Opinion

The most important number of the week for Hillary Clinton may be tucked inside an Ohio poll

Hillary Clinton speaks on screen Tuesday during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Hillary Clinton speaks on screen Tuesday during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Bloomberg

It hasn’t been a good week of polling for Hillary Clinton. She’s gone from leading comfortably a month ago, to leading uncomfortably a week ago, to being passed by Donald Trump in most national polls and some state polls after last week’s Republican convention.

This is not entirely unexpected. Candidates often get a post-convention polling bounce, and Trump helped himself last week with the fiery speech his base wanted to hear in Cleveland.

Will Clinton get a similar bounce? Most candidates do, but not all. Mitt Romney didn’t get the boost he expected four years ago after his Republican Convention. John Kerry got nothing at all in 2004, despite facing an unpopular incumbent in George W. Bush.

Pollsters aren’t entirely sure what happened with Kerry and Romney, but there’s one thing the two candidates have in common: They don’t give great speeches, and their climactic convention remarks were as flat as the bounces that followed.

This is a concern for Democrats this year. Hillary Clinton is not a strong speechmaker, and assuming Barack Obama delivers a strong address tonight, Clinton will be following three headliners who lived up their prime-time moments this week.

In fact, there’s a case to be made that the president’s speech tonight will be the most important speech of the week, if you look at a new Ohio poll from Raleigh’s Public Policy Polling. That poll, released Monday, had Clinton and Trump tied at 40; a month before, Trump trailed 44-40.

(Our standard PPP caveat: The pollster does surveys for Democratic clients. It’s also consistently one of the more accurate pollsters in the country.)

Tucked away in that Ohio poll is a pair of revealing numbers. Asked who they’d favor between Donald Trump and Barack Obama, 48 percent of voters chose the president to 44 percent for the Republican nominee. Even more important was this: Among voters who were undecided in a Clinton/Trump head-to-head, Obama held a 30-point advantage over Trump.

This is not an outlier, PPP’s Tom Jensen told me this week. He’s been asking the same question in other state surveys, and Obama consistently outperforms Clinton by 5 to 6 points against Trump. “I think that really the big test of the Democratic Convention is whether Clinton can win those people who like Obama but aren’t sold on her,” he says.

Jensen sees the Ohio numbers as a good sign for Clinton because they show she has room to pick up reluctant voters. Still, those numbers also show just how uncomfortable voters are with Clinton. Even those who like Obama – and presumably favor progressive policies – are reluctant to commit to the his party’s nominee. Democrats have spent this week trying to make Hillary, or at least a vote for her, more palatable. It’s the president’s turn, and it might be the most critical hour of the convention.

Peter St. Onge

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