Likely voters see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump equally unfavorably, with a nearly complete partisan split in views of the two — testament to the unprecedented unpopularity of the candidates and the level of division between their opposing camps.
These divisions and the partisan predispositions that inform them help explain the close contest, unchanged in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll at 46 percent for Clinton and 45 percent for Trump, with 4 percent for Gary Johnson and 2 percent for Jill Stein.
Clinton is seen unfavorably by 60 percent of likely voters in the latest results, a new high. Trump is seen unfavorably by essentially as many, 58 percent. Marking the depth of these views, 49 percent see Clinton "strongly" unfavorably, and 48 percent say the same about Trump — unusual levels of strong sentiment.
The extent of partisan antipathy in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, is remarkable: 97 percent of Trump supporters see Clinton unfavorably, 90 percent strongly so; 95 percent of Clinton supporters see Trump unfavorably, 90 percent, again, strongly so.
Beneath these results is a possible slip in enthusiasm for Clinton. Using just the last two nights' results — after FBI Director James Comey revealed a further Clinton-related email investigation — 47 percent of her supporters say they're very enthusiastic about her, compared with 51 percent across the previous six nights.
Overall vote preferences haven't changed since Comey's announcement, and the change in strong enthusiasm for Clinton is not statistically significant and could reflect night-to-night variability. Still, it bears watching.
With 6 in 10 likely voters surveyed viewing them unfavorably, Clinton and Trump are the two most unpopular presidential candidates in ABC/Post polls dating to the 1984 election. The previous high in October of an election year was 51 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Walter Mondale in 1984. The high at any point in other campaign cycles was George H.W. Bush's 53 percent in July 1992.
Notable, too, is that just 36 percent saw Romney "strongly" unfavorably, versus 49 percent and 48 percent, respectively, for Clinton and Trump. In available data, strong unfavorability for these candidates, like unfavorability overall, is at record highs.
Comparisons with the past two elections underscore the level of strong antipathy toward this year's candidates. In 2012 about 9 in 10 Barack Obama and Mitt Romney supporters saw the opposing candidate unfavorably, just short of the levels today. But they were substantially less likely — by 16 or 20 percentage points — to feel strongly about it.
The difference from 2008 is even more striking. Likely voters then were less apt than now, by 20 to 25 points, to see the opposing candidate unfavorably, and less likely to do so strongly, by a vast 33 points.
As with vote preferences, there are sharp differences among groups in favorable views of the candidates: 67 percent of whites see Clinton unfavorably, 56 percent strongly so, compared with 53 and 42 percent, respectively, for Trump. Clinton’s unfavorable rating is 13 points higher among men than among women and soars to 79 percent (70 percent strongly unfavorable) among white men who lack a college degree.
In contrast, 59 percent of nonwhites see Clinton favorably, versus 22 percent for Trump.
Partisanship and Preference
Vote preferences between the two candidates have been very stable and were virtually even the last six nights running — a sharp difference from a large Clinton lead in the first four nights, immediately after a period of peak controversy for Trump.
Consolidation for Trump in his party has been one part of the dynamic; he has gone from a low of 82 percent support among Republicans early in the tracking period to 89 percent now, his high. Clinton, meanwhile has gone from a high of 90 percent support among Democrats to 87 percent now — not a significant change but a low in the latest four-night result.
With the latest results, it is the first time in tracking that Trump has had higher support among Republicans than Clinton's among Democrats, 89 versus 87 percent. The 2 point difference is not close to statistically significant but is another result to follow in the days ahead.
The data show Clinton going from 95 percent support among liberal Democrats early in the tracking poll to 88 percent now, while Trump has gone from 89 percent among conservative Republicans to 94 percent now.
Independents — sometimes swing voters in past elections, albeit inconsistently — also merit attention. They've gone from a scant 6 points in Clinton's favor in the first four nights of tracking, 44 percent to 38 for Trump, to a substantial Trump lead now, 51 percent to 34 for Clinton.
A key element here is the partisan preferences of independents who emerge as likely to vote. They were 2 points more likely to lean toward the Republican Party rather than the Democratic Party at the start of tracking and are 10 points more apt to do so now.
Young voters (ages 18 to 29) were a central element of the Obama coalition; he won them by a record 34 point margin in 2008 and by 23 points in 2012. Today, though, preferences among young voters have contracted from 56 to 21 percent in Clinton's favor in early tracking to 48 to 35 percent now.
Again, shifts in partisan turnout are a factor. At the start of tracking, the share of Democrats among young likely voters exceeded the share of Republicans by 26 points. Today the gap has narrowed to half that.
Another element is the extent to which young likely voters prefer to support third-party candidates: 16 percent currently do so, versus 6 percent of older likely voters.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Oct. 26 to 29, 2016, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,165 likely voters. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 37-27-30 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
Question 7 was asked Oct. 27 to 29 among 935 likely voters; those results have a 3.5 point error margin.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York City, with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York City. See details on the survey’s methodology here.