Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy has stunned the Republican Party. But if he survives a late revolt by his rivals and other leaders to become the party’s standard-bearer in the general election, the electoral map now coming into view is positively forbidding.
In recent head-to-head polls with one Democrat whom Trump may face in the fall, Hillary Clinton, he trails in every key state, including Florida and Ohio, despite her soaring unpopularity ratings with swing voters.
In Democratic-leaning states across the Rust Belt, which Trump has vowed to return to the Republican column for the first time in nearly 30 years, his deficit is even worse: Clinton leads him by double digits in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Trump is so negatively viewed, polls suggest, that he could turn otherwise safe Republican states, usually political afterthoughts because of their strong conservative tilt, into tight contests. In Utah, his deep unpopularity with Mormon voters suggests that a state that has gone Republican every election for a half-century could wind up in play. Republicans there pointed to a much-discussed Deseret News poll last month, showing Clinton with a narrow lead over Trump, to argue that the state would be difficult for him.
Horse-race polls this early are poor predictors of election results, and candidates have turned around public opinion before. And the country’s politics have become so sharply polarized that no major-party contender is likely to come near the 49-state defeats suffered by Democrats in 1972 and 1984.
But without an extraordinary reversal — or the total collapse of whoever becomes his general-election opponent — Trump could be hard-pressed to win more than 200 electoral votes.
Trump has become unacceptable, perhaps irreversibly so, with broad swaths of Americans, including large majorities of women, nonwhites, Hispanics, voters under 30 and those with college degrees — the voters who powered President Barack Obama’s two victories and represent the country’s demographic future. All view him unfavorably by a 2-1 margin, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.
In some states, Trump has surprised establishment-aligned Republicans with his breadth of support beyond the less-educated men who form his base. Even so, his support in the nominating process, in which some 30 million people may ultimately vote, would be swamped in a general election, when turnout is likely to be four times that.
“We’re talking about somebody who has the passionate devotion of a minority and alternately scares, appalls, angers — or all of the above — a majority of the country,” said Henry Olsen, a conservative analyst. “This isn’t anything but a historic election defeat just waiting to happen.”
What could ensure a humiliating loss for Trump in November are his troubles with constituencies that have favored Republicans in recent elections. Among independents, a group that Mitt Romney carried even as he lost to Obama in 2012, Trump would begin the fall campaign at a considerable disadvantage: 19 percent have a favorable opinion of him, but 57 percent view him unfavorably, the Times/CBS survey found. Given his loathed standing among Democrats and the possibility that many in his own party would spurn him, Trump would need to invert his numbers among independents to even be competitive in November.
With white women, a bloc Romney easily won even in defeat, Trump is nearly as unpopular: 23 percent view him favorably, while 54 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. And that was before Trump attacked Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife, ridiculed a female reporter against whom Trump’s campaign manager was charged with committing battery, and suggested that women who have abortions should face criminal punishment before reversing himself.
Trump’s penchant to offend and his household-name celebrity are a potentially lethal combination, as most voters have both firm and deeply negative opinions of him. His incendiary comments about minorities and the disabled, and proposals to bar Muslims from entering the United States or to force Mexico to pay for a wall on the southern border, have resounded so widely that half of all voters said they would be scared if he were elected president, according to the Times/CBS poll.
“There is no precedent for this,” said Neil Newhouse, a veteran Republican pollster. “In the modern polling era, since around World War II, there hasn’t been a more unpopular potential presidential nominee than Donald Trump.”
Stan Greenberg, the longtime Democratic pollster, released a survey Friday summing up Trump’s vulnerabilities under the headline, “Earthquake?” Trump trails Clinton by 23 points among women in Greenberg’s poll, suggesting the possibility of a gender gap of historic proportions. (The Times survey last month had Clinton leading by 20 points among women.) The largest gender gap in the last 36 years was the 11-point loss Bob Dole suffered among women against Bill Clinton in 1996.
“His gains with men have been neutralized with women,” Greenberg said of Trump. “There’s no play here. The math just doesn’t work.”
Nationally, Clinton leads Trump by about 10 percentage points in most head-to-head polls — the widest margin at this point in a presidential campaign in 16 years.
If Clinton somehow loses the Democratic race — unlikely given her delegate advantage — Trump could fare even worse in a general election against Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has higher margins than Clinton in head-to-head polling against Trump in most swing states.
Even among the working-class whites, who have been the foundation of his success in the Republican primaries, Trump would enter the general election with substantial difficulties. He is viewed unfavorably by a majority of whites without college degrees, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll early last month.
Trump’s hopes rest largely on his energizing a coalition of the disaffected: millions of people who have not voted in recent elections but who have found in Trump someone giving voice to their anger. High primary turnouts have fed speculation that Trump could lure back the so-called missing white voters — populist-minded Americans thought to have skipped the 2012 presidential election, and who, depending on their numbers, offer a glimmer of hope for many conservatives in an era of unfavorable demographic shifts.
But Trump cannot count on such a surge. The actual number of missing white voters is quite low in the closely contested states, where turnout remained high or even rose in 2012.
Moreover, there is scant evidence that white voters who did stay home would be inclined to support Trump. In fact, they were far younger and much more likely to be registered Democrats than the white voters who did turn out, according to the census and data from L2, a nonpartisan voter file vendor.