Two new polls released on Thursday highlight a disturbing reality: In a race between two unpopular candidates, an excited base could mean everything. And in the case of the current presidential contest—a race that observers say is "hers to lose"—the failure of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to inspire voters could prove her ultimate downfall.
The latest update of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times national tracking poll found that Donald Trump's advantage over Clinton "grew to nearly six percentage points on Thursday, his largest advantage since his post-convention bounce in July."
According to the LA Times, the biggest reason for the bump "appears to be an increase in the likelihood of Trump supporters who say they plan to vote, combined with a drop among Clinton supporters on that question. The nominees are now roughly equal in the voting commitment of their supporters, erasing an advantage previously held by Clinton."
Similarly, the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that in a four-way race, the two leading party candidates are tied at 42 percent while Libertarian Gary Johnson wins eight percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein takes four.
According to RealClearPolitics' national polling average, in a two-way race, Clinton's lead over her Republican rival has dropped to less than two points from eight points in early August.
And although the public continues to express record dissatisfaction with both candidates, the New York Times suggests that Trump's antagonistic bombast has galvanized more enthusiasm among supporters.
"Over all, just 43 percent of likely voters describe themselves as very enthusiastic about casting a ballot in November," the New York Times reports. "Fifty-one percent of Mr. Trump's supporters say they are very enthusiastic about voting; 43 percent of Mrs. Clinton's supporters say they are very enthusiastic."
The lackluster support is particularly evident among young voters, many of whom were devotees of former Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. According to the New York Times/CBS survey, more than a third of likely voters age 18-29 back a third-party candidate.
Another shocking take-away from that poll is that Trump and Clinton are virtually tied among white women with 45 and 46 percent, respectively.
It is worth noting that this latest installment of the New York Times/ CBS poll is the first to include a measure of likely voters, which weighs respondents by their answers to questions about voting history, attention to the campaign, and likelihood of voting. As New York Magazine's Ed Kilgore pointed out, this factor typically gives Republican candidates a "bump" that may continue to boost Trump in future polling as other surveys begin to include this measure.
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Kilgore on Wednesday broke down the most recent battleground state assessments and determined, "It is possible, in fact, that Trump is opening up multiple paths to victory."
"[Clinton's] refusal to even attempt to embrace bold progressive values and her inability to read the simmering nationwide anger over economic and racial injustice are the larger obstacles to her popularity."
The most recent CNN/ORC battleground state poll on Wednesday found that in a four-way race among likely voters, Trump edges out Clinton in both Ohio and Florida. Meanwhile, the latest Monmouth University poll showed Trump overtaking Clinton in Nevada, 44 to 42 percent.
"If you want Trump to win, there’s fresh evidence that your preferred candidate is within striking distance of actually getting elected," wrote MSNBC's Steve Benen on Thursday. "If you want Clinton to win, you can no longer assume this race is in the bag—you and your allies are going to have to go earn it."
Indeed, columnist and Uprising Radio executive producer Sonali Kolhatkar wrote recently that the decline of the Clinton campaign has less to do with her rival's success and more to do with her failure to articulate a bold, inspiring vision for voters beyond simply "not Trump."
"For Clinton to fixate on Trump's endless flaws suggests that her own platform has little substance," Kolhatkar wrote. "Her refusal to even attempt to embrace bold progressive values and her inability to read the simmering nationwide anger over economic and racial injustice are the larger obstacles to her popularity."
What Americans are looking for is bold, visionary thinking that acknowledges how broken Washington, D.C., is at our collective expense. The majority of Americans do not want measured, lukewarm progressive positions that keep systems intact. This is why Sanders, in calling for a "political revolution," attracted so many new and independent voters, especially young millennials. This is why Trump is gaining traction, because between the two major-party candidates, his pathetic piñata-inspiring figure is offering the bolder rhetoric.
If Clinton loses this election, it will not be because Americans are dumb, racist misogynists who would cut off their noses to spite their faces in refusing to elect a sane woman over an insane man. It will not be because too many Americans "selfishly" voted for a third party or didn't vote at all. It will be because Clinton refused to compromise her allegiance to Wall Street and the morally bankrupt center-right establishment positions of her party and chose not to win over voters.
"This election is hers to lose," Kolhatkar concludes, "and if this nation ends up with President Trump, it will be most of all the fault of Clinton and the Democratic Party that backs her."