The 2016 general election race is now a virtual tie. Hillary Clinton is reeling from more negative headlines about her use of a private email server, while Donald Trump careens from news cycle to news cycle as fact-checkers scramble to sift through his claims.
And the big question on everyone’s lips for the next 160-some days will be: So, who’s gonna win?
The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Clinton clinging to a narrow lead.
But a deep analysis of data from the poll shows that Clinton is still currently the more likely of the two candidates to emerge as the winner when the voting’s all over on Nov. 8, 2016.
First, the requisite caveats: Clinton is deeply unpopular, she has a persistent and severe problem on issues of trustworthiness, she faces possible defections from Bernie Sanders supporters, she’s getting absolutely demolished in the white male vote and she’s (self-admittedly) a less intuitive politician than her husband, which means that an onslaught of Trump attacks are likely to change some of the dynamics of the race going forward.
But with all that on the table, here are six numbers that show why — right now — Hillary Clinton is better positioned to win the presidency than her GOP rival.
The advantage for a generic Democratic candidate over a generic Republican is 4 percentage points
One of the most basic questions we ask in every NBC/WSJ poll is whether or not voters want to see a Republican or a Democrat elected president, no matter who the nominees of each party may be. And as recently as last fall, the generic Republican option edged out the Democratic one. Not so anymore, with 47 percent of voters favoring a Democratic president and 43 percent choosing a Republican one. If the advantage holds, it would defy the notion that Americans are reluctant to grant a party the presidency after it’s held the White House for eight years. (The last time that happened? George H.W. Bush in 1988.) Nothing about the unpopular Clinton or the even-less-popular Trump is “generic,” but Dems have the advantage on this fundamental measure of party strength.
The Democratic Party is nearly breaking even on favorability, while the GOP is under water.
Let’s be real: It isn’t a fun time to be a party establishment type, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. Both parties are pretty unpopular, but Democrats are doing a lot better than their GOP rivals. On the popularity scale, Democrats are just barely underwater, at a net negative three point favorability rating. Republicans? They can at least say they’re doing better than their nominee (who’s at a net negative 29 point rating) but they’re not far behind, with only 24 percent of voters giving the party a thumbs up, compared to 49 percent giving it a thumbs down.
Barack Obama’s approval rating is 51 percent.
Hillary Clinton is adamant that she’s running for her own first term, not Barack Obama’s third term. But as the Democratic Party nominee, a key part of her message is building on Obama’s vision and the “progress” his administration has promoted. Even as majority of the electorate — 53 percent — say they’re interested in a change candidate, the man currently steering the ship has hit his highest approval rating since his second inauguration. Obama’s high rating — which includes support from a majority of independents and women as well as 82 percent of Sanders voters — means that he’ll be a powerful surrogate for Clinton once the Democratic primary is in the history books.
Trump is under-performing with white women by 10 points.
It’s no secret that Trump has a problem with female voters. But he *does* enjoy a slight advantage over Hillary Clinton when it comes to only white women, leading with 46 percent to Clinton’s 42 percent. That might look like a boon for Trump until you compare his share of the white female vote by the margin won by Mitt Romney four years ago. Romney beat Barack Obama by 14 points with white women, winning them 56 percent to 42 percent. Trump is under-performing badly with a part of the electorate that makes up almost four in 10 voters, and it’s definitely no certainty that there are enough white men out there to cut his losses.
Trump’s showing a nine-point drop in the suburbs.
Plenty of experts argue that the rural-urban cultural divide is so deeply entrenched that the suburbs are where the election will be won and lost. And, as he is with white women, Donald Trump is showing significant weakness with this slice of electorate. In 2012, Obama won urban suburbs 57 percent to 41 percent, according to NBC’s Dante Chinni. Clinton is matching Obama’s performance at 57 percent now, but Trump has slid to 32 percent. Swing suburban areas of the battleground states — places like Fairfax County, Virginia or Bucks County, Pennsylvania — are almost sure to help determine the general election winner. Right now, Clinton is enjoying a big head start.
Clinton has a 10-point advantage on the commander-in-chief test.
This poll showed that Trump has very significant advantages when it comes to questions about economic issues. He handily beats Clinton when voters are asked which candidate would better on trade, dealing with Wall Street or managing the economy. But Clinton has a ten point advantage (43 percent to 33 percent) when voters are asked who would be the best commander-in-chief. Yes, Clinton's disadvantage on the economy is a big deal, particularly for the significant portion of voters who still aren’t feeling any impact from the economic recovery. But an advantage on the commander-in-chief test is something any candidate covets, particularly in courting late deciders and swing voters.