Head-to-head matchups are being polled by various respected and experienced companies, giving a feel for how President Trump would fare against his Democrat rivals. In nearly all of them, President Trump comes out the loser. If you haven’t seen them, here’s a link to the RealClearPolitics page which keeps a summary of them.
His supporters insist that they shouldn’t be valued, because Trump proved the polls wrong in the last election. That is a false statement. Trump did not prove the polls wrong; rather, the polls were generally accurate about the eventual results. What President Trump managed to do was receive results which were toward the top end of all of the expected polls… if he was given 48% with a 3% margin of error for a battleground state, he’d place around 51%. This is a generality, but it’s a fairly accurate one.
There’s a reason Hillary walked away with the bulk of the popular vote and Trump supporters whipsawed from being against the Electoral College to being for it. It’s because the polls were generally correct, and Trump’s large electoral win was due to a series of skin-of-the-teeth successes.
That said, Trump’s supporters are partially correct, just for the wrong reason. The polls should generally not be trusted now. The reason, however, is incomplete data.
The polls show, for example, that Pete Buttigieg fares worse than Sanders in a head-to-head matchup against Trump. This is completely wrong, and it’s wrong for a simple reason: policy.
Polls are driven by two factors: name recognition and policy. Right now, many voters know they dislike Trump’s policy; that is a given, across the board, and starts any Democrat at a point equal to “unnamed opponent” to Trump. After that, name recognition takes effect.
There are many people who do not want to support an unknown against Trump, for fear that his fame will carry the day (this is a terrible argument, as a random person chosen off the street at the time of the convention would be internationally known by the time of the general election.) Still, people, even the uninformed, like to believe they’re knowledgeable. If they don’t recognize a name, they think, nobody else will, and therefore that person can’t win. They want to support a winner, so that lesser person doesn’t get their support. There’s also the possibility that the person they don’t know might hold positions they find repulsive, like a David Duke or Louis Farrakhan. This is what drives down the numbers of the “lesser” candidates.
The fact is that most of the second-tier candidates could handily beat Donald Trump, in the exact way that any of the second-tier Republican candidates could have beaten Hillary Clinton. Clinton was a nightmarishly bad candidate, and Trump is equally so. Barring aberrant or criminal behavior and disastrous policy misstatements (both always possible in politics) they’d crush Trump in the general, every one of them.
But what of the top tier? The ones who poll well?
Those are also deceptive.
Rick Wilson tweeted recently:
He’s absolutely correct. Sanders is demonstrating the opposite of the polling effects. He has fantastic name recognition, but comparatively few people know his policies. He’s held up as a liberal’s liberal, a progressive’s progressive. This is the way he presents himself. He is given every benefit of every doubt by his supporters when he makes policy statements like the one that drew international notice this week,
This is not a message which will resonate with much of America. It will call to mind, instead, images of China’s “one child” policy and oppressive authoritarian rule. It is policy like this which would quickly be the downfall of candidate Sanders.
None of this matters to the Berners. They hear the things Bernie says and discount the crazy parts; instead they hear what they want to hear, filtered through the gauze of “What he meant”… with him naturally meaning whatever they wish he would have said. It is a cultlike mentality, and the direct equivalent of many Trump supporters.
Even as the B-List has hidden positives in the poll, Bernie – and to a much lesser degree Warren – have hidden negatives. In any normal cycle, they would have no chance. Against Trump, the election would likely be a situation where the bad policy on either side cancelled out and the votes would be cast on the basis of the economy.
At a time when employment is expected to be high, gas prices low, yet with a recession in full swing, that is a vote which would reasonably go in any direction… and is absolutely not the slam dunk that Berners believe it is. At best he would get a squeaker of a win; in all likelihood, he would lose dramatically; his one chance is that people would vote for the potentially “not awful” over the known terrible. It would be Trump vs. Hillary, part 2, with Bernie playing the part of Trump.
The exception to all of the poll disparities is Biden. A fairly known quantity on both the name recognition and policy sides, his polling right now is likely accurate… and that is a reason he’s got many large donors lining up behind him.