Donald Trump may see a glimmer of hope in the sea of polls that show him trailing Hillary Clinton – he consistently gains on his Democratic rival when third-party candidates are taken into account.
A flurry of recent surveys, especially in battleground states, shows that when voters are asked about a four-way race -- involving Trump, Clinton, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein – Clinton’s lead often narrows.
The most recent example is in Virginia, where a new Washington Post poll shows Clinton ahead in a two-way race by a sizeable 14-point margin among registered voters, 52-38 percent. But when voters are asked about Johnson and Stein as well, Clinton’s lead narrows to 11 points.
Quinnipiac University polling released last week in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania showed a similar pattern -- with the races tightening slightly when Johnson and Stein were factored in.
"When voters are asked about a four-way ballot that includes Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, Trump picks up a point or two against Secretary Clinton in each of the three states,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement.
In a new NBC News national poll, Clinton’s 9-point lead also shrinks to 6 points when Johnson and Stein are included.
The findings come as Stein in particular has made an aggressive effort to peel off disaffected Democrats. The Green Party candidate kept a presence on the sidelines of last month’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia where she appealed to Bernie Sanders supporters vowing to oppose Clinton’s candidacy.
Johnson, though, is drawing from the Republican voter pool as well.
In the latest Washington Post Virginia poll, the former New Mexico governor gets 25 percent from Republicans who supported other primary candidates.
Unclear is whether the candidates will continue to pick up steam in the race – and whether, if they do, that will redound to Trump’s benefit. The third-party candidates still have to collect signatures in some remaining states, including Virginia, to even get on the ballot.
And even when they are included in recent polls, Clinton’s lead over Trump remains daunting.
In the Quinnipiac poll, her lead in Pennsylvania, a pivotal battleground, narrows from 10 percent to 9 percent when third-party candidates are included.
And in another set of battleground polls by NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist,Clinton maintains a solid lead across Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado no matter which candidates are polled.
That lead shrinks slightly, though, in Virginia and Colorado when third-party candidates are considered.