The Democratic Party could hardly believe their good fortune last month when it became apparent that Hillary Clinton was headed to a general election showdown with Donald Trump. In their eyes, the presumptive Republican nominee has spent most of his time since securing the candidacy alienating large portions of the electorate, starting with women. Hillary has, in contrast, been running a cautious, carefully strung together and well-funded campaign that would seemingly triumph by merely allowing Trump’s self-destructive path to continue. Yet In the past week, numerous polls in the US that looked at a general election match-up between Clinton and Trump have been released and despite varying sample sizes and methodologies, the results were strikingly consistent.
The commanding lead that Hillary’s campaign boasted has now evaporated. The polls that have been routinely posting double-digit leads for Clinton now show Trump ahead or at worst only a few points behind. The ‘Real Clear Politics’ average of recent polls this week showed Trump ahead by 0.2 percentage points — 43.4% to 43.2%. This rapid swing raises two big questions over the general election – Why is this happening and will it carry on? Let’s take them one at a time.
Many analysts have attributed this rise to Trump’s attempted unification of a fragmented Republican Party and to some degree, there has been a rallying effect for Trump since he effectively wrapped up the GOP nomination. Two polls identified support from 86% of self-acknowledged Republicans, up from 72% in April when Ted Cruz and John Kasich were still in contention. However, the closing of the gap is not completely because of Republicans coming home to their presumptive nominee. Trump’s increased strength boils down to a shift in support among independents and that should be of great concern to Clinton.
One find in particular discovered that among Democratic primary voters who support Bernie Sanders, 4 in 10 voters view Mrs Clinton negatively with a third saying that if Clinton is nominated they would either vote for Mr Trump, another candidate or abstain completely. Furthermore the recent polls have highlighted the extent of unfavourability surrounding both presumptive nominees – both Clinton and Trump are viewed more negatively by voters than any other nominee of a major party in the history of polling. In the forthcoming election both Democrats and Republicans appear to be driven by what political scientists are labelling as a ‘negative partnership’ – even though they may find their current candidate unfavourable, they loathe the other side’s candidate with a passion. Both candidates are effectively running as the lesser of two evils.
So will Trump’s upward surge continue into the summer? The betting markets seem to be stacked against him; however this is the same sector that forecasted 2016 would be the year of Jeb Bush. Ultimately, early state polls barely rise above speculation because many more variables will rise before November and the statistics can’t be considered to be truly accurate until after both parties hold conventions. In an election as volatile as this one too much detail cannot be paid to polls at this very early stage, yet historical presidential races have seen candidates triumph from much gloomier positions than Trump’s.
There is no doubt that Americans want major changes in the way government operates and they see Trump as much more likely to implement this change in Washington. Clinton’s main problem is that she has cemented herself as a candidate of the status quo and with the stage set for a tough, ugly and painful street fight ahead, which is not an ideal position to be in. Clinton’s support has struggled to gather momentum and growth throughout her campaign whilst Trump has enjoyed the opposite trajectory. With her numbers tumbling and her political stances becoming increasingly marginalised, what she thought would be a walkover against Donald Trump is now a horserace—one she’s now trailing.