All over the country, Democratic voters, progressive political junkies, and even some conservatives opposed to the election of Donald Trump are hitting the panic button, thanks to a couple weeks worth of tightening in the polls. Down from her nearly double-digit polling highs in the aftermath of the Democratic National Convention in July, she's now locked in a hotly-contested race against the most erratic, unpredictable Republican nominee in modern history. But that doesn't mean Clinton shouldn't start worrying about the polls, because they could be indicative of the rough few weeks she's been having and not a glimpse into the new normal going forward.
You don't need to be a savvy statistician to see what's been happening over the past couple of weeks, although it doesn't hurt to have it easily visualized. If you're a devotee of the polling mavens over at FiveThirtyEight, then you've probably spent more than enough time eyeing their various polling models and obsessing over the candidates' respective likelihoods of victory.
And as their polling tracker has illustrated, it's been a long slide for Clinton lately. Back on Aug. 14, according to the site's polls-only forecast, Clinton hit her highest mark when she had an 89.2 percent chance of victory. Now, according to that same model, Trump has a 40 percent chance of toppling her and winning the White House ― and if you're not so keen on the idea of a Trump presidency, those are harrowing odds.
That's not to say Clinton is definitely in dire straits here; rather, it could simply be that the polls now being factored into the averages are particularly unfavorable to her, due to their being taken in the midst of one of the shakiest few-day stretches of her campaign. And this has been a particularly trying time for Clinton because it's been marked by her admittedly "grossly generalistic" estimate of the number of "deplorable" Trump supporters, and her succumbing to the effects of mild pneumonia and dehydration on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Simply put, whether you agree or disagree with the criticisms she's faced over both, it was a rather rough news cycle for Clinton.
But that means there's a chance that her numbers could rebound to a more comfortable lead ― she's currently up by around one point nationally, according to RealClearPolitics' polling average. As soon as some new polls start trickling in, reflecting the state of the race as it would normally be, rather than how it is when one candidate is ailing and the other is laying peculiarly low, she could see a bump in support.
Also, it's possible that the polls could be reversed by what's been a chaotic few days on Trump's part, too. Within the last week, Trump refused to say President Obama was born in the United States, and later testily conceded that he was a U.S. citizen (though he deceptively blamed Clinton for the "Birther" movement). He also mocked Clinton's physical health, made a farcical show of releasing some of his health information on the Dr. Oz show, attacked a black pastor from Flint, Michigan, for reminding him not to give a political speech in her church, and mused that Clinton's Secret Service protection should be disarmed, and then "let's see what happens to her."
In short, it's been a return to classic Trump ― to the guy who attacked the Khan family, Judge Gonzalo Curiel, John McCain, and virtually anyone who posed a public challenge to him. It's a side of Trump that's been repressed lately, at least in a relative sense, but it seems like he's starting to bubble up again. If that continues to happen, and Clinton stabilizes her campaign, and the numbers still look this tight, that'll be a pretty good time to sound the alarm bells.