Only 5 points separate candidates in poll; voters’ negative outlook could shape election

- Susan Page and Fernanda Crescende

Democrat Hillary Clinton’s lead over Republican Donald Trump narrowed to 5 percentage points, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, in a groundbrea­king presidenti­al election that is sparking feelings of alarm for most voters.

The nationwide survey shows a sharply polarized electorate that says the country is headed in the wrong direction, feels less safe living in the USA than they used to and gives negative ratings to both presidenti­al candidates.

Sixty-one percent report feeling alarmed about the election, swamping the 23% who are excited. Few are bored: just 9%.

“I can appreciate how it might be desirable to have someone that is outside the political realm bringing a new perspectiv­e, but at the same time, the complete lack of electoral experience is scary,” Gurleen Chadha, 23, a medical student from Los Angeles, said of Trump in a follow-up phone interview after being polled. She supports Clinton, the presumptiv­e Democratic nominee.

On the other hand, Michael Perrotta, 48, an account executive for a trucking firm on Long Island, worries about Clinton’s in- tegrity. “She has a lot of investigat­ions, and it’s a little questionab­le,” he said. He backs the presumptiv­e Republican nominee. “I am sure Donald Trump is no angel, but he doesn’t have that special-interest thing.”

Clinton leads Trump by 5 percentage points, 45.6% to 40.4% (Rounding would make the lead 6 points). That’s closer than two months ago, when she led in the USA TODAY survey by double digits, 50%-39%.

Since the poll last spring, both candidates have consolidat­ed their claims to their parties’ nomination­s, but neither has seen a significan­t bump in his or her standing. Indeed, Clinton’s support has dropped by almost 5 points.

When Libertaria­n candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are added to the list of options, Clinton’s lead over Trump drops to 4 points, 39%-35%. Johnson is backed by 8%, Stein by 3%.

“On one side, you have Hillary, who is being investigat­ed by the FBI, and then you have Donald Trump, who has diarrhea of the mouth,” said Jay Brooks, 31, an engineer from Huntsville, Ala. “I don’t think either of them are electable or would be a good president.”

Brooks backs Johnson, but the third-party contenders face an uphill campaign despite expectatio­ns they will be on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed have never heard of the Libertaria­n candidate; 59%

have never heard of the Green Party candidate.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters, taken by landline and cellphones from June 26 to 29, has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

Clinton commands more positive allegiance than Trump. By more than 3-1, 74% to 22%, Clinton supporters say they are mostly voting for her, not against him.

Trump’s backers are more evenly divided on their motivation: 48% are mostly voting for him; 39% are mostly voting against her.

Still, Trump supporters are a bit more likely to say they’re “excited” about the election, 27% compared with 24%.

Clinton supporters are a bit more likely to say they’re “alarmed,” 62% to 56%.

Those in both camps vow their views are set in stone: More than nine of 10 of Clinton supporters and of Trump supporters say there is no chance they would switch to the other side. Twelve percent of those surveyed are un- decided, a smaller percentage than in the Suffolk Poll taken during the summer of the presidenti­al race four years ago.

In the survey, 53% have an unfavorabl­e opinion of Clinton; 60% have an unfavorabl­e opinion of Trump. Nearly one in five respondent­s hold a negative view of both — a swing group whose lesser-oftwo-evils choice could determine the outcome of a competitiv­e election, says David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.

“Despite their negative feelings toward both candidates, when asked to choose between the two, 26% chose Trump, 19% picked Clinton, 44% were undecided and 11% refused a response,” Paleologos said.

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