Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are separated by a narrow three points in a potential 2016 match-up, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, with 46 percent of registered voters choosing Clinton to 43 percent picking Trump.
The data come a long 14 months from the general election and before either party picks its nominee — Clinton is looking less likely to be the Democratic nominee than before and Trump more likely as the GOP one — but they demonstrate the power of partisanship, which bring the less-popular Trump into a once-unthinkable position of nipping at Clinton's heels.
Trump's improved performance against Clinton among registered voters isn't unexpected, given that Democrats have a harder time turning out their supporters and usually fare better among broader samples of Americans. Their advantage is typically smaller still among actual voters in general elections.
The vote shifts between adults and voters are small and generally within the poll's margin of error. But the shifts in the marginal results are most apparent among political independents. Clinton has a very narrow advantage among all independents, at 45-39 — a six-point difference that is within the poll's error margin. But among registered independents, the slight advantage flips to Trump, 44-39.
Clinton and Trump are very solid among their bases of Democrats and Republicans. Clinton gets the support of 83 percent of all Democrats and 82 percent of registered Democrats, with vote margins of 70 and 67 points, respectively.
Likewise, Trump gets 73 percent support from all Republicans and 76 percent for registered Republicans. Trump's overwhelming partisan support indicates Republicans are willing to rally against Clinton even while having reservations about Trump. Nearly 4-in-10 Republicans had an unfavorable impression of Trump in a separate Post-ABC poll last week; only half as many Democrats held negative impressions of Clinton in that survey — 18 percent.
But what about Hispanic Americans who have expressed overwhelmingly negative views of Trump? Among all adults, Hispanics break 69 percent for Clinton and 21 percent for Trump. The 48-point margin is not far from Barack Obama's 44-point winning margin over Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters in 2012, according to national exit poll.
Clinton maintains an advantage among all registered voters in this poll even though independents tilt toward Trump because there are more people who identify as Democrats than Republicans, and those Democrats are more firmly behind Clinton. This phenomenon was apparent in the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney topped Barack Obama by five points among independents, but still lost by four percentage points.
This poll suggests that Trump is in a very similar position right now.