain in the polls, Zaino said Clinton would need to continue the strategy she’s been deploying over the past weeks.

“Keep the attention on Donald Trump and his flubs and his flaws and his ‘outrageous behavior,’ as she calls it, his temperament questions,” Zaino said.

“Anything she can do to keep the focus on Donald Trump," and off of "really serious questions" about Clinton, her husband their foundation and similar topics.

Zaino also suggested having a strong surrogate base who consistently supports Clinton and the policies she’s driving.

“And then by the same token every time she’s attacked by Bannon or Kellyanne Conway or Trump, they are there to respond to those allegations not necessarily having her respond directly but having surrogates out there, you know, I think that that can really help,” Zaino added.

Continuing the campaign’s “smart schedule,” will also be beneficial, Zaino said, describing how Clinton has been going to states such as Ohio and Florida where “they can really have an impact.”

“And they’re starting to send Kaine to states where they think they may be able to play,” Zaino said.

“I think the campaign strategy is important” Zaino said, adding that the campaign’s ability utilize similar tactics to the Obama campaign, where they were able count voters in each district and tell who was going to get out and vote will also help.

“All those things I think can drive her over the top and make this a historically big win,” Zaino said.

“I mean if the election was held today I imagine it would be a historically big win on her part.”

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