A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Clinton Spins Her Donors

She claims recent national polls "consistently" show she'd win in November. That's not true.


Summary

The debt-strapped Clinton campaign is appealing for money with an e-mail telling potential donors that polls "consistently" show she would beat McCain in November, and that she's leading Obama in the popular vote. We find both claims are misleading.

  • A number of recent polls actually show Clinton tied with McCain, or even trailing. For most of 2008, polls have shown McCain ahead.
  • She can claim to have won more votes than Obama only by counting Michigan, a primary where Obama was not on the ballot and which Clinton once said "isn't going to count for anything."

Analysis

Have You Seen The Polls?
 

Sen. Hillary Clinton's fund-raising appeal is titled "Have you seen the polls?" It leads with a claim that "lately" polls "consistently" show she would win the general election:

Clinton: Have you seen the general election polls lately? They consistently show that we'll beat John McCain in November. In a national head-to-head match and in the critical swing states, the numbers show I'm the best candidate to take back the White House for Democrats. 

Clinton exaggerates. Most recent national polls do show her doing better than Obama in head-to-head match-ups against Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee-to-be. But they do not "consistently" show her ahead of McCain.

For example:

  • The bipartisan George Washington University "Battleground Poll" conducted May 11 through May 14 showed McCain trouncing Clinton 51 to 43. Obama did better, leading McCain 49 to 47.
  • The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll had Clinton exactly tied with McCain for 10 of the last 16 days, and leading on only 5 days. Furthermore her lead was never more than 4 points, while the poll's statistical margin of error is plus or minus 4 points. The poll had McCain leading 47 to 44 on May 22.
  • The Reuters/Zogby Poll released May 21 showed Clinton and McCain "essentially tied." Clinton led by 41 to 40, but that one-point lead was well within the poll's three-point margin of error.

Clinton would have been correct to say that some recent polls consistently show her leading McCain. The Gallup Daily has put her ahead of McCain throughout the month of May, for example. However, even in the most recent Gallup poll, for May 29, her lead had dwindled to only 2 points, which is also the poll's statistical margin of error. The same poll showed Obama also slightly ahead of McCain, 46 to 45.

And of course, even if all the polls did consistently show Clinton leading McCain in recent days – which they do not – she still would not be justified in saying that they "show that we'll beat John McCain in November." No poll can predict the future. And in fact, the polls show she's often been behind McCain in the past. The Web site Pollster.com tracks a variety of political polls and keeps a chart that attempts to consolidate the results, and it shows Clinton has actually been behind McCain for most of 2008. Obama isn't doing as well against McCain recently, but that hasn't always been true. Like Clinton, Obama has gone up and down, sometimes leading McCain and sometimes trailing.

"Our Popular Vote Lead"

Clinton's e-mail also repeats her frequently stated and misleading claim that she's winning the popular vote in the Democratic contests so far. She appeals for money saying, "We can win the nomination if we extend our popular vote lead." The problem with that statement is that Obama has gotten more votes than Clinton when totaling up all the contests in which they have both been on the ballot.

The political Web site Real Clear Politics has an excellent tally, with links to official reports from state election authorities. Those show that even counting Clinton's win in Florida, where the two were on the ballot but did not campaign due to the state's violation of party rules, Obama leads Clinton by 163,655 votes, or 0.5 percent nationally. Obama's lead grows to 273,877 votes, or 0.7 percent, when estimates are included for Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington, which have not released official totals of popular votes.

Only by counting Michigan, where Clinton was on the ballot but Obama was not, can Clinton claim to have won more votes. Counting only officially reported results, Michigan puts her total ahead nationally by 164,654 votes or 0.45 percent. But even that lead shrinks to 54,432 votes, or 0.15 percent, once estimated votes from the four non-reporting states are included.

For the record, Clinton hasn't always been so eager to count Michigan votes. On Oct. 11, 2007, she said of Michigan, "It's clear, this election they're having isn't going to count for anything." But that was when she was wooing New Hampshire voters, who cherish their first-in-the-nation primary and who were upset that Michigan was violating party rules designed to protect it. She was responding to an interviewer for New Hampshire Public Radio who asked, "So, if you value the DNC calendar, why not just pull out of Michigan? Why not just say, Hey Michigan, I'm off the ballot?" Clinton went on to win the New Hampshire primary. 

-by Brooks Jackson

Update, June 2: After winning the Puerto Rico primary, Clinton said there was "no doubt" that she was winning the popular vote. But it still takes Michigan to put Clinton in the lead.

Sources

"BATTLEGROUND 34," results of poll conducted for George Washington University May 11-14, 2008 by The Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners, released 22 May 2008.

Press Release, "Reuters/Zogby Poll: Obama Opens Double-digit Lead Over McCain in National Test" Zogby International 21 May 2008.

"Gallup Daily: Obama Back Up By Double-Digits," Gallup, Inc.  29 May 2008.

"2008 Democratic Popular Vote," Real Clear Politics, Web site accessed 30 May 2008.

The Associated Press, "Clinton Defends Michigan Ballot Stand," 11 Oct 2007.

Read Clinton's e-mail to potential donors.