Polls are emotional things. People (and candidates) cherry-pick particular surveys not because they have evaluated the methodologies of firms and have decided that one poll is better; they cherry-pick polls to make an emotional or rhetorical point.
On Tuesday morning, CNN and its polling partner ORC released a new poll that offered a surprising result: Donald Trump leads Hillary Clinton by a point among likely voters. In a four-way contest, he leads by two. That close result, after CNN-ORC had Clinton up nine right after the conventions, has inspired a lot of emotion. In order to best serve you, the reading public, we will break our analysis down into two sections, each placing this survey into a different emotional context.
How to read the CNN-ORC poll if you want to be optimistic about Trump/panicky about Clinton
There are three big shifts between the two CNN polls. First, Trump improved his standing among independents. Second, he has consolidated support among Republicans. And, third, the new poll moves from registered voters to likely voters.
The combination of those things is significant. The transition to a likely voter pool tends to favor Republicans for the simple reason that Republicans are more likely to vote than Democrats. There's a correlation between tendency to vote and income, race and age. Older, whiter, wealthier Americans vote more regularly — and when they vote, they vote more for Republican candidates. So once CNN moved to likely voters, there's a natural shift toward Trump.
But the shift is bigger than that, as we can see when we compare the network's July poll with its new one. Trump improved dramatically with independents, gaining 17 points just among registered voters. He's improved with whites without a college degree, a bastion of his support. He's improved with men by 11 points. Again: That's among registered voters. When you consider the likely voter pool, the changes are bigger.
In July, Trump got 84 percent of the Republican vote. Among likely voters in the new survey, he gets 93 percent — just shy of the percentage of support Clinton gets from Democrats.
Potentially more worrisome for Clinton supporters is that Trump's supporters are more likely to say they're enthusiastic about voting. More than half of Trump voters say they're very or extremely enthusiastic about going out to vote. A fifth of Clinton backers say they're not enthusiastic about voting at all.
If the national race is as close as this poll suggests by November, such an enthusiasm gap could spell bad news for Clinton. Since Democrats (often younger and nonwhite) vote less regularly, Clinton will need people to feel inspired to go vote. This poll suggests that her base doesn't really feel that way.
This shift also sheds light on another question. We noted last month that Trump's core base of support, white men without college degrees, were generally less likely to say they were certain they'd vote in November. It's probably still the case that they're less likely to vote than college-educated white women, but it doesn't seem to be hurting Trump much.
How to read the CNN-ORC poll if you want to be optimistic about Clinton/panicky about Trump
There is definitely a function of timing involved in this polling. The last CNN-ORC survey was conducted immediately after the Democratic convention, as Trump was fighting with the Khan family. The most recent poll overlapped with the release of the FBI's summary of Clinton's use of a private email server.
Despite that, and looking only at registered voters, Clinton has a narrow lead. She also maintains an advantage on the question of temperament, with more than half of voters saying hers is preferable for the position. She and Trump are also similarly viewed on favorability, though neither is viewed particularly well in that light. Clinton's net favorability (those viewing her positively minus those viewing her negatively) is minus-14. Trump's is minus-9.
This is a case, though, where Clinton supporters (or Trump fans that don't want their team to get cocky) might remind people that cherry-picking polls is not preferable. In the average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, Clinton still maintains a lead over Trump of about four points nationally. That includes the most recent survey from NBC News and SurveyMonkey, as well as a poll last week from Fox News. It also includes a tie in the Los Angeles Times/USC poll that's been significantly friendlier to Trump over recent weeks.
Of course, the CNN poll also came out the same day as The Post's survey of all 50 states, a survey that showed the hole Trump faces on the electoral map. He continues to trail in the closest states from 2012 and isn't poised to win any state Mitt Romney lost four years ago.
The trick to this article is that both of those analyses are accurate. CNN's poll shows an improved position for Trump, but Clinton continues to appear to be in the better place when all polling is considered. The race has tightened from shortly after the convention, particularly once the pool of voters is narrowed. For fans of either candidate and people of either a pessimistic or optimistic nature, there's something here for everyone.