Politics & Policy

Polls Predict a Tightening Presidential Race

(Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The results from our latest national survey completed on May 16 shows that the de facto end of the Republican presidential nomination and the continuation of Hillary Clinton’s pyrrhic victory over Bernie Sanders are signaling some important cross currents within national voter opinion.

For the first time since November 2012 in our national polling, President Obama’s positive job-approval rating has ticked above his disapproval rating, 50 percent to 49 percent. This is very important for Hillary Clinton. Since WWII, the only time a term-limited incumbent president was succeeded by the nominee of his own party was the election of 1988, when the positive approval rating for Ronald Reagan allowed George Bush to succeed him. If President Obama’s job approval rises, it increases the probability that Hillary Clinton will win. Eighty-three percent of Hillary’s voters approve of the job Obama is doing, while only 13 percent of Trump’s voters approve of Obama. The undecided voters are split, with 46 percent who approve and 50 percent who disapprove of Obama. While Clinton and her allies in the media are in full spin mode to try to improve the president’s job-approval rating, it will be critical for Republicans to increase his disapproval rating by waking up every day and pointing to the failures of the Obama administration. A negative job approval for the president makes it more likely that the White House will change parties.

If President Obama’s job approval rises, it increases the probability that Hillary Clinton will win.

Hillary Clinton’s favorable to unfavorable rating has improved two percentage points. The majority of voters, 56 percent, still view her unfavorably, while 40 percent have a favorable view. Among the undecided for president, only 12 percent have a favorable view, while 71 percent have an unfavorable one. Sixty percent of independents have an unfavorable view of her; 32 percent have a favorable view. While the vast majority of Republicans, 88 percent, have an unfavorable view, key parts of her base also see her unfavorably: 25 percent of Democrats, 30 percent of liberals, 49 percent of moderates, 27 percent of African Americans, 49 percent of Hispanics, and 52 percent of women.

Hillary’s only path to victory relies on keeping Donald Trump’s negatives higher than her own. Because voters have known her in the national political arena for 24 years, and they have a firmer, more long-term opinion of her, it will be difficult for Clinton to lower her negatives without raising Trump’s unfavorable rating. This means she will be attacking Trump early and often, just as she has in the primaries, using the media every day and airing millions of dollars’ worth of TV ads. This explains why just this week, Clinton-allied super PACs have hit the airways with negative ads attacking Donald Trump.

#share#In the past month, however, Trump’s favorable-to-unfavorable rating has improved by 9 percent. His unfavorable rating dropped from 65 percent to 60 percent, while his favorable rating rose from 33 percent to 37 percent. Independents are unfavorable to Trump, 27 percent to 68 percent. Trump’s negatives eclipse Clinton’s negatives in her base: 83 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of African Americans, 73 percent of Hispanics, and 67 percent of women dislike him. And Trump still has his share of negatives in his own base: Among Republicans, 28 percent see him unfavorably, and 39 percent of conservatives do. Eighty percent of undecided voters for president don’t like Trump; only 9 percent do like him.

For the first time since last year, the Democratic generic vote for Congress tops the Republican vote, 46 percent to 42 percent. Independents prefer a Democrat, 39 percent to 29 percent, with women voting Democratic 48 percent to 38 percent.

The majority of Americans, 52 percent, still disapprove of Obamacare, and 44 percent approve of it. Those who are undecided for president are more likely to disapprove of Obamacare, 38 percent to 52 percent.

The majority of Americans, 53 percent, still favor a smaller federal government, while 32 percent favor a larger government. The plurality of undecided voters, 45 percent, favor smaller government as well, versus 29 percent of undecideds who favor larger government. Even 40 percent of the voters who are favorable to socialist Bernie Sanders favor a smaller federal government. (This suggests that his popularity is based largely on his being Hillary’s opponent.)

Two-thirds of all voters, 67 percent, say the country is still on the wrong track, while only 26 percent say it’s headed in the right direction. Among those who are  undecided for president, 68 percent think the country is on the wrong track; 18 percent think it’s going in the right direction. They could very likely vote against the incumbent party of the White House.

Hillary’s only path to victory relies on keeping Donald Trump’s negatives higher than her own.

The majority of voters, 56 percent, would like the next president and Congress to change direction and move away from the policies of Barack Obama. Only 34 percent said we should continue Obama’s policies. Most undecided voters want change, 55 percent to 23 percent. Every possible vote for Donald Trump exists in this majority. Ninety-one percent of Republicans, 55 percent of the independents, and 28 percent of Democrats want to move away from the policies of Obama. Ninety-two percent of Trump voters, 55 percent of undecided voters, and even 25 percent of Clinton voters want to move away from the policies of Obama. While Hillary Clinton is still engaged in the primaries with Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump has an opportunity to prove that he is the best candidate to bring change and move away from Obama’s failed policies.

Back in March, we had Clinton with a lead of seven percentage points. This month, it’s narrowed to four points: Clinton 46 percent to Trump 42 percent, with only 12 percent undecided. Trump leads among men, 48 percent to 42 percent; among Republicans, 83 percent to 11 percent; and conservatives, 73 percent to 17 percent. However, Clinton leads among Democrats, 81 percent to 12 percent; among independents, 41 percent to 34 percent; and among women, 51 percent to 36 percent.

#related#By race, Trump is winning among whites, 50 percent to 39 percent. But among minorities, Clinton probably wishes she was doing better. Among African Americans, Clinton leads, 74 percent to 13 percent. (Romney received 6 percent from African Americans.) Among Hispanics, Trump is running the same as Romney finished, but he has the potential to do better — Clinton leads Trump among Hispanics, 55 percent to 27 percent.

Among Evangelical Christians, Trump leads, 47 percent to 38 percent. However, among Catholics (who are a key swing-voter group), Trump leads, 47 percent to 42 percent.

Still, the key group of voters is the 26 percent that has an unfavorable view of both Clinton and Trump. These voters are split virtually evenly, with 35 percent liking Clinton, 34 percent liking Trump, and 32 percent undecided. As we have been saying this year, winning ugly will still be winning.

— John McLaughlin and Jim McLaughlin are Republican strategists and partners in the national polling firm McLaughlin & Associates. They are not aligned with any presidential candidate or super PAC.

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