The defining characteristic of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is complete confidence in his correctness, regardless of the evidence at hand. Asked how he’ll achieve something seemingly (or demonstrably) impossible, and the answer, frequently, is something like, “by doing it.” It makes rebutting him simultaneously endless and fruitless, to the point that The Washington Post Fact Checker icon should transition from Pinocchio to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
And so, during Wednesday night’s town hall event on MSNBC, Trump waved away any questions that he wouldn’t win the general election.
“I will have more crossover votes — if I get the nomination, I will have more crossover votes than anybody that’s ever run for office,” Trump said. “I will have Democrat votes. I will have independent votes. I will do tremendously with crossover. One other thing: I will have states that nobody ever thought of getting in terms of a Republican.”
Joe Scarborough, co-hosting the event, pressed him on that contention. “Name one.”
“New York,” Trump replied. “I think I have a great chance of Michigan. States that are not in your six states that we always talk about ... I’ll definitely get Pennsylvania. I’ll get Ohio. I think I’m going to win Florida. You see how I’m doing in Florida. I’ll get states like a Michigan and New York.”
First of all, it seems pretty unlikely that Trump will have “more crossover votes than anybody that’s ever run for office.” Plenty of partisans have handily beaten their opponents thanks to support from members of the opposite party. And more than one president has won a massive number of votes from political opponents, including Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. In 1984, Reagan got more than a quarter of Democrats to vote for him. That’s a mark Trump would be hard-pressed to beat.
Second, it’s not clear he’d actually do much better than the other Republicans running this year. The idea makes general sense: Trump is a candidate unlike most others, and there are suggestions that he has strong support from some blue-collar, white Democrats. It would mean reversing a recent pattern of strong partisanship in presidential elections, but it seems logical.
Recent polling, though, doesn’t support the idea.
Earlier this month, shortly after the Iowa caucuses, Quinnipiac University ran head-to-head polls pitting top Republicans against the two Democratic candidates. We must reiterate that these should not be considered predictive for the outcome in November, but we can use them to compare how the candidates fare against each other.
So here are the margins for the three Republican candidates against the two Democrats among all voters and among independents — a group that Trump also claims he’d dominate. (How to read it: If the red bar is above the middle line, the Republican leads with all voters. If the yellow one is below it, he trails with independents. If a yellow bar is lower than the adjacent red bar, the Republican did worse with independents in that match-up than he did overall.)
In this poll, Trump does much worse than Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz against both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — and does worse with independents than he does with voters overall. Not evidence that independents will swarm to his cause.
Against Clinton and Sanders, Trump pulls 7 and 8 percent of Democrats, respectively — about the same as the 9 and 8 percent Rubio gets.
That’s one poll. Another, from USA Today and Suffolk University, had the Republicans doing much better across the board.
But, again, Trump does worse overall than Rubio, and his margin of support with independents against Sanders is only slightly higher than what the Florida senator sees. The fairest way to read these results is that they’re about the same across the board. There’s no obvious advantage seen by Trump at all.
There was another poll this month that gives the lie to Trump’s reply to Scarborough. Siena College surveyed New York state, seeing how home-field favorites Trump, Clinton and Sanders would fare. In New York, unsurprisingly, the Republicans all did much worse than the Democrats.
Against each Democrat, Trump did worse than Cruz and Rubio. His margins with independents were about what Ted Cruz saw — and Cruz would likely not argue that he has a special advantage with that group.
The reason we generally dismiss head-to-head polls at this point is that the campaign has barely started, and the general election hasn't started at all. A lot shifts and changes over the months that the nominees compete, and history tells us that trying to predict a winner from polls like these is a fool’s errand. It’s possible that Trump would solidify support from a lot of Democrats and independents if he got the nomination, but there’s no evidence yet that he will — or that he’d do so more effectively than would one of the other Republicans.
Not that we expect that this will cause him to reconsider his argument.