Donald Trump has effectively secured the Republican presidential nomination for president, after easily winning the Indiana primary and forcing rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of the race.
But his unstoppable march to the top of the Republican ticket is, of course, only half the battle. In a likely general-election matchup against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton (who stands even closer to nailing down the Democratic nomination), the prospects for a Trump White House dim considerably.
Though it’s early to speculate about what will transpire on election night in November, nationwide polling indicates that Trump trails Clinton by an average of seven percentage points across the country. Clinton is even enjoying leads in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012, like North Carolina and Missouri; and even places like Arizona and Utah, which typically vote Republican in general elections.
Indeed, the electoral college map does not look auspicious for Trump. As Quartz reported in April, political analysts predict Trump losses in nearly every key battleground state. A recent poll showing him trailing badly in Florida underlines the problem: If Clinton wins there and in no other battleground state, she would still win the election.
Of course, if we’ve learned anything from this election cycle thus far, it’s that 2016 is a very unpredictable year. Both Trump and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders have vastly outperformed expectations.
“Could Mr. Trump overtake Mrs. Clinton? Sure. Mrs. Clinton is very unpopular herself,” notes Nate Cohn, writing for The Upshot. “There have been 10-point shifts over the general election season before, even if it’s uncommon.” He’s referring to the awesome comeback managed by George H. W. Bush in the 1988 general election against Michael Dukakis: A May poll from that year showed Dukakis leading Bush 49% to 39%. Obviously, that didn’t stick.
What differentiates 2016 from 1988, however, is the extreme notoriety (and polarity) of the presumptive candidates. “There isn’t much of a precedent for huge swings in races with candidates as well known as Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton,” Cohn adds. “A majority of Americans may not like her, but they say they’re scared of him. To have a chance, he’ll need to change that.”
A sizable portion of those “scared” Americans are registered Republicans—and this poses a unique problem for the Trump campaign. Not since Barry Goldwater’s nomination in 1964 has a GOP candidate so widely and profoundly alienated members of his own party. Not only is he marred with a general 60% unfavorability rating nationwide—making him arguably the least-liked major-party candidate in modern history—more than half of registered Republicans don’t support his candidacy. (To put that in perspective, Mitt Romney enjoyed 54% of Republican support in May 2012, battling a far more competitive Republican field.)
Finally, there is the perennial issue of Republican appeal among minority and female voters. Women and non-white voters overwhelmingly supported president Barack Obama in the 2012 election, and those groups really hate Trump: 85% net unfavorability among non-whites,who could make up as much as 30% of the electorate in 2016. Seven in ten women have a negative opinion of Trump, and they made up 53% of the electorate in 2012.
America in 2016 is simply not ideal for a candidate like Trump, with virtually all of the demographic and statistical cards stacked against him. A Trump victory in November would be the very definition of extraordinary—but, then again, what better word to describe this topsy-turvy election cycle?