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Why Trump polls well on economy despite dramatic drop overall

Hillary Clinton
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Recent polls have given Hillary Clinton some of her largest leads of the presidential campaign, with a Monmouth University poll released Monday giving her a 13-point lead with likely voters over Donald Trump.

However, when it comes to the economy — often a top priority for voters — the polling remains close, and both candidates are keeping the spotlight on the issue.

Trump delivered an economic policy speech Monday that marked a shift in his tax plans and was received with a mixed reaction. Clinton is slated to deliver an economic policy speech this Thursday.

While the recent numbers from Monmouth do not include voters' ratings of candidates on the economy, an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Sunday found Clinton with an 8-point lead among registered voters, but that narrowed to a slim 2-point lead when it came to handling the economy.

Likewise, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday, after what was widely panned as a disastrous week for Trump, found Clinton with a 9-point lead among registered voters. But when it came to which candidate would better deal with the economy, Trump posted a 4 percent lead.

That lead has narrowed over time — in June, Clinton was down 10 points to Trump on the economy.

Still, the economy often ranks among the top priorities in polling, and its importance often cannot be overstated. Bill Clinton was famous for his 1992 campaign's mantra, "It's the economy, stupid."

However, in an election season that has seemingly broken every political rule, experts say the significance of the economy as an issue may be less relevant this cycle.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, attributed Trump's early advantage to his reputation as a successful businessman. While he said normally the polling on the economy would be a "bellwether question," this cycle has been more focused on the individuals.

"It's not going to matter for most people, because this has mainly been a campaign about personality," Murray said. "The personality has been driving the voter choice right now."

Both candidates have sought to use economic issues to paint their opponents in a negative light, both when it comes to policy and personality. Clinton has attacked Trump's business record, portraying him as exploiting working people and bankruptcy laws. Trump has blasted Clinton's stance on trade deals, painting her as changing positions for political gain.

Part of Trump's advantage on the economy, in addition to his background as a New York real estate tycoon, may be his running as the "change" candidate as he seeks to characterize Clinton as representing a continuation of status quo policies.

In the waning days of the 2012 presidential campaign polling, Gallup found Republican Mitt Romney bested President Barack Obama by 6 points when it came to the economy among likely voters, despite only having a narrow 1-point lead overall. Romney had staked much of his campaign on his identity as a successful businessman in the private sector.

Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of the University of Virginia's political newsletter Sabato's Crystal Ball, said the lead for Trump on the economy may reflect a certain generic desire for change or his reputation as a businessman. However, Kondik said he believes the choice for voters is more complicated than just one issue.

"It may be people see him as having decent ideas or having decent economic experience or something like that," Kondik said. "The qualification question is the more important one."

Either way, the issue may not be going anywhere anytime soon. With Trump delivering a policy speech Monday and Clinton slated to deliver one later in the week, both campaigns are keeping the spotlight on the economy.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said the economy will continue to play a leading role over the course of the campaign.

"The economy is going to be very much on people's minds, and it's not surprising that that would be [Trump's] stronger issue, given who he is," Miringoff said. "When all is said and done, the economy does return."