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The Daily Trail: Donald Trump's love affair with polls is definitely over

Jacksonville. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

All great love stories come to an end. This week, we have witnessed the collapse of a romance for the ages. We pause now to pay tribute to the epic relationship between Donald Trump and his poll numbers — a pairing that appears to be, if not over, definitely on a break.

So far, it's a rocky breakup. When the Republican nominee has mentioned polls at all, it's either to reminisce about far happier times and deny that anything has changed, or to dismiss entirely the story surveys are telling now. No longer — at least, not from Monday afternoon through Thursday night, when we're typing this — is he tweeting cheery poll graphics or text toplines. Once, there was love. Right now, there is only an empty space.

The best polling news for Donald Trump on Thursday was that an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll had him down only 9 points to Hillary Clinton.

That survey was released a little while after a poll from McClatchy/Marist that showed Trump down 15 points, pulling only 33 percent of the vote. Those numbers are, to put it bluntly, shocking. Mitt Romney was never down by that much to President Obama in 2012; his worst poll was a survey in June from Bloomberg that had him down 13, with 40 percent of the vote.

In only one of the four major polls released this week is Trump over 40 percent, which is itself remarkable. Each of the four had Clinton gaining ground since the last time the same outlet released a poll, by an average of about 5 points. Three of the four showed Trump losing ground, by a little more than 3 points.

The two new polls show a pattern that's consistent with other recent surveys, including at the state level. Clinton is getting more support from Democrats than Trump is from Republicans, and his advantage among men and white voters has diminished. In both of the new polls, Clinton leads with men, which has not been the trend over the course of this election.

Among black voters, Trump is doing particularly poorly, earning only a percentage point or two. (The results in the Fox News poll were similar.) Comparing how Trump is faring in these polls to how Mitt Romney did (according to exit polls) is revelatory. Romney won men by 7 points; Trump trails by 1 and 7 points in the new polls. Romney won white voters by 20; Trump leads by 2 and 5 points. Romney won Republicans by 87 points. In the McClatchy/Marist poll, Trump is winning by only 73 points -- a big dip among more than a third of the electorate.

Because the four new polls are divergent -- showing Clinton leads of 9, 9, 10 and 15 points -- we look at the average of recent polls, compiled by RealClearPolitics. We did a version of the chart below on Wednesday, when Trump's week in polling was only terrible and not completely horrible. His average in the recent polls is now back to what it was before both conventions. Clinton's gained 4 points and now leads in the average by 7 points.

How big is that? Big. Relative to Election Day in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Clinton's lead is more than twice that of the eventual victor at this point. In 2004, George W. Bush had a 6-point lead for a few weeks; in 2008, Barack Obama led by 6 points or more for the final month or so. Other than that, though, Clinton's lead is exceptional.

Notice that blue line, though. Donald Trump now trails Hillary Clinton in the polling average by more than Mitt Romney ever did in the final 150 days. In fact, Romney never trailed by that much for the last year of the campaign.

One consolation for Trump probably lies in that rapid spike in the polling average -- a spike that conceivably could rocket back the other direction if ... something. It spiked because the Democrats had four straight days to hammer Trump and praise Clinton, of course, which is hard to duplicate.

The other consolation for Trump is that at least only one of the two polls today had him losing by double digits.

--Philip Bump

Donald Trump and polls have had a long and unusually good relationship. Throughout the Republican primary, polls showed Trump at or near the top of the field. He dutifully cited them — and cited them — as evidence that he was #winning, and that everyone who second-guessed his unorthodox campaign style was, in a word, dumb.

It was Trump's ultimate defense. Every time another candidate or a party leader raised questions about his fitness for office or his conservative credentials, he could always point to polling that showed the Republican primary electorate siding with him. It served as his uber-example of how out of touch the party establishment was with its base; every time they predicted something he said or did would doom his campaign, his poll numbers went up. (See Muslim ban, build wall and make Mexico pay for it, etc.)

Of late, though, the Trump-polls friendship has fallen on hard times. Very hard times.

He's down 17 points to Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. Down 11 in Pennsylvania. Down six in Michigan. And national polling is no better. 

That polling reality doesn't mean that Trump isn't still trying to lean on polls to make the point that he is winning. At the start of a rally Wednesday in Daytona Beach, Fla., Trump cited a "new" poll that showed him ahead by eight points in Florida. But there hasn't been any "new" polling done since early July — before the two conventions —in the state. And, of the 14 most recent polls in the state, Trump has led Clinton in just four.

For the past 15 months, we've all been wondering what would happen to Trump if his beloved poll numbers took a turn for the worst. So much of Trump's pitch to voters was based on his standing in the polls — I'm winning and that means I am a winner and, therefore, someone you should vote for — that it was hard to imagine what he would even say if he wasn't ahead.

That question never really got answered in the primary because Trump never experienced any sort of extended polling slump. But it is quite clearly happening right now.

Trump seems to be struggling to deal with it. In Jacksonville on Wednesday night, Trump went through his usual litany of the big crowds he is drawing — "We go to Oklahoma, we had 25,000 people. We had 21,000 people in Dallas" — before turning more introspective: “I hear we’re leading Florida by a bit,” he said. “I don’t know why we’re not leading by a lot. Maybe crowds don’t make the difference.”

The smartest thing Trump could do when asked about his poll problems is to note that Clinton is enjoying a very traditional convention bounce and that the race will eventually settle down to a close single digit contest.

But Trump rarely does the politically smart thing — particularly when he feels betrayed by the same polls that were so good to him for so long. And there are already indications that Trump — a friend spurned — is going to burn the bridges of his past close relationship with polls.

"I think these polls — I don't know — there's something about these polls, there's something phony," Trump said Tuesday at a rally in Loudoun County, Va.


--Chris Cillizza


—Your daily reminder that everything is political now.


—Do the latest questions surrounding Melania Trump's immigration to the United States matter? For some, not at all. (Click through for the full video from Buzzfeed's Ema O'Connor)

—Several Secret Service agents scrambled to the stage as a group of animal rights activists began heckling Hillary Clinton at a rally in Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon.

Four agents rushed to surround Clinton as a female protester breached the barrier around the stage. She was immediately stopped by another agent and did not appear to have ever reached the stage.

The activists carried signs that said “Until Every Animal Is Free.”

Watch: Secret Service rush around Clinton during protest (Video: The Washington Post)

As the protesters chanted, Clinton paused her remarks and attempted to read the signs. An agent who had come onstage told her to continue speaking.

“You’re okay,” the agent said. “Keep talking. We’ll handle it. We’re not going anywhere. Keep talking, ma’am.”

Clinton chuckled and said, “Okay, we’re going to keep talking.”

“Apparently, these people are here to protest Trump,” she said. “Because Trump and his kids have killed a lot of animals, so thank you for making that point.”

Several people were soon escorted out by Secret Service agents and police.

--Abby Phillip

President Obama seems to have hit his limit with "rigged" election complaints too — especially Donald Trump's. Today, he called the GOP nominee's charges that the voting process itself was tainted "ridiculous."

Even if they hadn't bolded that one line, every veteran reporter would have zeroed in on it. Whether or not it was intentional, the phrase “blank check” has a political echo — one that suggests a deep fear by congressional Republicans that a sinking presidential candidate could take their majorities in the House and Senate with him, and that they are getting ready to desert him.

It goes back 20 years, to an infamous chapter in internecine Republican politics. In the weeks before the 1996 presidential election, as it became clearer and clearer the GOP nominee Bob Dole would not defeat incumbent president Bill Clinton, Republican operatives began urging their struggling congressional candidates to begin making the argument: “Let’s not give Clinton a blank check.”

In late October of that year, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent $4 million on television ads in 50 congressional districts where races were close. The final shot was of a blank check hovering over the Capitol dome. It was signed: “American taxpayer.”

For Dole, the implication that even his own party had given up on him was a devastating blow.

The Post’s Philip Rucker explains how unusual it is that Donald Trump is withholding his endorsements of Paul Ryan and John McCain in their primary races. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

One of Dole’s top strategists that year was Paul Manafort, who is now Trump’s campaign chairman. Dole’s personal assistant was Michael Glassner, who has worked for Trump’s campaign for more than a year. A number of other Dole staffers now work for Trump.

Ryan used the words “blank check” at least three times on Thursday, as Trump sat below Clinton in the polls and continued to deal with the aftermath of controversies of his own making. ...

Katie Martin, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the historical comparison is unfair.

“There is no news here, nothing to read into, no secret message about the upcoming elections,” Martin said in an email. ...

--Jenna Johnson and Karen Tumulty