Trump: No Pathway to Victory

Written By Evan Bonsall ’19

Don’t Panic! Trump Won’t Win in November

After their commanding victories on March 15, it’s become increasingly likely that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be competing for the presidency in the 2016 general election. Clinton has virtually locked up the Democratic nomination, with a nearly two-to-one delegate lead over Bernie Sanders and a solid advantage in almost every major state left on the primary calendar. While Trump’s path to the nomination is less assured, Trump is favored to win the upcoming winner-take-all primaries in Arizona and Wisconsin, drawing 100 delegates closer to clinching the GOP nomination and avoiding a brokered convention.

In the year of the non-politician, Trump’s surging popularity among white working-class voters and independents, and Clinton’s high unfavorable ratings and perceived lack of trustworthiness, have led to feverish speculation about a potential Trump upset in November. Newsweek recently ran the ominous headline “What the World Will Look Like Under President Donald Trump.” On March 19 the words “How Trump vs. Clinton Could Reshape the Electoral Map” were emblazoned across the front page of The Washington Post. Major media outlets as diverse as NPR, the National Review, MSNBC, and Fox News have all hopped on the Trump upset bandwagon in recent weeks.

However, hairpiece and personality cult notwithstanding, Donald Trump has about as much chance of defeating Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders, for that matter) as he has of being crowned Miss Universe. There is little doubt that a Trump presidency would be a great setback for the country as a whole, and a disaster of apocalyptic proportions for women and racial and religious minorities in particular. But the rising panic about a Trump upset in November is needless, and if Trump is the Republican nominee a Democrat is virtually guaranteed to be placing their hand on the Bible on January 20.

The idea that Trump can win simply by turning out white working-class voters is wholly wrong. According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Hillary Clinton beats Trump 51-38, with 11% undecided or staying home, in a hypothetical national matchup. Essentially, Trump could win over every single undecided and apathetic registered voter in America and still lose. Trump leads by nine points among white voters, but that masks Clinton’s 21-point lead among white women and her 15 point advantage among white college graduates. Clinton also holds an insurmountable 73-19 lead among non-white voters. Even one in ten Republicans would vote for Clinton over Trump in 2016.

Trump has all the same electability problems as Clinton, but to an even greater extent than she does. Clinton’s average favorable-unfavorable ratio is currently negative 12.5 points according to RealClearPolitics, but Trump’s is more than twice as ugly at negative 28.5. When it comes to trustworthiness, Clinton has the edge once again: 37% of Americans describe her as honest and trustworthy, compared to just 27% who say the same of Trump, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. On the three issues which have formed the cornerstone of Trump’s campaign – the economy, immigration, and terrorism – the same poll found that Clinton has the advantage over Trump on all three in the minds of likely voters.

When confronted with these overwhelming numbers, most people on the Trump bandwagon simply dismiss all polls as inaccurate and their samples as flawed. After all, they say, the polls didn’t predict that Trump would be the nominee in the first place, and Trump has brought a large number of new voters into the process who will turn out in droves to vote for him in November. However, both of these objections are unfounded.

To the first objection, the polls actually did predict Trump’s success in the Republican nominating contest – for better or for worse, they were right on. For as long as regular polling has been conducted in presidential primaries, no Republican candidate has ever held such a commanding lead in the polls, both nationwide and on a state-by-state level, as Donald Trump – not Mitt Romney, not John McCain, not even George W. Bush. Trump holds no such advantage in the general election – in fact, both Clinton and Sanders have consistently led Trump in head-to-head polling.

The second objection – that record-high turnout in the Republican primaries may herald high turnout in the general election – seems more reasonable at first glance. But once again, history just isn’t on Trump’s side. As FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics have both pointed out recently, voter turnout in a primary is an indicator of the competitiveness of that primary, not a predictor of general election turnout. In the last six open presidential elections, the party with higher primary turnout won three times and lost three times, demonstrating that there is no real connection between primary turnout and general election results. It’s no wonder Republican turnout has been higher than Democratic turnout in this year’s primaries – until recently, there were four or five serious Republican candidates, compared to just two in the less competitive Democratic race. Even if Republican turnout is high on Election Day, turnout among the “Stop Trump” coalition (mostly young voters and minorities) will likely be at least as high.

This is where the theory that Trump has the potential to sweep the Midwest (and even win some blue states like New York) starts to falls apart. If anything, the evidence suggests that Trump could push several purple and red states into the Democratic camp. Hillary Clinton leads Trump in recent head-to-head polls in such liberal bastions as Ohio, Colorado, Michigan, and even Utah. As Robert Schlesinger wrote for U.S. News and World Report on March 18, “Trump isn’t remaking or expanding the GOP, he’s distilling it; he’s doubling down in the hopes of squeezing one more successful run out of the old Reagan coalition.”

So amidst the racist, riotous rallies, the apocalyptic headlines, and the doomsday scenarios being peddled by political pundits, just remember – if Trump is the Republican nominee, there’s no need to panic.