Clinton’s Best Friend? The GOP

Her negatives are astronomical, but she has the good fortune to run against a party that’s stuck in the mud

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop Monday in Wilmington, Del.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke
April 25, 2016, 8 p.m.

Hillary Clinton finds herself these days moving from good news to bad news and then to good news again. The first bit of good news is that she is finally cinching up the Democratic presidential nomination. There had never been much doubt about her winning, but Bernie Sanders put up a surprisingly stiff fight. He mounted an impressive campaign and was able to effectively capitalize on a leftward shift that has made the party more protectionist and almost unrecognizable from the Democrats who elected Bill Clinton in 1992.  

The bad news is that the Hillary Clinton who has clinched the Democratic nomination is considerably weaker than the Hillary Clinton of two or three years ago. Various controversies, particularly one over her State Department emails, have resurrected questions about her trustworthiness, and her negatives now significantly outnumber her positives in poll after poll.  

The ABC News/Washington Post poll taken in March put her favorable ratings at 46 percent and unfavorable tally at 52 percent for a net of minus 6.  A CBS News/New York Times poll also taken last month was tougher, with 31 percent favorable and 52 percent unfavorable (net minus 21). CNN put her favorables at 43 percent and her unfavorables at 56 percent (net minus 13) while a Bloomberg News sounding found 44 percent favorable and 53 percent unfavorable (net minus 9).  

This month’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed 32 percent having a positive view of Clinton, with 56 percent negative (net minus 24). More specifically, 13 percent had a “very positive” view of her, 19 percent were “somewhat positive,” 12 percent were neutral, 14 percent were “somewhat negative,” and 42 percent were “very negative.” Her head was clearly above water four years ago, but now all polling has her underwater. Obviously these controversies have taken a very heavy toll on her popularity, particularly among independent voters, though a lack of enthusiasm among younger voters should be of concern to her as well.

But then there is good news for her again. Both the Republican Party and her two most likely rivals carry more baggage than she does. In that NBC/WSJ poll, 38 percent viewed the Democratic Party positively, and 41 percent negatively (net minus 3) while just 27 percent gave positive marks to the GOP, compared to 51 percent that were negative (net minus 24).  

Trends in recent presidential elections paint a similarly grim picture for the GOP. Democrats have won 18 states plus the District of Columbia six times in a row for a virtual lock on 242 Electoral College votes, which is 89 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency. Republicans have carried just 13 states six times in a row for a total of 102 Electoral College votes, or 38 percent of the 270 needed.  

Democrats owe their edge to demographics. Mitt Romney won 59 percent of the white vote in 2012, historically enough to win the election, but the former Massachusetts governor lost the election by 4 percentage points. When Bill Clinton won in 1992, whites cast 87 percent of the total vote; in the most recent election, the white share had dropped 15 points to 72 percent. While 88 percent of Romney’s support came from whites, Obama’s voters looked more like the country’s: 56 percent were white, 24 percent black, 14 percent Latino, and 4 percent Asian. The country is changing rapidly, but the GOP has not adjusted its core beliefs to broaden its appeal.

Polling shows John Kasich beating Hillary Clinton handily: by 7.8 points in the averages (48 percent to 42.2 percent), and even worse, in the NBC/WSJ poll, 51 percent to 39 percent. There is very little chance of Republicans nominating Kasich or any candidate who could take advantage of her weaknesses. That leaves Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The former trails Clinton, 48.8 percent to 40.8 percent in the RCP averages and by a whopping 12 points in the NBC/WSJ poll. Cruz runs closer, trailing 45.3 percent to 43 percent in the RCP averages, and 46 percent to 44 percent in the NBC/WSJ poll.

So what is the most likely governing configuration for 2017? Most likely, Clinton will be president. The Senate, where Republicans have a 54 to 46 majority, will likely be almost evenly divided—52-48, 51-49, or 50-50, one way or the other—with Democrats slightly more likely than not to be on top. Republicans will likely retain their majority in the House, but their 58-seat margin could be cut in half. None of this is cast in stone. But keep in mind that more Americans are voting straight-party tickets than at any time in modern history, and Republicans have done nothing to repair their brand since the Republican National Committee “autopsy” report three years ago that urged the party to modernize by appealing to minorities, women, and younger voters.

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