Donald Trump leads Hillary Clinton in brand new poll. Here's why you should be skeptical.

Donald Trump leads Hillary Clinton in brand new poll. Here's why you should be skeptical.
Source: AP
Source: AP

Donald Trump leads Hillary Clinton by two percentage points among likely voters nationally in a new CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday — a result that's sure to lead to hours of frenzied news coverage by CNN and other television networks declaring the race a toss-up and explaining how the conventional wisdom and past data on the race is now turned on its head based on this single survey. 

It's the first major media poll taken after both parties' national conventions that shows Trump with a national lead. And it comes the day after Labor Day, the traditional kickoff to campaign season. Both are facts that will further fuel the panicked coverage.

However, unlike the past, there's been breathless coverage of the 2016 election for nearly two full years — giving voters a strong opinion of both candidates.

And there's plenty of data that says this election is not quite a toss-up.

Here's why the fundamentals of the race still favor Clinton.

The poll is an outlier.

Surveys that show a completely different outcome than other polls conducted over the same time period are called outliers. 

And outliers should all be taken with a grain of salt.

"Any poll described thusly is likely to be an outlier, and outlier polls are usually wrong," political polling guru Harry Enten wrote in a trusty guide to reading polls on FiveThirtyEight

Certainly a spate of polling over the past two weeks has shown a tightening in the polls, shrinking Clinton's lead in the RealClearPolitics national average to under four percentage points — a sign this might not be the kind of Clinton blowout that polls showed following the Democratic National Convention in July.

But a lead in the national average is still a lead. At this same point in the 2012 race, President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney were tied in the RealClearPolitics national average at 46.7%. Obama went on to defeat Romney by nearly four percentage points. 

To be sure, if more polls released in the coming days show Trump with a lead, that's grounds to declare the race has completely changed course to Trump's favor.

But one survey is not enough to warrant that coverage.

The poll was taken over a holiday weekend.

There's also reason to believe the CNN survey could be an outlier given the dates it was conducted.

CNN polled voters between Sept. 1 and Sept. 4, squarely in the middle of the Labor Day weekend, when many Americans were traveling and not answering pollsters' phone calls.

Polling experts say to be wary of any polling taken over the holiday weekend.

Fundamentals still matter.

While CNN's poll will likely lead plenty of pundits to declare the race a dead heat, there's a bevy of data to show Clinton starts the homestretch of this race with an advantage. 

First, swing-state polls give Clinton a clear edge over Trump, despite national surveys that show a closer race. 

CNN's own state-based ratings has Clinton starting with more than 270 Electoral College votes given the state polling averages — a number that would send her to the White House.

In order to change that, Trump would need to win every toss-up state, and flip states currently leaning in Clinton's favor — a task that would require Trump to run a near flawless campaign, or to benefit from a Clinton implosion.

But in more than a year as a candidate, Trump has proven that he's more than capable of getting in his own way, miring himself in intra-party fights and committing gaffes that offend key voting blocs such as minorities and women.

In fact, just after CNN released its poll, Trump told ABC News in an interview that Clinton didn't "look presidential" — a comment seen as a gendered attack.

Clinton also has a superior ground game to Trump, with dozens more campaign offices in swing states that will work to turn out her base. 

Her campaign also started September with more than $68 million in the bank, with state and local Democratic parties boasting another $84 million that can be used for advertising and Democratic voter mobilization. 

Trump has yet to release his own fundraising totals for the month of August, but even if his campaign raised as much as Clinton, they have miles more to go to build up to her superior turnout operation in a short period of time.