Another poll suggests Trump will lose to Clinton in a general election

posted at 3:21 pm on March 9, 2016 by John Sexton

Earlier today Ed wrote about a new NBC/WSJ poll showing Donald Trump could lose to Hillary Clinton by double digits in a general election. An ABC/Washington Post poll also published today has similar findings:

Should this matchup come about, the current advantage is Clinton’s. She leads Trump by 50-41 percent in vote preference among registered voters, her widest advantage in three ABC/Post polls since September. Among all adults, including those currently not registered, Clinton’s lead swells to 54-36 percent. And the public by 59-36 percent predicts that Clinton would win — up from a 12-point gap on this question in January to 23 points today. (Some political scientists suggest that, early on, expectations outdo preferences, predictively.)

If you’re keeping track, 50-41 is actually a better result for Trump than the NBC poll which has the matchup at 51-38. Still, looking at the details it’s not hard to see why Trump is in trouble. He trails Clinton in almost every personal metric including honesty:


The big one though might be empathy. You may recall that Obama’s re-election race in 2012 became a contest between Mitt Romney the competent manager and Barack Obama the likable, empathetic President. On the question of who really cares about people “like you” Obama always had the advantage. And as it happened a major storm hitting the east coast days before the election gave Obama a chance to demonstrate that empathy for voters.

There’s a reason Hillary is touring the country saying things like, “I believe what we need in America today is more love and kindness.” That’s not a policy it’s a pose. But the important point is she’s doing it because it has frequently worked in the past and will probably work again in 2016.

Trump does a little better when it comes to policy areas, though here again he is trailing on every issue including immigration:


Now it’s certainly possible that some of the 1,000 respondents to this poll have a detailed knowledge of both Trump’s and Clinton’s positions on each one of these issues. However, I suspect it’s more likely that the majority of respondents are giving a gut response answer based on a few things they’ve heard, i.e. Trump wants to ban Muslims and deport immigrants while Hillary was Secretary of State. Those factoids become the basis of answers to questions about terrorism, immigration and international crisis. And as ABC points out, a majority of Americans don’t like some of Trump’s most discussed ideas:

Trump’s challenged, as well, by the fact that Americans by 63-33 percent oppose his suggestion to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, and by 61-36 percent disagree with the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. Those views are closer among registered voters, but still with majorities opposed, 60 and 58 percent, respectively.

The strength and boldness of these positions obviously appeals to a plurality of GOP voters, but a majority of Americans probably just see them as unkind. And in a general election, unkindness loses to the person talking however ham-handedly about “love and kindness.”

To further the point, where Trump does appear to do well is where he expresses his own version of love and kindness. Maybe you’re thinking he’s not doing that at all but you’d be wrong. When it comes to veterans, who he promises to take care of, when it comes to people who have lost jobs to outsourcing who he promises to help find jobs for again–Trump does express empathy for people and it does draw people to him. In fact, Trump’s frequent focus on trade issues and the need to do better for people struggling in a stagnant economy is probably why he is so competitive with Clinton on the economy in this poll.

This election isn’t a battle of detailed policy positions. Hillary Clinton knows that. At base, what is working (and also not working) for Trump is the same thing working for Clinton. The person elected in 2016 is probably going to be the person who is strong, competent but who really seems to care about the issues (lack of jobs, poor treatments of vets, etc.) that matter to the largest share of the electorate.

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