Donald Trump is picking up critical support in his race for the White House.
Since clinching the Republican nomination, the presumptive GOP nominee edged Hillary Clinton in the RealClearPolitics average of polls for the first time. Surveys from every major public poll show a toss-up race between Trump and Clinton, with a slim advantage for Trump.
The election is still 6 months away and early polling is not necessarily predictive of final results. That said, a recent survey of “political insiders” by Politico confidently predicted that Clinton would crush Trump in a landslide in November. Politico’s surveys of “insiders” have usually been wrong in this unpredictable year, but this prediction seems particularly off. The contest between Clinton and Trump is very likely to be close throughout the election season.
The same could not be said for a race between Trump and Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders. In both state and national polling, Sanders runs roughly 7-10 points better than Clinton against Trump. In the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Sanders leads Trump by 10 points.
Sanders’ personal poll numbers are also much better than either Clinton or Trump. His most committed supporters are liberal activists and young voters, two voting blocks critical to Democrats’ success in critical down ballot races.
A large number of Republican voters, tired of weak leadership from the Republican party, backed the outsider Donald Trump to be a strong, unconventional standard-bearer for an election fraught with consequences. A similar block of Democrats are showing the same inclination by backing Sanders. He may very well be the best chance for Democrats in November.
A recent round of state battleground polling paints a compelling picture. Clinton leads Trump by just 10 points in California, but Sanders leads by 17. In North Carolina, Trump leads Clinton by 4, but Sanders leads Trump by 4 points, an 8 point swing. In New Jersey, Clinton leads Trump by 11, but Sanders leads by 24. In Arizona, Trump leads Clinton by 4 points, but trails Sanders by 1. In Georgia, Trump leads Clinton by 4, but trails Sanders by 5, a 9 point swing in a state that has voted Republican for the past 20 years.
In an average of polls in Ohio, a critical battleground state, Clinton leads Trump by 1 point. Sanders, however, leads Trump by 5. Only in Florida do Clinton and Sanders perform equally against Trump. Each leads the GOP nominee by a single point in that swing state.
Clinton, in summary, under performs a generic Democrat candidate in a host of contests. Sanders, by contrast, puts several traditional Republican states in play against Trump. A Sanders-led ticket, running competitively in states like Georgia, Arizona, Ohio and North Carolina could put a number of down-ballot House and Senate races in play for Democrats.
Sanders chief strength against Trump is his relatively popularity with voters. In the recent NBC/WSJ poll, Sanders favorablity rating, favorables minus unfavorables, was +7. Trump’s rating was -29, while Clinton’s was -20. In a Washington Post poll, Sanders personal rating was +13, while Clinton was -9 and Trump was -23.
While Clinton has a formidable lead in the race for the Democrat nomination, much of her advantage is based on her overwhelming support from Democrat superdelegates. It is increasingly unlikely that Clinton can clinch the nomination by winning a majority of the pledged delegates won through state primaries and caucuses. She will need the full backing of the superdelegates, Democrat elected officials who cast individual votes for the nomination, to win her party’s nod.
The flip-side of this equation is that, a switch of superdelegates to Bernie Sanders would be enough to make him the nominee. In 2008, Hillary Clinton won more votes overall in Democrat contests than Barack Obama, but a swing of superdelegates padded his slim lead with pledged delegates and made him the nominee.
Democrats are, of course, going to nominate Hillary Clinton at their convention in Philadelphia. Given her unfavorable numbers with voters and continued questions about her honesty, though, it is an open question whether they ought to nominate her. Of their options, Clinton may be the only Democrat who could lose to Trump.
Even if Clinton were to pull off a close election and defeat Trump, her weakness as a candidate is unlikely to help Democrats trying to recapture Congress or seats in state houses across the country. Sanders, however, would likely run strongly enough to help those other Democrat candidates.