JUDY WOODRUFF: We dig in now to the numbers in the race for the White House, with most national and battleground state polls showing Hillary Clinton ahead.
As the number of undecided voters shrink by the day, we are joined by two people who have made a career in polling. Democratic pollster Peter Hart is founder of Hart Research and Associates. He is fresh from conducting a focus group of voters in Charlotte, North Carolina. And Whit Ayres, he’s a Republican pollster and author of the book “2016 and Beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America.”
And welcome to both of you.
Let’s talk about where this race stands nationally.
Peter, what does it look like?
PETER HART, Democratic Pollster: Well, it looks pretty uphill if you’re Donald Trump and on that side. You look at Hillary Clinton, she stands in much better shape, and the organizational efforts who are going to be important for her. But I think she is primed to do very well on election night.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it, Whit?
WHIT AYRES, Republican Pollster: If you look at an average of recent polls, Judy, Hillary Clinton is ahead by about 6 percentage points.
To put that in perspective, Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama in 2012 by four points, and John McCain lost to Barack Obama in 2008 by seven points. So, the deficit now is somewhere between the 2008 and 2012 numbers.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Peter, if people watching want to know, OK, who and what are contributing to her doing well and his not doing as well, how would you describe that?
PETER HART: Well, she has broadened beyond the traditional Democratic coalition, and she’s reaching across to independents. But she’s doing exceptionally well with women at this stage in the game.
I think that all the troubles that Donald Trump has had and his difficulties have parlayed a situation where independent women are moving across. And, also, women who have college education, that vote went for Romney four years ago. It certainly is going to be Democratic this time around.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And non-white.
PETER HART: Oh, definitely the non-white voters are there. And the millennials are also very strong.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Whit, what about Donald Trump? Where is he doing well and where is he struggling?
WHIT AYRES: Donald Trump has based his entire campaign on getting a higher turnout of whites and getting a large proportion of whites.
The problem with that is that every single presidential election since 1996, the proportion of whites has gone down by two, three, or four percentage point. This year will probably be about 70 percent white and 30 percent non-white.
But trying to win a national election in this environment by getting a larger and larger share of a smaller and smaller proportion of the electorate is a losing strategic proposition.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Having said that, Peter, you come, as we said, from conducting this focus group last night, undecided voters, Charlotte, North Carolina.
PETER HART: Late deciders.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Late deciders.
PETER HART: OK.
So these are people who waited until after the convention and have now jumped in, and some of them still remain undecided. And what’s so fascinating is, we started the race where people were unhappy with the world. They remain unhappy with the world, but they’re more unhappy with the candidates.
I mean, they look at one as unfit and the other as untrustworthy. So, these poor people are reaching the end of the road, and, essentially, they don’t know what to do. The interesting thing is, there were three women in the group, all of whom should be in the Republican column, and they would like to be there, but they just cannot stomach Donald Trump.
They don’t find him as acceptable. They find him as a bully. They find him as a baby. They just — everything about him bothers them. So they can’t be with him.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Whit, have we seen anything — have you seen anything like this in your years of polling?
WHIT AYRES: We have never seen anything like Donald Trump before and probably won’t for the rest of our lives.
WHIT AYRES: It’s amazing, though, Judy. Two-thirds of the people in this country are unsatisfied with the direction of the country. They want a change.
You would think that Donald Trump would be able to tap into that successfully, but he has run his entire campaign preaching to the converted and trashing everyone else. Consequently, he basically is ending the campaign right where he started it, somewhere in the low 40s.
And so a general election strategy that involves revving up your own supporters, but not reaching out, is not a successful strategy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Peter, back to this question about where the race is overall, is there a path to victory for Donald Trump at this point?
PETER HART: No.
And I say that. Obviously, turnout is critical. And African-Americans are less enthusiastic than they were in 2008 and 2012. Hispanics are — seem to be as interested, millennials much less interested. So, I think Barack Obama becomes the key to this.
He has been an exceptional surrogate, and essentially bringing across those voters. And I think Michelle Obama has become sort of the moral center of this campaign, and there’s nobody that we have found that is more popular. So, I actually think the Obamas become the legacy and the reason that Hillary Clinton can win.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Whit, what do you see? Do you see there’s a path of some kind for Donald Trump?
WHIT AYRES: It would be like drawing an inside straight. He would have to win every single swing state that’s remotely close right now, and that’s a very, very high hill to climb with less than two weeks to go.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Whit, you were also telling us that — something that strikes but this election year is the separation between what you call the Trump brand and the Republican brand. What did you mean by that?
WHIT AYRES: There’s a dramatic difference between the Trump brand and the Republican brand, in part because Trump is not really a Republican. What that means for down-ballot races is…
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Senate and the House.
WHIT AYRES: Yes, the Senate and the House, is that a lot of Republican candidates are running well ahead of Donald Trump, even in these swing states.
Candidates like Rob Portman in Ohio, Marco Rubio in Florida, Chuck Grassley in Iowa, John McCain in Arizona are all running well ahead of Trump. And that is the hope that Republicans have that we could actually do well in congressional and Senate races.
It bears mentioning that when Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in 1996 by 8.5 points, Republicans picked up two Senate seats. So it’s not unheard of.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Peter, how do you see these Senate races going?
PETER HART: Well, I think the Senate is — the Republicans are having a very difficult time, because they have so many seats up, and the mentions that Whit made are important.
But you really have to go to a different side of it. You look at so many of these states, whether it is Pennsylvania or New Hampshire or even North Carolina and Wisconsin and Illinois, all of those seats are going to be Democratic seats, in part because they will have the coattails of Hillary Clinton. And you can add Missouri there.
So, I think the Democrats are going to have the majority, I think somewhere in 51 to 52 seats. That would be my take.
WHIT AYRES: I’m not willing to concede all those seats today, Peter.
WHIT AYRES: I think a lot of them are very close. I think Republicans are running very good campaigns for the Senate in those — in those states. And I am not giving up hope that Republicans can hold on to both the House and the Senate.
PETER HART: Underline hope.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re going to have you both back after the election and look at the numbers.
Peter Hart, Whit Ayres, thank you both.
WHIT AYRES: Thank you. Enjoyed being with you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.