Fox News released another poll Thursday evening that includes at least one piece of good news for Trump. More than half of respondents, 56 percent, think that Trump is on track for reelection. Digging into the numbers a little deeper, though, we see that there’s a lot that might give Trump pause as well — and some strong hints that the focus on electability by Democratic primary voters is a flawed basis for casting a ballot.
Views of how likely it is that candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination can beat Trump in November vary widely among voters in the party’s primaries. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who leads the primary field in this poll, is also seen as the candidate with the best chance to win the general election. Biden and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg trail a bit, with more than half of Democrats saying that they could win.
As has been the case for some time, views of that electability go hand-in-hand with how much support the candidates receive from primary votes. In Fox’s last poll, Biden led and was seen as the most electable. In this one, he dropped on both metrics.
Notice the figure for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), though. Only about a quarter of respondents think she can beat Trump. In a head-to-head matchup among all voters, though, Klobuchar is essentially tied with Trump — suggesting that, in reality, she might well have a shot at winning in November.
There is no better indicator of how electability is more a function of support than sober analysis of the state of play than a comparison of views of electability with the actual polling of how Democratic candidates fare against Trump. Biden, Bloomberg and Sanders all lead him by at least 7 points and are seen by the most people as being able to beat Trump, but polling suggests that any of the other candidates might beat him, too.
It’s not that there’s no connection between how candidates fare against Trump and how likely they’re perceived as being able to beat him. It’s that most primary voters say that Klobuchar can’t beat Trump — even though most voters have her with an insignificant lead.
In the Fox poll, 45 percent of respondents say that they will definitely vote against Trump. An additional 7 percent say they probably will — yielding 52 percent in total. By contrast, only 32 percent say they’ll definitely vote for Trump. Not great numbers, though it’s worth noting that President Barack Obama’s numbers were similar at this point in 2012.
Fox’s poll also dug into the Democratic primary contest, showing some cause for concern for Sanders. While a plurality of primary voters say that they’ll vote for whichever candidate the party nominates, about a fifth say they won’t support Sanders in the general election if he’s the nominee. About the same percentage says that of Bloomberg.
We can probably take this with a grain of salt, given that the party is in the midst of a contentious primary. In January 2016, about 15 percent of Republican primary voters said they wouldn’t support Trump, almost certainly far more than actually declined to back him.
The Fox poll also found that 30 percent of Democratic primary voters were concerned about Sanders’s health, about twice as many as were concerned about Biden’s. (No other candidate saw more than 6 percent of voters express concern about their health.) Sanders’s argument that he should get the nomination if he has a plurality but not a majority of delegates coming into the convention was also a minority view; half of Democratic primary voters thought that the party should be open to nominating someone else at the convention if no one has a majority.
For Trump, those are incidental concerns. He’ll be focused on those head-to-head matchups, perhaps taking solace in that 56 percent of respondents who think he will win.
Update: And lo…
But here we again come back to the same issue of how voters view electability. Why are perceptions of his chances so high when he’s trailing each of his possible competitors? In part because Democrats are so pessimistic. Nearly 3 in 10 Democrats say that Trump will win in November, including a quarter of those who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
That is explanatory in and of itself. Of course Clinton voters think that Trump might win despite the polling: He’s done it before! For primary voters casting a ballot based on perceptions of electability, though, this poll is another reminder of a consistent problem. Voters aren’t great at determining who has the best chance of winning, and that perception is colored by who they support in the first place.