Candidate with higher percentage of voters voting "for" them, not "against" the other, has won the last four elections

A companion piece to yesterday’s post on how the candidate with a higher share of “very enthusiastic” voters tends to win. That’s Trump this year, at least according to ABC/WaPo. Surely he must also be the candidate with the higher share of voters who are voting “for” him rather than “against” his opponent, right? Consider that Trumpers are the most ardent devotees in American politics whereas pretty much no one likes Hillary. Crowd size, social media engagement — you know how the usual arguments go about how much more passionate Trump’s base is than Clinton’s. If his voters are more enthusiastic, they must also be more inclined to say they’re voting for him, not against Hillary. Right?

Well, no.


Not only isn’t the percentage of Republicans voting “for” him greater than the percentage of Democrats voting “for” Clinton, it’s the lowest of any GOP nominee since 2000. He’s the only candidate apart from John Kerry in 2004 to have more supporters say they’re voting against the other party’s nominee than for their own. If you go cycle by cycle, you’ll see that the candidate with the higher share voting “for” them won the election in every instance — although 2000 comes with the major caveat that Gore, not Bush, won the popular vote. Even so, the fact that Bush and Gore had nearly identical shares parallels how close the election was overall. Clinton and Trump … do not have nearly identical shares.

But how can Trump’s “for” share be lower than Hillary’s when his share of “very enthusiastic” voters is higher than hers? The left does a lot of heavy breathing about how singularly menacing and unacceptable Trump is, after all. It sure seems like there should be more “against” votes on that side than “for” votes. Lost in all of their anti-Trump noise, though, is the fact that their own nominee is an orthodox Democrat. An orthodox Democrat will be broadly acceptable to Democrats, by definition. So when you ask the average Dem if he’s “for” Hillary or “against” Trump, that question is likely to be processed as “Does Clinton represent what I want in a president, more or less?” The answer is yes in a majority of cases — although it’s a small majority, thanks to suspicions on the left that she’s not as much of a liberal as she’s currently pretending to be plus, of course, general concern that she really is a corrupt sleaze who’ll spend four years as president bogged down in scandal.

Now imagine the same question being put to Republicans. “Does Trump represent what I want in a president, more or less?” If you’re a Trumper, the answer is hell yes. That’s the “very enthusiastic” group. He wants to make America great again and bring jobs back from overseas. What’s there to quibble with? If you’re not a Trumper, though, if you’re a movement conservative or a moderate who gets squeamish when he starts ranting about Mexican rapists, or if you’re someone who tends to agree with him on policy but sees him as simply too loose of a cannon, then the answer is … no, not really, but he’s still preferable to a corrupt liberal sleaze who’ll spend four years as president bogged down in scandal. He’s too unorthodox in too many ways, policy-wise and personality-wise, to build a strong “for” contingent behind him. But luckily he’s got Crooked Hillary there to help build the “against” faction for him.

This second graph from Pew illustrates the divide on the right starkly. What you’re seeing here, in data form, is what we already know to be true, namely, that the Republican Party is really two different parties (and maybe more) operating under one banner right now:


You’re looking at 30-, 40-, even 50-point gaps within the party on some of those questions, and that doesn’t even touch on policy. There may be conservatives who find Trump’s character and qualifications suitable to the office (I guess?) but who find his trade policies contemptible bordering on nutty and yet some of those people are still onboard the Trump train in the name of defeating Hillary Clinton. Remember, one of the big stories in this week’s polling has been Republican voters finally coming home to Trump in crunch time after having resisted for months. Logically, most or all of those people have deep reservations about Trump but are apparently now willing to lay them aside in the name of blocking Hillary. That’s how you get a higher “against” share than “for” share for Trump. The “for” share is very enthusiastic, but it’s the size of the “against” group that’ll decide how competitive he is on Tuesday. Is Hillary Clinton so odious to righties that even anti-Trumpers will turn out for him in enormous numbers despite their suspicions about him, swamping the formidable Democratic turnout machine? We’ll know in six days. Either way, though, one of these trends will be broken. Either the candidate with the higher share of “very enthusiastic” voters will lose on Tuesday or the candidate with the higher share that’s voting “for” them will.

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Jazz Shaw 1:01 PM on May 27, 2023