June 15, 2016
There’s a new Bloomberg poll showing Hillary Clinton with a 12 point lead. That’s including Gary Johnson, who picks up 9%. With the binary Clinton-Trump choice, she leads by 18 (54/36.) Given their roughly even positioning three weeks ago, this seems like a big change. Is it?
The more things change, the more they stay the same, and this survey is a good example. For a solid 9 months, results have ranged from very close to a low double-digit lead for Clinton. Trump has led by as many as 5 points, but never more than a point or so in the Real Clear Politics average. Hillary has reached the 15 to 18 point range, but is stuck around a 10 point max in the average.
When Trump catches up, we are reminded Clinton is a flawed candidate who could easily pull defeat from the jaws of victory. When Trump falls behind, we recall he’s the least popular presidential candidate. Ever. When the winner will be chosen by voters deciding who they hate least, there’s going to be a little flux from time to time.
Donald J. Trump has gone a very long way with a very small base of support. Approximately 12% of the voter population really likes him. These are the people who could watch him shoot someone dead on 5th Avenue in broad daylight and cheer first, wondering who he killed second. These are the hordes that scare the crap out of establishment GOP politicians who need their votes.
In Republican primaries, especially those open to non-affiliated voters, this 12% turned into 40% of participants. After the field narrowed and Ted Cruz irritated plenty of voters, while John Kasich seemed implausible to others, Trump was able to regularly break 50% by taking advantage of a bandwagon effect and limited alternatives. They put Trump over the top and will vote for him in November too, but aren’t part of his true base.
Bloomberg is showing only one third of Trump’s presidential supporters are truly excited about him. A third of 35 to 37 percent (they calculated a few different support numbers) is that same 12% of the total. The remainder are more mildly enthusiastic, or just hate Hillary lots.
At the same time, Clinton’s base is the same 20% of overall voters she’s had for the past year or so. In a closed Democratic primary, that was plenty to push her ahead of Bernie Sanders. Trump’s 12% are spread mostly evenly throughout the country, making him competitive in GOP primaries everywhere outside parts of the Mountain West and Great Plains.
Hillary voters are more concentrated in large states, which is both helpful when contesting Florida and Ohio, and more support than she needs in California. The gap between her 20% and Trump’s 12% is pretty close to the average margin between the two candidates over the past several months. The remaining two thirds of voters can move around a bit.
Some are those who completely detest both candidates, making them particularly capricious. Others are Bernie-preferring progressives, or GOP loyalists. When Trump is doing well, he keeps the Republican bandwagon voters in line and wins over a few of the lesser of two evils voters. When Hillary is advancing, a few more of those hold their noses and say they prefer her, while a few more Berners say they’re on board instead of planning on staying home.
We’ll see the numbers go back and forth within this range for the next few months. The betting markets usually have Clinton as a 2:1 or 3:1 favorite based on what’s recently transpired. That seems about right. The candidate with the larger base should be the favorite. It explains why the polls oscillate in her favor instead of his.
For all of the talk about how Trump is doomed or at least an underdog because of how poorly he does with voters of color and educated women, his very limited base is at least as big of a problem. It makes him susceptible to quickly losing ground. While he’s still very much in the running, recent polls are putting him in the mid-30s. That’s McGovern/Goldwater territory.
Running against a weaker candidate and with third party options to siphon off votes, Trump could potentially reach the 42-44% necessary to win the presidency (that’s the normal range when third party candidates are grabbing a decent share of votes–whether due to their appeal or distaste with the main options.)
Bloomberg found voters trust him more on handling terrorism. Plenty of economic signals are pointing to a possible recession by November. Hillary is often unable to stand prosperity. When she is leading by enough, leaning voters tend to temporarily reconsider. But make no mistake, Trump has a tiny, tiny base. He’ll need to have everything fall into place at just the right time.