Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Credit: Wires

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are locked in a tied two-way race for the presidency as they head to Hofstra University in New York on Monday night for one of the most highly anticipated debates in modern politics.

The Republican and Democratic nominees each get 46 percent of likely voters in a head-to-head contest in the latest Bloomberg Politics national poll, while Trump gets 43 percent to Clinton's 41 percent when third-party candidates are included.

Clinton faces higher expectations as tens of millions of people tune in for a television spectacle that could reach Super Bowl viewership levels. About half, 49 percent, say they anticipate the former secretary of state will perform better, while 39 percent say that for Trump, a real-estate developer and former TV personality.

Ann Selzer, the Iowa-based pollster who oversaw the survey, said there are signs that Clinton's margins with women and young voters have eroded over the past three months, helping to explain Trump's gains.

Clinton had a 6-point advantage on Trump in the two-way race in August and a 4-point advantage when third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein were included. She had a 12-point edge on Trump in June, when Johnson was also included.

The Democrat had a 26-point lead among female likely voters in June, when she was tested against both Trump and Johnson. She has a 13-point advantage in this poll when measured only against Trump, getting 52 percent to his 39 percent-similar to her 15-point advantage in August.

Among likely voters under 35 years old, Clinton gets 50 percent to Trump's 40 percent, down from her 29-point margin in August in the two-way race and from her 26-point margin in June in the three-way race.

The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 points for top-line numbers, with 1,002 likely voters interviewed, and is higher among subgroups. It was taken Wednesday through Saturday, after Clinton took political heat for calling half of Trump's supporters "deplorables" and for disclosing she had pneumonia after a video caught her falling ill at a Sept. 11 ceremony.

Both major nominees face skepticism from a majority of likely voters about their trustworthiness and their willingness to tell the public everything it wants to know to decide if they're fit to serve. More than seven in 10 rate Clinton's truthfulness as "just fair" or "poor," while more than six in 10 say that of Trump.

"It will be hard for either candidate to criticize the other too harshly on this form of integrity," Selzer said ahead of the debate. "They are the pot and the kettle."

About two-thirds of likely voters, 69 percent, say Trump should maintain 40 years of tradition for presidential nominees and release his tax returns.

Trump is rated better than Clinton on physical health, with 61 percent calling his "excellent" or "good" compared to 36 percent who give Clinton good marks. Just 8 percent call Trump's health "poor" compared to 31 percent for Clinton.

Still, half of likely voters say they aren't bothered at all that Clinton didn't immediately tell the public about her pneumonia.

After Trump recently acknowledged President Barack Obama's U.S. birth for the first time, three quarters of likely voters say Obama was born in the U.S., while 11 percent say he wasn't and 14 percent aren't sure. Among Trump's supporters, 22 percent say they don't think Obama is American-born and therefore eligible for the presidency, and another 22 percent say they're not sure.

Clinton's standing in the two-way race is helped by her greater support than Trump's among suburban women (55 percent to 38 percent) and non-whites (67 percent to 23 percent). Independent voters back her 45 percent to 40 percent.

Trump's appeals to non-white voters don't appear to be working. His share in this poll is about the same as his 25 percent in August.

Trump is helped by his strength among whites (55 percent to 38 percent), Protestants (54 percent to 39 percent), those with no college degree (50 percent to 42 percent), and likely voters in the South (54 percent to 38 percent).

Johnson is taking some support from younger voters that might traditionally go to a Democrat. Among those under 35 years old in the four-way race, he's getting 11 percent, with the rest split 40 percent for Clinton and 36 percent for Trump.

Trump and Clinton have secured the same share of their party loyalists, 90 percent, a measure that Clinton led when establishment Republicans were more hesitant about Trump.

Trump's supporters are slightly more excited about their candidate, with 65 percent saying they're fairly or very enthusiastic. Among Clinton supporters, 61 percent say that. Clinton sees a generation gap in this question, with 52 percent of those under age 35 saying they're fairly or very enthused by her compared to three quarters of those 65 and older.

Among five potential voter concerns about Clinton-including her delayed pneumonia disclosure-the one that tests highest as bothering voters a lot, at 57 percent, is Clinton's use of private e-mail as secretary of state.

For Trump, the highest-testing issues relate to his charitable foundation and to his now-defunct real-estate program, Trump University. Each prompt 46 percent of likely voters to say they're bothered a lot.

If the point of Monday's debate is to get to the heart of issues that matter most to voters, two stand out. For 35 percent of Republicans, it's terrorism. That's about twice as many as for Democrats or independents, and Trump leads 71 percent to 25 percent among those who pick it as their top concern.

Democrats and independents are more likely to pick as their top issue either the decline in real income or jobs and the economy. Among those citing one of those economic issues as their main concern, Clinton wins 56 percent to 35 percent.

Trump's praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't appear to be good politics when compared to Clinton's calls to do more to stand up to him. About half, 49 percent, say they side more with Clinton while 40 percent back Trump's approach.

Clinton and Trump are each viewed unfavorably by more than half of likely voters, 56 percent. Clinton, meanwhile, has a stable full of campaign surrogates who score higher than she does: Obama and former President Bill Clinton are viewed favorably by 51 percent and 49 percent of likely voters, while first lady Michelle Obama scores even higher at 58 percent.

Obama's job approval rating stands at 49 percent, even as 66 percent of likely voters say the nation is heading in the wrong direction.

On a generic ballot that asked whom likely voters support for the U.S. House in their district without any candidate names being offered by the pollster, 46 percent of likely voters picked Democrat or leaned that way, while 44 percent selected Republican or leaned that way.

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