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Horowitz: America Doesn’t Like the Front-Runners - Trump and Clinton

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


Rob Horowitz

The latest Washington Post Poll, in which nearly 6-in-10 registered voters have unfavorable impressions of the two current front-runners for their party’s Presidential nomination, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, explains the angst among strategists and elected officials in both major parties about prospects for a general election victory. Given that more than 4-out-10 registered voters indicate strongly unfavorable opinions of both these well-known commodities, this angst appears even more well-founded

It is fair to say that Republican strategists are far more apoplectic at the increasing possibility that Trump will be their nominee than are Democratic strategists about Clinton. And that’s for good reason. But there is still marked concern among Democrats about their front-runner; it is what underlies the new found demand for Vice-President Joe Biden to enter the contest.

Let’s begin with Donald Trump. The unprecedented saturation media coverage he has received-10 times as much as any other Republican candidate—has helped him substantially improve his favorable rating with Republicans: more than half of Republicans now rate him favorably. This rise, however, has come at a high price with general election voters’ over-all as evidenced by his high general election unfavorable rating—unusual for a new candidate. Additionally, his inaccurate, demagogic and racially tinged comments and positions on immigration have created a nearly insurmountable problem with Latinos, with well-over 70% rating him unfavorably  At this point, if he becomes the nominee, he is likely to do even worse with Latinos than the 28 % Mitt Romney received in 2012. In 2016, Latinos will comprise more than one-out-of-10 general election voters and a substantially higher share of the electorate in key swing states like Colorado and New Mexico. That makes the general election math for Trump nearly impossible—and the smart Republican strategists all know it.

The increase in negative ratings for Hillary Clinton among the general electorate is in large measure a result of her use of a private e-mail server when Secretary of State and her failure to provide a convincing explanation of why she made that decision or the kind of full- throated apology that leads one to conclude that she has learned something from the episode and will not repeat the mistakes as President. About 6-in-10 Americans now view her as untrustworthy --a particularly concerning development—that cannot be wished away by people who point out that President Clinton won with a similar percentage of people indicating their distrust of him. He had compensating gifts as a candidate in the ability to communicate and convey empathy that neither Hillary nor just about anyone else possesses. While there is room for Hillary Clinton to improve her standing with general election voters by better handling of the continuing email controversy and she did do a better job of admitting mistakes in an interview last week with Andrea Mitchell, the multiple investigations and ongoing release of the emails in batches by the State Department will keep this story alive throughout the Presidential race. That is giving a lot of Democrats, including many who like Hillary Clinton, heartburn.

With the first votes to be cast in the nomination contests still 4 months away, much can change. It is certainly possible that neither Trump nor Clinton will end up as nominees.  If they do, however, it could create a big opening for an independent candidate with strong popularity throughout the electorate and moderate views. Colin Powell, “a nation may well turn its lonely eyes to you.”

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


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