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Clinton holds lead over Trump in new poll, but warning signs emerge

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 5 points among likely voters, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post; photos: Melina Mara/Post; Jabin Botsford/Post)

Hillary Clinton maintains a lead over Donald Trump, but lagging interest among some of her supporters poses a potential turnout challenge for Democrats with less than nine weeks before Election Day, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Clinton holds a 46 percent to 41 percent edge over Trump among likely voters, followed by Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson at 9 percent and the Green Party’s Jill Stein at 2 percent. Clinton’s lead swells to 10 percentage points among the wider swath of registered voters, 45 percent to 35 percent, similar to her 45 percent to 37 percent edge last month.

The findings come at a time when the margins between Clinton and Trump have narrowed in some battleground states and when some national polls also have shown a tightening in the competition. Heading toward the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, though, Trump still appears to have the more challenging route to victory.

Both candidates’ reputations have been battered by the campaign, with more than 6 in 10 voters saying each candidate is not honest and trustworthy, and with majorities critical of Clinton’s ethics as secretary of state as well as Trump’s qualifications and his behavior toward women and minorities.

Asked about major campaign issues in the past month, almost 2 in 3 voters disapprove of Trump’s explanation of his policy for handling undocumented immigrants, while nearly 6 in 10 say Clinton granted special favors to donors of the Clinton Foundation.

Both candidates’ coalitions are united more by antipathy toward their opponent than enthusiasm for their own candidacy. Fewer than half of Trump’s supporters — 46 percent — say they are “very enthusiastic” about his candidacy, while that number drops to 33 percent for Clinton’s supporters. Meanwhile, 8 in 10 Trump supporters feel Clinton would do real damage to the country as president, while 83 percent of Clinton supporters feel the same way about Trump.

Trump’s supporters report greater interest in the campaign and voting, which could factor into turnout. More than 6 in 10 registered voters who support Trump say they are following the campaign very closely, and 93 percent say they are absolutely certain to vote. By contrast, 45 percent of Clinton backers are paying close attention to the race, and 80 percent are certain to vote, while one-fifth say they will probably or are less likely to cast a ballot.

Clinton is relying on an extensive ground operation in the competitive states to turn out every vote possible, mindful that some of her supporters are not enthusiastic. Trump has gotten a late start in organizing in the battleground states and appears to be well behind Clinton in this aspect of the campaign. He will rely heavily on efforts by the Republican National Committee to reach his voters.

Seven in 10 voters say they have “definitely” decided which candidate to support, but a sizable 3 in 10 say they are undecided or might change their mind in the last two months. The share of persuadable voters is similar to that in 2008 but higher than Post-ABC polls in 2004 and 2012 conducted at a similar point. Roughly 8 in 10 Trump and Clinton supporters say they are committed to each candidate, while less than half of those who support Johnson or Stein are certain of their choice.

Other national polls have found Clinton’s wide advantage after the party conventions shrinking in the past month to low single digits. The Post-ABC poll finds no slippage in Clinton’s advantage among registered voters during that period, but her narrower advantage among likely voters, just beyond the poll’s 4.5 percentage-point margin of error, could reflect weaker engagement among her supporters.

The Post-ABC poll finds 58 percent of Americans expect Clinton will prevail, though only 18 percent think she will do so easily. Nearly 9 in 10 Clinton supporters think she will win, while just under 7 in 10 Trump backers are similarly confident about him.

The poll finds Trump continues to face significant challenges to expanding his support. Trump's 50 percent to 36 percent lead among white likely voters is smaller than Mitt Romney's 20-point edge in the 2012 exit poll, driven by weaker support among white women and college graduates. Trump and Clinton are actually nearly even among white men with college degrees, a sharp change from recent elections when Republicans carried those voters easily.

Clinton’s double-digit lead with white college-educated women would mark Democrats’ largest margin since exit polling began covering the topic in 1980.

Clinton’s 75 percent to 13 percent lead among the growing share of nonwhite voters is similar to Barack Obama’s four years ago. That comes despite efforts by Trump over recent weeks to appeal more directly for support among African Americans, which so far appear to have produced no tangible results.

Trump does benefit from more unified Republican support, with 86 percent of likely GOP voters supporting him, ticking up from 80 percent in early August. Clinton receives 90 percent support among fellow Democrats, similar to 93 percent in August. In this poll, independents split 39 percent to 37 percent between Clinton and Trump. A month ago, they were tilted in Trump’s favor.

The poll finds no clear advantage for Trump across a range of issues and personal attributes. Clinton holds a nine-point advantage among registered voters on being closer to them on the issues, a 12-point advantage on “understanding the problems of people like you” and a 26-point edge on having the better personality and temperament to be president.

The two are closer when asked which candidate is more honest and trustworthy — 45 percent choose Clinton, while 43 percent pick Trump.

More than one-third of voters say the economy is the most important issue in their vote, and Clinton holds a narrow 50 percent to 44 percent edge over Trump in trust to handle the economy. Terrorism ranks second on a list of voters’ concerns, with Clinton and Trump trusted about evenly on the issue among registered voters (47 percent to 44 percent). Clinton has a slight 49 percent to 44 percent advantage on trust to handle immigration, which is ranked by 7 percent as the most important issue in their vote.

Clinton holds a double-digit advantage over Trump on trust to handle taxes and a more than 20-point edge on trust to handle international trade agreements, a signature issue of the GOP nominee’s candidacy.

Trump appeared to ease off his previous call to immediately deport all undocumented immigrants, although his position is still not entirely clear. His support for building a wall along the southern border and forcing Mexico to pay for it has not changed.

The Post-ABC poll finds broad skepticism of Trump’s overall approach, with 78 percent of voters saying they prefer offering undocumented immigrants who pass background checks a path to citizenship, which is Clinton’s position. Just 16 percent support full deportation. Six in 10 voters oppose building a wall along the country’s southern border, and nearly three-quarters say Trump would not be able to get Mexico to fund the barrier. Among Trump’s supporters, roughly three-quarters support building a wall, but 62 percent say they prefer a path to citizenship over deportation.

In general, more than 6 in 10 voters say Trump has been inconsistent about the policies he would pursue as president, and 46 percent say this makes them think less of Trump. More than 4 in 10 voters say Clinton has been inconsistent, with 31 percent saying this makes them think less of her.

Beyond their policy differences, both Trump and Clinton continue to face widespread skepticism over questions of ethics and personality.

Just over 7 in 10 voters say Clinton is “too willing to bend the rules,” including a striking 55 percent of fellow Democrats. Meanwhile, a 57 percent majority of voters say Trump is biased against women and minorities. Neither sentiment has softened much in recent months.

Voters are also skeptical of how Clinton and Trump would manage conflicts of interest with their ties to nonprofit organizations and business, respectively. Almost 6 in 10 voters say they are very or somewhat concerned about conflicts with Trump’s business interests, while a similar portion are concerned about conflicts between Clinton’s work as president and the Clinton Foundation.

Concerns about Clinton’s use of a private email server have peaked in the two months after the FBI recommended against criminally charging her. Fully 64 percent of voters say they disapprove of her handling of questions about her use of personal email while secretary of state, up slightly from 59 percent in June to the highest level in Post-ABC polling since last year. Half of voters, 50 percent, say they “strongly disapprove” of her handling of questions.

Amid Clinton and Trump’s struggles, the Post-ABC poll finds 58 percent of Americans overall approve of President Obama’s job performance, the highest since July 2009 and continuing the positive movement since December when he stood at 45 percent. Underscoring the passionate negative views that voters have of the candidate they oppose this year, nearly 8 in 10 Americans who disapprove of Obama say he has done real damage to the country.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted Sept. 5-8 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults reached by cellular and landline phones. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the error margin is four points among the sample of 842 registered voters, and 4.5 points among the sample of 642 likely voters.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.