With nine weeks to go to Election Day, the U.S. presidential contest between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump appears to have narrowed to a virtual dead heat.
A CNN/ORC poll Tuesday showed Trump, a real estate mogul and former reality television show host running for elected office for the first time, edging ahead of Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, by a 45 percent to 43 percent margin, while a collection of polls compiled by realclearpolitics.com gives her about a 3 percentage-point advantage.
Clinton, looking to become the country's first female president, had surged to an 8 percentage-point lead over Trump in the immediate aftermath of the national Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions in July.
But the bounce in support each gained from their respective conventions seems now to have evaporated, with polling throughout the country showing that the results in state-by-state matchups between the two contenders is often close, particularly in about 10 battleground election states where the outcome of the November 8 election is likely to be decided. The winner will replace President Barack Obama when he leaves office in January.
U.S. presidential elections are not determined by the national popular vote but rather in each of the 50 states, with each state's influence on the outcome weighted by its population. A Washington Post/Survey Monkey poll said Tuesday that its massive poll of 74,000 registered voters over the last three weeks of August showed Clinton with an advantage in the Electoral College because she is winning states with bigger populations.
The newspaper said Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, was ahead of Trump by 4 percentage points or more in 20 states, adding up to 244 of the 270 Electoral College votes she needs to become the country's 45th president. Trump also is ahead by that margin in 20 states, but because they mostly are smaller states, his edge adds up to only 126 electoral votes.
The Post said that in the 10 remaining states, with 168 electoral votes, neither candidate had a lead of 4 percentage points or more.
With two other candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, included in the polling, Clinton's margin narrows somewhat, with even fewer states showing Trump or Clinton with a lead of 4 percentage points or more.
George Washington University political scientist John Sides told VOA that "the usual lesson here is to ignore any one poll," such as the CNN survey showing Trump pulling ahead.
"The national polls have narrowed a little bit, but Clinton still has a clear lead," Sides said. "This in turn translates into a significant Electoral College advantage."
John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management, said, "I think what the CNN poll tells us is that like most presidential races, this one is close at the national level."
"Polls have certainly tightened statistically over the past couple of weeks," Hudak said, "but I think by any metric and whether it is a poll of national polls or whether it's a look at the state level, I think it's still fairly clear that Clinton has a notable advantage."
Clinton, heading to a campaign event Tuesday, disparaged Trump, as she has in recent weeks, for his refusal to release his U.S. tax returns, something American presidential candidates have done for four decades.
"He clearly has something to hide," Clinton told reporters aboard her campaign aircraft. She alleged that his business career had been marked by "scams, frauds and questionable relationships."
Trump has said he will release his 2015 tax returns only after federal auditors are done reviewing them.
He campaigned Tuesday in the mid-Atlantic state of Virginia, attacking Clinton's support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that the United States and five other world powers negotiated with Tehran to restrain its ability to develop nuclear weaponry. Trump said the pact endangers Israel's existence.
"This was a deal at the highest level of incompetence. Look at how bad her decisions have been," he said.
Rocky road for both candidates
The CNN poll showing Trump edging ahead seemed to indicate that he had weathered a difficult August, when he for a second time shuffled his top campaign aides; feuded with a Muslim couple whose son, a U.S. military officer, was killed in fighting in Iraq more than a decade ago; and offered voters conflicting versions of how he would change U.S. immigration policies.
But at the same time, Clinton has faced new questions about her use of an unsecured, private email server during her tenure as the top U.S. diplomat from 2009 to 2013.
U.S. investigators determined that she was "extremely careless" in her handling of classified national security material in her emails but that no criminal charges were warranted.
Trump and Clinton will meet face to face September 26, the date of the first of three planned debates between them, with the other two scheduled in October.
Trump won the endorsement Tuesday of 88 retired generals and admirals, who said they believed he would rebuild the country's military and secure its borders. In recent weeks, Clinton has also been endorsed by a large contingent of former national security officials, including some who have served under Republican presidents.