Near the end of a dark and bruising election that has altered traditions and broken political customs -- one in which both the tawdry (the size of a candidate's genitals) and the unprecedented (not committing to accept the result of an election) have been fodder for debates -- what does it now mean to be "presidential"?

It's a question that will reverberate, painfully, long after this election is over. For now, a new poll Gallup released Tuesday reminds us that only a minority of voters think Donald Trump has it. Even while the race tightens and Trump's numbers rise, the gap is wide when it comes to whom voters think has the leadership qualities and personality that a president should have. Just 32 percent of voters in the poll said they agreed that Trump has those qualities, compared with 51 percent who said the same about Hillary Clinton.

Trump's number in the Gallup poll is more than 20 percentage points lower than any candidate Gallup has asked the question about in past races.  Overall, Barack Obama had the highest mark, with 61 percent in 2008. Gallup asked the question in the 2000 and 2004 -- George W. Bush's rating topped John Kerry's in 2004, while Al Gore's was higher in 2000, when he won the popular vote but lost the election.

(The poll was conducted last Wednesday and Thursday, before the revelation that the FBI is resuming its inquiry into Hillary Clinton's emails; Gallup reported that responses to the questions did not differ significantly on Friday and "there were no immediate signs that the news was affecting the two candidates' images over the weekend.")

President Obama spoke about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump adding, "and that was true even before we heard about his attitudes towards women," at a Clinton rally in Greensboro, N.C. (The Washington Post)

What's interesting about this question in particular -- and others like it -- is that it directly links leadership qualities and personality to the presidency, getting at that perennial question that has come up ad nauseam in this campaign: What it means to be "presidential." In other words, it's asking voters to gauge whether they think each candidate's attributes are a fit for the presidency, not just what they think of their leadership skills in general. "Clinton holds clear edge on having presidential qualities," said Gallup's headline about its poll.

Trump, of course, has alternately mocked and embraced the concept. He has poked fun at the idea, talking about how his family and aides have urged him to act more that way, even pretending to be "presidential" on the stump. "Being presidential is easy," he said in April, role-playing a dry, restrained speaking style. He's also deployed it as a knock against Clinton in remarks that were widely viewed as having gendered undertones. "I just don’t think she has a presidential look, and you need a presidential look," he said in one interview.

Yet a majority of voters have repeatedly said they don't see him that way. In addition to the new Gallup poll, other questions tying leadership to the presidency have found similarly poor results for Trump. In a mid-October Washington Post/ABC poll, for instance, just 34 percent of registered voters said Trump had the personality and temperament to serve effectively as president. In a September New York Times/CBS poll, just 31 percent said so. (Fifty-nine percent and 55 percent said the same of Clinton, respectively.)

Trump slams Clinton in a speech from New York City. (Reuters)

But ask voters simply about leadership more generally, and the numbers sometimes look different. A handful of polls from early in the election cycle, last fall, gave him relatively high marks on "strong leadership" compared with other candidates. Some of that perception has remained: In a Pew Research Center poll released last week, 46 percent of registered voters said Trump was "a strong leader," closer to the number who said Clinton was (52 percent). That's despite only about a third in that poll saying he was honest, inspiring, well-qualified or moral; Clinton fared slightly worse than Trump when it came to honesty, but better on the other traits. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll also has Trump leading Clinton by eight percentage points on honesty and trustworthiness.

Meanwhile, back in April, Gallup asked voters to rate the four major remaining candidates -- Clinton, Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders -- on 12 leadership qualities Gallup's research has found are important in distinguishing both leadership styles and successful from unsuccessful leaders. Trump's percentage was higher than other candidates on four of 12 traits -- being competitive, intense, enthusiastic and "emphasizing success" -- and he came in second, behind Sanders, on being "visionary." Meanwhile, his score was lower than any of the four candidates on five traits -- being prepared, consistent, analytical, focused and caring about individuals, a trait only 19 percent said described Trump, the lowest rating of any figure in the poll. Clinton rated higher than the other candidates for being prepared and analytical, and she tied for last with Ted Cruz on being visionary.

Certainly, much has changed in the intervening months, and comparisons are hard to make. But the figures still seem to show Trump faring well on some traits, but not the ones typically tied with the word "presidential." Dictionary definitions often describe it as behavior "befitting" the presidency -- in other words, actions that are "proper" for the office. Its usual connotations -- having gravitas, speaking with care and nuance, acting above the fray in a professional manner -- fit with traits like consistency and focus, not competitiveness and boastfulness, both of which Trump has in spades.

Of course, as polls like Gallup's contrast to Trump's rising numbers, we're left to wonder how much being "presidential" will matter in the final days of this election. The Post's Aaron Blake, in another look at Gallup's numbers Tuesday, calls it the "central question": Whether enough voters who don't think Trump is fit to be president will still vote for him.

But when this election is finally over, the questions that remain will be even more fundamental: What will acting "presidential" now mean, and does it still give a candidate an edge? Are there qualities of leadership some voters value that don't fit the traditional meaning of the phrase? And after this unparalleled and ugly election draws to a close, will Americans become even more nostalgic for the dignity with which past presidents have treated the office -- or more open to its coarsening?

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