We can split the 2016 electorate into four groups. Those who liked both candidates were too small to break out how they voted — a statement in its own right. About 41 percent of voters viewed Clinton favorably and Trump unfavorably. They, predictably, voted heavily for Clinton. Thirty-six percent liked Trump but not Clinton and voted for Trump. Then there’s that last 18 percent, who voted heavily for third-party candidates, relatively speaking. In that group, those who voted for a major-party candidate backed Trump by double-digits.
How important was this phenomenon nationally? As we pointed out in April, it alone might be why Trump won.
Trump is president because he flipped three states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — by about 78,000 votes, combined. In those states, about a fifth of the electorate disliked both candidates, and Trump won those voters by at least 20 percentage points. The result was more than enough votes in each state to give him his narrow margins of victory.
It has become obvious over the past few months that Trump’s strategy for 2020 is similar. Amplify the enthusiasm (or outrage) of his base and tamp down on enthusiasm for his likely opponent in November, former vice president Joe Biden. Trump’s campaign has run ads attacking Biden as beholden to far-left extremists, as suffering from mental decline and as encouraging violence — bizarrely by suggesting that Biden’s election would lead to precisely the sort of violence we’ve seen under Trump.
This effort, though, hasn’t had the desired effect.
Two polls released Thursday have Biden leading Trump by double-digits nationally. He’s up 11 in an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll and up 15 points in a Quinnipiac University poll. That poll also asked people their views of the candidates, allowing us to evaluate how Trump’s burn-it-all-down approach is working.
In short, it isn’t. About 1 in 10 respondents dislike both Biden and Trump. They prefer Biden by a 27-point margin.
This is a consistent pattern in Quinnipiac’s polling, in fact. In December, Biden led Trump by nine points nationally and by 33 points among those who disliked both candidates.
In April, same thing. Biden up eight points nationally and 32 points among the voters who disliked both.
The new poll shows each candidate winning nearly all of the vote among Americans who view only them favorably. But among the group that dislikes both Biden and Trump, Biden has a 27-point advantage.
It’s important to remember that a lot of these voters may simply not vote. But it’s also the case that dislike comes in degrees. People who dislike one candidate and loathe the other may go to the polls simply to vote against the latter. Many of those dislike-both voters may not turn out. Many may turn out specifically because of how strongly they dislike one candidate or the other. Anti-votes.
Again, though, the Quinnipiac data shows that an effort by Trump to clamber to the top of the mud puddle isn’t having the desired effect.
I mean, it also shows him losing by 15 points, which is worse news. But that, too, reflects that Trump’s campaign isn’t catching in the way it hopes to — an effort encapsulated in that like-neither category of voters.