June 27, 2016
These are dangerous times. For the campaigns. The stretch between the end of voting and the gavels calling the respective party conventions to order often leads to illusion. While we can’t assume the next three weeks will stay quiet, voters are usually looking for a bit of a summer respite from their presumptive choices.
Bernie Sanders hasn’t officially endorsed Hillary Clinton, but he says he’s planning on voting for her. His campaign isn’t doing anything beyond hoping to influence the party platform and campaigning for selected Berner-friendly candidates in down-ballot primaries. We won’t hear much from him until the Democrats reach Philadelphia at the end of July.
The past couple weeks brought us new speculation about delegates attempting to dump Trump. If the composition of the rules committee is any indication, this is still a pipe dream. Reince Preibus and the RNC made most of the selections, and they are not showing any intent to participate in any overthrow of the presumptive nominee. The numbers just aren’t there now.
As justifiable as a Clinton indictment or anti-Trump uprising might seem, it sure looks like neither will happen, at least based on how things sit now. In a year that constantly gives us the improbable, the only impossibility looks like getting rid of Trump or Clinton.
When the hopes of having another major party choice fade (again), thoughts turn back to which of the extremely flawed duo will win in November. Partisans of each can, with a very straight face, explain the opponent has no shot. But one of them has to triumph. Do the campaigns themselves focus at all on building up their strengths, or do they stick to tearing down their opponent?
Most importantly, do they believe something closer to their best, or worst case scenario, as currently shown in the numbers? This will influence their Veep choice, how they conduct the conventions, and their attempt to sculpt the media narrative. Which of the following choices is more plausible?
Clinton mostly has this. Trump is a fool, and he doesn’t have the Republican primaries to save him anymore.
If you’re looking for evidence, just check the latest ABC/Washington Post poll. Clinton leads Trump 51/39. She’s up by 20+ points among women, and tied with men. Voters think she’s qualified to hold the job by a 61/37 margin. Meanwhile, Trump’s numbers are 34/64. He’s relying on voters who don’t think he’s qualified to be president to elect him president.
By a 68/28 split, they think his comments about Judge Curiel were racist. A full 85% of voters think he was inappropriate at a minimum. Trump’s numbers on his comments about women and Muslims are equally bleake. Seventy percent of respondents would feel great anxiety about a Trump presidency.
Adding more choices doesn’t alter the picture. When Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are presented as alternatives, Clinton still holds a ten point lead. Normally filtering down to the most likely voters helps the GOP candidate. Not here. Trump still trails by 11 in a two-way race, and 9 with four options.
This is among an audience that has a problem with how Clinton handled her State Department emails (56/34 disapprove). It’s not that she’s suddenly popular, it’s just that Trump is not viewed as a credible choice. If you believe this survey (and others like it) is credible, Clinton should pick a very safe choice for her running mate.
Meanwhile, GOP down-ballot candidates should continue to put as much distance between themselves and their nominee as possible, and market themselves as a check on Clinton, rather than a supporter of Trump. Or….
This is still a toss-up. After a few terrible weeks, Trump is still virtually even with Clinton when you include the third party candidates, who do actually exist.
Different pollsters see things different ways. During the same stretch of time as the ABC/WaPo poll, NBC/WSJ/Marist weighed in with a survey of their own. Head-to-head Clinton leads by five points, a decent margin, but not much outside the margin of error.
Unlike the ABC survey which put her above 50%, showing Clinton finally breaking through that barrier, this one has her at a more modest 46%. It’s safe to assume the majority of undecided voters dislike both candidates. Trump would only need to get a few more of those on the fence to think she’s the greater of two evils to win.
If Trump can have a seriously awful few weeks, managing to convince two thirds of Americans he’s racist and unqualified, while stepping on bad news for Clinton from the State Department email investigation, and a weak jobs report, while remaining very much in contention, he’s somewhat indestructible. Or Clinton is a weaker candidate than even her detractors realize.
The most damning data for her is the result when this group of respondents is allowed to pick Johnson or Stein. Unlike the ABC poll, a four-way race does change the outcome here. Clinton drops to a mere 39%, leading Trump by a single point. Johnson (10%) and Stein (6%) combine for a much larger share, and two thirds of it is at Clinton’s expense.
While it’s clear the past few weeks haven’t been kind to Trump, this indicates Clinton has done almost nothing to capitalize on it. While she can hope the ABC survey is more accurate, there’s no reason at this point to assume one poll is better than the other. Both indicate Trump is having a very difficult time with women, and has lost some of the wavering Republicans he temporarily gained in May (these groups aren’t mutually exclusive.)
But the NBC picture shows some Berners may well prefer Johnson or Stein to coming home in November. With Sanders only partially on board and not looking like someone who is going to actively support the ticket in the fall, this survey would argue in favor of Clinton taking more of a chance and selecting Elizabeth Warren to stop the leakage to alternative candidates.
No matter which survey you prefer, Trump had a rough month and is at best a toss-up to win. But he’s either very much in this because Clinton has done very little to convince swing voters to support her, or he’s buried because he’s the worst major party nominee ever.
Take your pick.