Trump/Clinton Negatives Hinder Outcome Predictions

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PHILADELPHIA -- With the Democratic National Convention coming to a close and the Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton general election matchup at hand, both candidates remain extremely unpopular, which makes predicting a victor extremely difficult, according to a panel of polling experts.

The pollsters’ discussion was part of RealClearPolitics’ “Decoding 2016: The State of the Race,” an event held here Thursday. It was the sixth in a series of discussions held during both parties’ conventions to explore the main issues of the presidential election.

Following the Republican convention, Trump received a six-point bounce in the polls, taking the lead from Clinton, according to RealClearPolitics’ average. However, with four months to go until Election Day and the possibility of a Clinton convention bounce, no candidate has a clear path to the White House.

Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster with The Tarrance Group, explained that “we have two flawed candidates from a polling standpoint. We started this campaign where both candidates were at a 55 percent unfavorable rating a year ago.” Today, Clinton remains at that percentage, while Trump has jumped slightly to 57 percent unfavorable.

“Only 3 percent of the country likes both of these candidates -- and that is with an error factor of 3.8 percent,” Goeas said. This means that many voters already have strong feelings about the candidates, and thus the next four months will be a “campaign of inches, not a campaign of big steps or yards.”

Another reason that it will be hard for the campaigns to swing a large number of voters is that only about “10 percent of the electorate are truly nonpartisan,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. Because of this, the campaigns will be “focused on mobilization and turnout and less focused on persuasion. For Hillary to put it away, she has to make sure that every Democrat comes out to vote.”

This, in turn, makes forecasting the race increasingly difficult because “turnout is a very hard thing to predict, particularly in this election,” Greenberg asserted.

“You’re trying to predict a universe that doesn't exist,” echoed Margie Omero, also a panelist and Democratic pollster.

As Goeas explained it, approximately 70 percent of eligible voters will cast a ballot in a typical presidential election, which “leaves a lot of room for playing around with the math” -- a poll’s outcome is significantly influenced by which demographic groups are predicted to turn out in higher or lower numbers in a given election cycle.

This year, because the candidates are unusual in terms of their high unfavorability and, in some cases, their policies, turnout will be even harder to predict because certain blocs may go to the polls in numbers different from previous years.

Despite these uncertainties, Omero and Greenberg give Trump has a 40 percent and 24 percent chance, respectively, of winning the presidency. A fourth panelist,  Republican pollster Greg Strimple, also put Trump’s odds at 40 percent. Goeas, however, said he wouldn’t make a prediction but asserted that in an election “with these high negatives, whoever gets elected is probably a one-term president.”

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