Between mid-February and mid-April, Hillary led every head-to-head poll with Trump, frequently by double digits and never by less than five points. After his landslides in New York and the mid-Atlantic primaries, though, the gap began to close. One poll in late April had her up just 3, another showed the race tied, and then Trump led for the first time (by two points) in a Rasmussen poll late last month. The real movement’s come over the past 10 days, though, with Trump leading in three of the six polls taken and trailing by three points or fewer in two others. Here’s one of those two, new from the WSJ/NBC. Trump’s within the margin of error:
Republicans are now supporting Trump over Clinton by an 86 percent-to-6 percent margin, which is up from 72 percent to 13 percent a month ago, suggesting that GOP voters are consolidating around their presumptive nominee.
While Democrats are backing Clinton by an 83 percent-to-9 percent clip, just 66 percent of Democratic primary voters preferring Sanders support Clinton in a matchup against Trump (compared with 88 percent of Clinton primary voters who favor Sanders in a hypothetical general-election contest). Those numbers underscore Clinton’s challenge in winning over Sanders voters once the Democratic primary contest concludes.
Two things happening here. One, obviously, is that some Republicans have come home to Trump now that he’s the presumptive nominee. The movement WSJ/NBC is seeing among Republicans, from 72/13 support for Trump last month to 86/6 support now, was mirrored by the ABC poll released over the weekend. ABC found Republicans splitting 75/14 between Trump and Hillary in March versus 85/8 now. Some #NeverTrumpers turned out to be #OkayFineWhateverTrumpers. Others who are still holding out will come around in due time too. (Although not all. More on that in a minute.) Even so, look back at the RCP graph posted above and you’ll see that Trump hasn’t yet crossed 44 percent support this year. Hillary’s been north of 50 percent several times and was as high as 49.5 percent less than a month ago. What’s driving her numbers down is disgruntlement among Bernie fans. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic made an interesting catch in the RCP data:
Since April, Clinton's national lead over Bernie grew by 8 points, while her lead over Trump … shrunk by 9 points. pic.twitter.com/2EKZ8YmQ6m
— Derek Thompson (@DKThomp) May 23, 2016
As noted in the excerpt, Sanders Democrats are far less likely to favor Hillary against Trump than Clinton Democrats are to favor Sanders against Trump. And that’s not all:
What’s more, Clinton’s fav/unfav rating among Democratic voters supporting Sanders is 38% positive, 41% negative (-3); Sanders’ rating among Clinton supporters is 54% positive, 23% negative (+31).
It may be that as Hillary’s nomination has become more assured, some Sanders fans have rebelled by favoring the Republican when they’re polled on whom they prefer in the general election. Hard to believe in the Year of Trump that Democrats, not the GOP, may have the bigger problem getting their party to rally around the nominee, but there we are. NBC notes in its analysis that for all the hype about Bernie fans resisting Hillary, the problem was arguably worse in 2008. In April of that year, just 60 percent of Hillary fans claimed they’d support Obama against McCain and we know how that turned out. Then again, Obama was better liked by Hillary voters than Hillary is by Sanders voters (as NBC acknowledges). And the nature of Sanders’s insurgency may make his base more resistant to voting Hillary this fall than her own supporters were to backing Obama. In the end, for Hillary’s centrist Democratic voters, backing Obama was a transactional decision: Who’d be more likely to deliver on what they care about, Obama or the Bushian Republican McCain? For (some) Sanders voters, the choice may be less transactional than revolutionary. The only way to loosen the center-left’s grip on the party, the thinking may go, is to deal Hillary a brutal defeat this fall. Show the Democratic establishment that the base will stay home if the nominee isn’t sufficiently pure and they’ll nominate purer leftists going forward. And as much as they may loathe President Trump, he shares a few of their concerns, like trade. The question of the election, at least for the moment, is whether it’s butthurt over losing or something more principled and durable that’s motivating Bernie fans not to back Hillary. Do they support Bernie because he’s the socialist prince they’ve dreamed of or do they support him because he’s the anti-Clinton? If they’re amenable to reconciliation, we should see her start to reclaim a lead over Trump in the polls before the conventions.
One last detail: NBC finds both Hillary and Trump with the worst favorable ratings of any major-party nominees in history. Fully 47 percent say they’d consider a third-party nominee; ABC found a nearly identical number, 44 percent, saying so this weekend. #NeverTrumpers are evidently still looking around. It’s amazing, given that dynamic, that the highest-profile challenger they’re going to get this year is Gary Johnson.