Most Americans expect that Hillary Clinton would prevail against her leading GOP opponent in November, while Bernie Sanders’ chances are rated less well. The thought of Donald Trump as president inspires high levels of public anxiety.
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A new ABC News/Washington Post poll also finds Americans divided about the need for a third party in this country – but not so divided about a potential independent run by Trump, should he fail to win the GOP nomination. Fewer than a quarter say they’d even consider voting for him as an independent candidate for president.
With Trump as the GOP nominee vs. Clinton, 54 percent of Americans say they’d expect Clinton to win; among registered voters (a more GOP-leaning group), Clinton has 52 percent support. Clinton’s seen by much wider margins as beating Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. Sanders, for his part, is seen as beating Cruz or Rubio – but potentially losing to Trump.
Differences among partisans help explain the results in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are especially confident in a Clinton victory; 78 to 85 percent view her as the likely victor (including 89 to 94 percent of her own primary supporters). Leaned Democrats are less confident in Sanders; that’s particularly true of Clinton supporters.
Leaned Republicans are about as confident that Trump would beat Clinton (75 percent) as are leaned Democrats that Clinton would beat Trump (78 percent). But leaned Republicans are far less certain about either Cruz or Rubio beating Clinton – 63 and 61 percent, respectively, expect it. That fits with ABC/Post poll results, reported Tuesday, showing that Trump is viewed within his party as its most electable nominee.
Still, there are sharp divisions in expectations for Trump among leaned Republicans, reflecting the party’s polarization. Trump’s primary supporters almost unanimously see him defeating either Clinton or Sanders (by 93 and 98 percent, respectively). Eighty-two percent of those who support outsiders Cruz and Carson also think Trump would beat Clinton, but this slides to 57 percent of those who support any of the other GOP candidates. Supporters of more conventional candidates on the GOP side are skeptical of a Cruz victory vs. Clinton as well.
There also are substantial differences by education. Among those with college degrees, Clinton and Sanders clearly outpace the GOP competition. Those without a college degree have similar expectations about the chances of Cruz and Rubio, but are substantially more bullish on Trump, reflecting in part his strength in this group.
Anxiety vs. comfort
While Trump leads the top GOP candidates in expectations, he inspires significant concerns among Americans as they contemplate him as president. Seven in 10 say they’re “anxious” about the idea as Trump as president, including 51 percent who feel that way strongly. In contrast, a bare majority says a Clinton presidency would make them anxious.
Of the candidates tested, only Sanders comes out ahead in terms of comfort vs. anxiety: Fifty percent of Americans are comfortable with the idea of a Sanders presidency vs. 43 percent who are anxious about it. Americans are more nervous than calm about Cruz (-8 points), and slightly more concerned about Rubio and Clinton (both -5).
The differences across candidates largely reflect partisanship, with the exception of Trump; he generates anxiety even among 44 percent of leaned Republicans and 50 percent of conservatives (including 60 percent of “somewhat” conservatives vs. 38 percent of those who describe themselves as very conservative). Anxiety about Clinton in her own party is far lower.
Trump inspires particular anxiety among nonwhites and women:
• Nine in 10 blacks and eight in 10 Hispanics are nervous about the thought of him as president vs. 62 percent of whites. Anxiety among nonwhites drops substantially for Rubio and Cruz.
• Women are 17 points more likely than men to be anxious about a Trump presidency, while the gender gap is smaller for Rubio and Cruz. Men are cooler than women to the idea of a Clinton presidency, though no different than women in their reaction to Sanders as president.
Among other groups, Americans living in rural areas are much warmer to the idea of Trump as president. Half would be comfortable with it, compared with just 30 percent of suburbanites and 20 percent of city-dwellers.
Americans are as divided as ever about the idea of a third party; their 48-48 percent split on the question is nearly identical to its level at this time four years ago.
Desire for a third party is not strongly related to various measures of discontent, but instead divides more on modernist vs. traditionalist lines. It peaks among those who are not religious (65 percent), independents (60 percent) and 18- to 29-year-olds (59 percent). Liberals and moderates are more likely than conservatives to see a need for a third party. Nearly two-thirds of strong conservatives reject the idea, as do six in 10 seniors and evangelical Protestants. So do six in 10 blacks.
Overall, 31 percent of Americans say they’d want Trump to run as a third-party candidate if he fails to win the GOP nomination. A quarter of those who would want him to run wouldn’t consider actually voting for him – primarily Democrats, apparently hoping to damage the GOP nominee. That leaves just nine percent of Americans who say they’d definitely vote for Trump and 14 percent who say they’d consider it as an independent candidate.
Somewhat ominously for the GOP, nearly half of Trump’s current supporters among leaned Republicans say they’d definitely vote for him as an independent, with another quarter saying they’d consider it.
Further, four in 10 Americans who want an outsider for president, and four in 10 of those who think that immigrants mainly weaken society – Trump’s base groups – also say they’d at least consider him as an independent candidate. His chances of winning aside, that could be enough to seriously alter the dynamics in the general election contest.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Jan. 21-24, 2016, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect, for the full sample, and 4 points for all registered voters. Partisan divisions are 34-23-34 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y. See details on the survey’s methodology here.