Sunday, January 31, 2016

Half-of non-trump voters would support him in general election

As the story goes, Donald Trump could win a general election because his political appeal extends beyond traditional Republican voting blocs. He would attract certain types of Democrats, we're told, and he'd turn out large numbers of  low-propensity voters who've become totally disenchanted with the system. There is some truth to each of those claims, and the GOP would be wise to glean some lessons from the rise of Trumpism. The problem with this electoral calculus, however, is that even if Trump peels off discrete slivers of Democrats and manages to bring some significant mass of new voters into the fray, the math still doesn't add up. His favorability rating among Democrats -- and more importantly, among independents -- is horrific.  A few data points, via Gallup, Pew Research, and the Huffington Post's polling average:

As I've argued in the past, universal name recognition is almost always an asset for politicians -- but a candidate runs into (insurmountable?) trouble when everyone holds an opinion about him or her, and that verdict is slanted decidedly in the negative direction.  This also helps illustrate why Hillary Clinton's support is so flimsy: Virtually everybody in America knows who she is, and most people don't like or trust her.  Setting aside his awful showing among Democrats and independents, Trump also faces a significant problem among Republican voters.  A new poll from Bloomberg suggests that the anyone-but-Trump phenomenon among many righties isn't merely anecdotal. This is a real problem for him:

    Donald Trump maintains a dominant lead among Republican primary voters across the nation, with Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz effectively tied for a distant second place, according to a Bloomberg Politics poll released Wednesday. The poll of 1,020 likely Republican primary voters, conducted online by Purple Strategies from January 22-26, found Trump leading with 34 percent. Rubio grabbed 14 percent and Cruz 12 percent, a 2-point difference that falls within the poll's margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 points. No other candidate registered in double digits...Only 50 percent of Republican primary voters who backed other candidates said they would vote for Trump if he became the Republican presidential nominee. The bulk of the remainder pledged they would vote for the Democratic nominee (13 percent); write in another candidate (13 percent); or skip voting altogether (5 percent)...51 percent of Republicans who didn't pick Trump cited his temperament as the reason why, while 31 percent agreed that he "insults women, minorities and other groups." Nearly a quarter of the non-Trump group called him "an embarrassment to the Republican party."

As is so often the case, this survey contains great news for Trump backers within the narrower context of the GOP primary, but is filled with bad omens for the general election.  The Donald's support outpaces that of his two closest competitors (Rubio and Cruz) combined nationally, but among Republican voters who don't favor Trump, only half of them say they'd pull the lever for him in November.  Some would defect to the Democrats, others would vote third party or write in someone else, and still others would simply stay home.  Mitt Romney narrowly won independents in 2012, but still lost the election to Barack Obama.  (As a narrative-busting aside, Romney also won more votes than John McCain, carried the white vote by the same margin as Reagan in 1980, and won the same percentage of self-described conservatives -- who turned out as a record percentage of the electorate last cycle -- as Reagan did in the 1984 landslide.  And he lost). Just like much of Trump's appeal is visceral, rather than policy-based, this poll demonstrates that the same applies to his opposition within center-right circles.  His GOP-leaning detractors cite his temperament and propensity toward insults as top reasons why they'd refuse to back him in a general election.  His petty feuding resulting in a debate no-show probably only intensifies those opinions.  People aren't likely to warm up to a guy whom they view as "an embarrassment," candidly. In short, if Trump loses independents, maybe badly, and also sheds a significant share of traditional Republican voters, the notion that he could offset those deficits by producing millions upon millions of magical new voters looks like a desperate fantasy, not a plausible strategy.

Of course, we're not even sure whether Trump can actually deliver throngs of new primary voters, a proposition that will be tested very soon.  On one hand, people have consistently underestimated the celebrity mogul throughout this process (myself included), and his strong supporters evince a level of loyalty that indicates they will show up and vote.  He draws the biggest crowds in the race by far, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders, which isn't insignificant.  There's also evidence that Republicans are registering new voters in Iowa at a faster clip this year than in 2012 (though not as quickly as you might think), and it's not unreasonable to conclude that Trump deserves a fair amount of the credit for that.  But if Trump's low-engagement supporters -- a sizable group that's separate from his hardcore base -- end up remaining disengaged when it comes to trudging to polling places to caucus or vote, he'll significantly under-perform his polling numbers. Case in point, via CBS News:

    Cruz performs better among Republicans who have voted in state primary elections before, leading that group by 5 percentage points over Trump. His supporters are very high among those who haven't taken part in party elections: He receives 44 percent of support among Republicans who have voted in just the general election and 50 percent support among independents who say they are planning to attend the Republican caucus. Rubio is the second most successful candidate among non-primary GOP voters, getting 20 percent of their support.

That's a description of the latest Monmouth poll, which adjusted its potential outcomes based on three turnout models -- each of which is higher than the 2012 benchmark of 122,000 GOP caucus-goers:


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