Across the East River three days later, almost precisely a mile to the northwest, another campaign kicked off. Down at the bottom of Trump Tower, in front of a waterfall and beside a soon-to-be-famous escalator, Donald Trump launched his candidacy — one that almost no one, at the time, thought was going to result in the nomination.
It's the one-year anniversary of the latter of those two events, the speech in which Trump immediately deviated from his planned remarks to offer his assessment of the willingness of immigrants from Mexico to commit crimes. Over the course of the intervening 366 days (it's a leap year), there were only about 30 in which Trump or Clinton didn't hold leads in polling for their party's nomination, per the Real Clear Politics average. Looking back, the two contests seem much less contested than they felt. But, amazingly, it was Trump who had the smoother path.
If we look at the net favorability of each candidate since he or she entered the race — that is, the percentage of people who view them favorably minus those who don't) — each has seen an overall decline. Clinton's numbers, generally about even when she started, have dropped much more than Trump's. But Trump's remain much lower than Clinton's. In 67 polls since last July in which the pollster asked about the favorability of both candidates, Clinton's net favorability was higher than Trump's in 65 of them. One of the two exceptions came in a Fox News poll late last month — a poll that set a new high for Trump and a new low for Clinton since each started campaigning.
In our survey from May 2015, Clinton was viewed positively by most Democrats — and about half of independents. Republicans disliked her strongly. By our most recent survey, released this week, Clinton's favorability with Democrats had grown a bit, but her numbers with independents had sunk. Overall, she went from minus-7 to minus-13 net favorability in our polling.
Compare that with Trump. Trump had fairly weak numbers with Republicans at the outset, but they improved dramatically over the course of his campaign. He had bad numbers among Democrats — but those got much worse. Among independents, he stayed about flat, but improved slightly on favorability.
Overall, he went from minus-63 to minus-38. He went up. Why? Because he didn't really have anywhere else to go. Republicans view him better than they used to, but he's still not super-popular with them. He changed some minds — enough to win the Republican Party's nomination — but not enough, it seems, to persuade most Americans to look at him positively.
Clinton changed some minds, too. Her low numbers among independents are probably in part a function of her tough campaign against Bernie Sanders, who, far more than Trump, consolidated support from people who don't identify with a political party.
Clinton emerged from a surprisingly tough contest battered. Trump entered in bad shape and left in slightly less bad shape.
Put another way, over the past 366 days, we've seen two surprises. One: Clinton's win wasn't a cakewalk. Two: Trump's win happened at all.