Politics & Policy

The Election Paradox: Trump’s to Lose

(Spencer Platt/Getty)

Regarding the presidential race, although there are many national polls showing pretty much the same numerical results, it’s the analysis that counts. Our analysis of our just-completed national survey shows that there’s only one person who can beat Donald Trump: That’s Donald Trump, and he might be able to do it. 

This poll of 1,002 likely voters was just completed on March 23, and compared with our February 17 poll, it shows that when looking ahead to November, his poll numbers are actually getting worse. This is in spite of Trump’s decisive primary wins on March 15 and the fact that he should do better among the remaining voters. So the Trump paradox is that while he has become more likely to win the nomination, he is becoming more likely to lose the November election. Unless things change, he might even do worse than Mitt Romney did against an opponent who today is less popular than President Obama was back then. 

The majority of all voters still remain unfavorable to Hillary Clinton, only 39 percent favorable to 57 percent unfavorable, compared with 59 percent unfavorable last month. Nevertheless, Donald Trump has become even more unpopular, only 33 percent favorable, 65 percent unfavorable. 

On the ballot last month, Clinton and Trump were in a dead heat: Clinton at 46 percent and Trump at 44 percent. Clinton now leads Trump 48 percent to 41 percent. 

Clinton’s base is now stronger as she wins among Democrats 85 percent to 10 percent, while Trump wins among Republicans 76 percent to 11 percent, and he holds a slim lead among independents 42 percent to 39 percent. African Americans go strongly for Clinton, 88 percent to 6 percent. Hispanics prefer Clinton 57 percent to 35 percent. Clinton holds a slim lead among men, at 47 percent to 44 percent, and a wider lead among women, at 49 percent to 38 percent. 

Compared with his remaining rivals, Donald Trump is sagging toward November when he could be getting stronger. 

Ted Cruz — who is a long shot for a first-ballot nomination but the only candidate other than Trump who can win the nomination on the first ballot — is a net negative, at 35 percent favorable to 50 percent unfavorable. However, Cruz is still in a dead heat with Hillary: Clinton has 45 percent to Cruz’s 44 percent.  

John Kasich, who mathematically can’t win the nomination on the first ballot, is 35 percent favorable to only 33 percent unfavorable. He leads for president: Kasich 46 percent to Clinton’s 41 percent.  

Bernie Sanders is much more popular nationally than Hillary Clinton, with 50 percent favorable to 41 percent unfavorable. Unfortunately, the fix is in with the Democratic super delegates already committed to Hillary, and Sanders can’t win the nomination without them. So we didn’t bother asking about any general-election ballots with him in it. 

#share#Among all voters, a whopping 30 percent remain unfavorable to both Clinton and Trump. And the 12 percent who remain undecided clearly don’t like either likely nominee. Their opinion of Clinton is favorable 8 percent to unfavorable 77 percent. Their opinion of Trump is favorable 6 percent to unfavorable 84 percent.

This race will be the ugliest presidential race in history. Clinton will need to drive Trump’s negatives above 70 percent.

As we forecast in February, this race will be the ugliest presidential race in history. In years past, we polled for Senator Jesse Helms. He placed ahead in the polls only one day every six years: Election Day. Helms always had a 40 percent or higher unfavorable rating, and he would take the lead only when his opponent’s negatives rose over 50 percent. We made sure that happened by Election Day. In order to win, it appears that Clinton will need to drive Donald Trump’s negatives above 70 percent, which she and her team are clearly working to do.  

However, the paradox is that Trump remains on track to win the GOP nomination on a first ballot if he can win 54 percent of the remaining delegates. 

An explanation for this paradox is that in spite of the fact that Donald Trump has never run for public office before, he has seemed the most qualified candidate to win a primary campaign that resembles a season of Celebrity Apprentice for President more than a political campaign for president. 

We live in an age of reality television, and for years Trump hosted TV’s top-rated reality show. Just as the telegenic JFK outshone Richard Nixon in their TV debates, as actor Ronald Reagan outperformed Jimmy Carter, as action star Arnold Schwarzenegger exploded in the California recall, Donald Trump has so far mastered every episode during the primary season — until now. On many reality series, the final winner is often someone who is not popular with the fans but gets results. Donald Trump will now have to increase his popularity to get the results that he wants. 

People want reality, but now it seems that they want content, too. We can see this in the response voters had to a line added to our poll by the nonpartisan, independent group SecureAmericaNow: “Donald Trump recently said his primary foreign policy advisor is ‘myself.’” Knowing this, 58 percent of all voters were less likely to vote for him, including 29 percent of Trump voters. Only 20 percent were more likely. It’s time for Donald Trump to show content. 

#related#For the remaining states, only about a third of the Republicans have yet to vote. So in our poll of 1,002 voters, only 144 voters are in the upcoming states and likely to vote in the Republican primaries. At first glance, these states appear to geographically favor Trump, then Kasich. They include Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Indiana, Montana, West Virginia, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, South Dakota, New Jersey, and California. Among these voters, Trump leads with 46 percent, but Kasich is in second, at 22 percent, Cruz is third at 18 percent, and 14 percent are undecided. 

However, at second glance, among the final three, Ted Cruz is the leading second choice, at 40 percent; Kasich is at 21 percent; and Trump is at only 12 percent. Trump must hold what he has and win. He has very little upside unless he starts moving his favorable ratings higher. 

Among Trump voters, the second choice is Cruz, at 42 percent, and Kasich, at 26 percent. If Trump loses votes, they go almost five to three for Cruz.  

Among Cruz voters, the second choice is Trump, at 33 percent, and Kasich, at 32 percent. If Cruz loses votes, they split evenly between Trump and Kasich. 

However, among Kasich voters, the second choice is overwhelmingly Cruz, at 60 percent, to Trump, at 15 percent. If Kasich loses votes, they go four to one for Cruz over Trump. 

Among the 14 percent who are undecided, again there is not much upside for Trump. The undecideds’ opinion of Trump is only 16 percent favorable to 80 percent unfavorable. A third of the undecided voters like Cruz: favorable 34 percent, unfavorable 24 percent. 

Kasich is weaker than Cruz among the undecided voters: favorable 22 percent, unfavorable 21 percent. 

In spite of the Trump paradox, ironically all the other major political trends in our monthly poll favor the Republicans over the Democrats:

‐President Obama remains a polarizing negative overall. On his job rating, 48 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove. 

‐In a plus-6 Democratic sample, Republicans lead on the generic ballot for Congress, at 45 percent to 42 percent.

‐Obamacare is decidedly unpopular: Only 42 percent approve, and 54 percent disapprove. 

‐Fifty-five percent of voters prefer a smaller federal government with fewer services; only 29 percent want a larger government with many services. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton should take note. Actually, their Republican opponents should really take note and drive the contrast. 

‐Two-thirds of all voters, 66 percent, say that the country is on the wrong track. Only 26 percent say that it is headed in the right direction. 

‐The majority of voters (57 percent) want the next president and Congress to move away from the policies of President Obama. Only 33 percent want them to continue.  

The Trump paradox is clear. Hillary Clinton wants to run against Donald Trump, because she thinks that, as unpopular as she is, in spite of the trends that favor a Republican, she can still beat Trump. However, if Donald Trump can strengthen his hand and show that he can beat Hillary Clinton, the nomination should be his on a first ballot. November is playing out now. 

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