This General Election Is Going to Be Different
One of the things that has fascinated me during this election is that the frontrunners for each major party have negative net favorability ratings. (Here’s a decent sample of favorability polls for a lot of people from Gallup, I also relied on Real Clear Politics and HuffPost) Hillary Clinton has been trending around -12 this year in her net favorability. That is historically bad, except Donald Trump is out pacing her running -20 on net favorability.
Since 1992 (that’s as far back as I could find), there has actually only been two presidential nominees with net negative favorability - Romney in 2012 ran somewhere around -10, and George HW Bush stumbled into the 1992 election around -6 (see the Gallup numbers in that first link) after looking unbeatable after the first Iraq War. It’s no surprised that either lost given that their opponents had net positive favorability ratings - Obama was +4 in 2012 (down from over +40 in 2008, but that’s what happens when you actually have to govern), and Bill Clinton was at +10.
Only John Kerry managed to lose an election while leading in the net favorability ratings. George W Bush ran pretty much even in 2004 (after being +10 in 2000), while Kerry was +5.
I’ve had a lingering thought that this election could end up being a low turnout election because neither presumptive nominee (I really can’t believe I’m using that term to describe Donald Trump) has good favorability numbers. But looking at turnout, I’m not really seeing a pattern that could tell us anything useful. The lowest turnout since 1992 was in 1996, at 49% - Clinton was +20 and Dole was +10. Conversely, in 2008 when Obama’s net favorability was over 40 and McCain (despite Palin and his stunt of suspending his campaign because of the financial crisis) was still around +10, turnout was 58%. It’s easy to write this one off as being due to Obama’s historic candidacy, but 2004 saw 56% turnout.
Looking at all these numbers, and assuming it actually ends up Clinton-Trump, I think there’s two possible outcomes. First is that this ends up being a high turnout election where voters on both sides are going to the polls mostly to vote against the other nominee. Given that Trump’s negatives are higher, that probably favors Clinton. Second is that this ends up being a very low turnout election (somewhere in the mid-40s) because voters simply don’t like either nominee. I have no idea who that favors (yes, normally low turnout favors the GOP but we’ve never really seen anything like this).
I’m still thinking this will be a low turnout election. I simply don’t see Clinton generating a lot of enthusiasm among voters with a -12 net favorability rating (also, I’m beginning to wonder if she’s just not very good at electoral politics). And while Trump’s supporters are… rabid… he still hasn’t won more than 35% of Republican voters.