Since that election, it has been easy to dismiss Trump’s win as aberrative simply because Clinton was so unpopular. Get a more popular Democrat to face off against Trump, one theory went, and Trump would be in dire straits.
Polling from Quinnipiac University and Monmouth University released Tuesday, though, shows a problem with that theory: The leading Democrats are already about as unpopular as Trump.
We’ll start by looking at Quinnipiac’s results. Vice president Joe Biden is viewed favorably by 44 percent of respondents, just where Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is a bit less favorably viewed, though she’s also less well-known. That’s much more the case for South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who’s unknown by more than 4 in 10 respondents.
Trump is known by nearly everyone — and viewed favorably by 40 percent of respondents. While the Democrats are fairly well regarded by Democrats and poorly regarded by Republicans, Trump is very poorly viewed by Democrats but highly regarded by Republicans, making his favorability something of a wash.
We can see that more clearly in the Monmouth poll results, which break out favorability by strength.
On average, the Democrats are viewed very favorably by about 37 percent of Democrats and very unfavorably by an average of 63 percent of Republicans. Trump, on the other hand, is viewed very unfavorably by 90 percent of Democrats and very favorably by 81 percent of Republicans.
Interestingly, the strongest Republican unfavorability among the Democrats belongs not to Biden, the leading contender, but Warren. Three-quarters of Republicans view her very unfavorably, more than the two-thirds who say the same about Biden.
On net, Monmouth’s polling generally shows the Democrats as more unpopular than Trump. In polling by Quinnipiac, whose results have fairly consistently shown worse numbers for Trump, the president still has a larger deficit on net favorability. (Net favorability is those viewing the candidate favorably minus those viewing him or her unfavorably.) Buttigieg’s relatively modest net favorability numbers are a function in part of his being less well known.
Where things get particularly interesting, especially considering that people-who-dislike-both number from 2016, is when we consider independents and people living in swing counties. Monmouth breaks out that data, showing all independents and “pure” independents — that is, independents who don’t tend to lean toward one party or the other. (These “pure” independents tend to have lower awareness of all of the non-Trump candidates.) They also break out swing counties, places where the margin between the candidates was less than 10 points in the 2016 election.
Trump is generally more favorably viewed across those groups than are the Democrats. Biden, for example, is viewed favorably by 38 percent of all independents, 34 percent of “pure” independents and 45 percent of people in swing counties. Trump is viewed favorably by 49 percent, 44 percent and 44 percent of those groups, respectively.
Part of this is absolutely a function of the Democrats having not yet settled on a candidate. Democratic support for the eventual nominee will increase, leading to stronger support for the candidate from within the party. Opposition from Republicans, though, is also likely to grow.
It’s also worth noting that Monmouth asked voters if they thought Trump should be reelected or if someone else should be in office. A majority said someone else should, including 63 percent of “pure” independents and 55 percent of respondents from swing counties. But there’s a big difference between “is Trump worse than an anonymous individual” and “is Trump worse than Joe Biden.” Particularly after months of Trump hammering Biden (even more than he already is).
There’s one important caveat to add here. Part of the reason that Trump probably fared better than Clinton with voters who disliked both candidates is that he was an unknown entity, something of a black box for what he would do in office. If you dislike A and B and know what to expect from A, maybe you’re more likely to consider B as an option.
It is no longer the case that Trump is an unknown entity. Whether the eventual Democratic nominee will be given the same benefit of the doubt among skeptical voters, though, remains to be seen.