Donald Trump could do to the 2016 general election exactly what Ross Perot did a generation ago – with a Clinton pulling away from a Bush and a wealthy business mogul drawing a surprisingly large share of the vote.
A new McClatchy-Marist poll finds Hillary Clinton leading every potential Republican rival one on one. And while her lead has narrowed over several, it expands greatly in a race against Jeb Bush if Trump decides to jump in as a third-party candidate, as he has suggested is possible.
The poll projects a virtual rerun of 1992. That year, husband Bill Clinton won the White House with 43 percent of the popular vote. President George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush’s father, came in second with 37.5 percent. Perot, running as an independent, got 19 percent.
This time, Hillary Clinton gets 44 percent, Bush gets 29 percent and Trump gets 20 percent, according to the poll.
The results come as the Republicans prepare for their first debate, Thursday in Cleveland, with Trump leading national polls of GOP voters. Should he fall short of winning the Republican nomination, which party insiders expect, Trump has opened the door to a third-party bid.
Trump would badly wound Bush, according to the nationwide McClatchy-Marist survey conducted July 22-28.
He would siphon votes from Republicans and independents, but not from Democrats. He’d get 28 percent of the Republican vote, while Bush would sink to 63 percent support from his own party. Meanwhile, Clinton would hold 86 percent of the Democrats.
Trump backers appreciate his candor, calling him a welcome alternative to veteran politicians.
“Everybody else has been in politics. He hasn’t,” said John Hyleman of Gastonia. “He’s telling everyone to kiss his butt if you don’t like it, and I like that.”
Patrick Deaver of Raleigh called Trump “a refreshing change to politics, because he doesn’t bring politics to the table. He’s untainted. He doesn’t owe any favors, he can't be bought.”
Others, though, had qualms about Trump’s intentions.
“I don’t see him as a contender,” said David Singletary of Winston-Salem. If Trump won, he said, he’d “perform the duties of president and I do believe that stranger things have happened in politics. But I’m not really sure of his true intent in making this run.”
And he’s highly unlikely to get much Democratic backing.
“He’s racist,”said Sandra Caldwell of Concord. “I definitely wouldn’t vote for him, period,”
Without Trump in the general election race, Bush would get more than nine of 10 Republicans and would trail Clinton by 6 percentage points.
A Trump general election candidacy would be a huge boost for Clinton, whose support has ebbed somewhat in recent months as she’s had to defend her email use while secretary of state and has been criticized for a tightly scripted campaign style.
“This suggests it’s going to be a very competitive election,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducts the poll.
Here’s how Clinton fares against the entire GOP field one on one:
– Leads Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky by 5 percentage points, 48 percent to 43 percent.
– Leads Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida by 5, 47 to 42.
– Leads Bush by 6, 49 to 43.
– Leads Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin by 7, 48 to 41.
– Leads former Texas Gov. Rick Perry by 7, 47 to 40.
– Leads Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas by 9, 49 to 40.
– Leads former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee by 9, 50 to 41.
– Leads retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson by 10, 49 to 39.
– Leads Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey by 10, 50 to 40.
– Leads Gov. John Kasich of Ohio by 10, 49 to 39.
– Leads former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania by 12, 51 to 39.
– Leads former New York Gov. George Pataki by 13, 50 to 37.
– Leads Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana by 16, 52 to 36.
– Leads Trump by 16, 54 to 38.
– Leads Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina by 17, 52 to 35.
– Leads former executive Carly Fiorina by 18, 53 to 35.
– Leads former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore by 21, 53 to 32.
Clinton has inched below 50 percent when matched up against leading Republican contenders. Combined with the smaller margins, the drops are significant because Clinton is already well known, while most of her challengers are not.
That means in the months ahead, the new candidates can define themselves for an electorate that may be wary of familiar names. Rubio, Paul and most other prominent Republicans will get their first big chance Thursday, when they debate for the first time. They’ll debate each month through the primary season.
Clinton, by contrast, is in the headlines for reasons not likely to boost her numbers. Thursday, McClatchy reported that classified emails stored on the former secretary of state’s private server had information from five U.S. intelligence agencies. It included material related to the fatal 2012 Benghazi attacks.
She’s also come under fire from the liberals who make up an important part of the Democratic base for not showing enough passion for their causes. That’s allowed Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to rally disaffected liberals eager for action against Wall Street greed and for more government spending on jobs.
Marianne McConnell of Pflugerville, Texas, is a Sanders fan, saying, “He seems to have an insight as to where the country needs to go.”
Anne Baird of Atlanta chose Clinton in the poll, but she said she’s unenthusiastic. “I like her, but I’m starting to associate her more with the money elite,” Baird said. “I like her but I’m not into her. I want someone else, but there is no one else.”
In the match-ups against Republicans, Clinton continues to have strong backing from Democrats but lags among independents. Rubio and Paul both attract more independent supporters, while Cruz and Walker are close.
Trump is not. Clinton is far ahead of Trump, topping him among every constituency except Republicans.
In a three-way race the political ground shifts. Independents and Republicans move to Trump. He ties Bush among independents and takes about one in four Republicans.
More than half his Republican supporters are backers of the tea party, the independent grassroots movement that helped elect conservatives in recent years.
William Douglas, Corinne Kennedy and Chris Adams of the Washington Bureau contributed.
This survey of 1,249 adults was conducted July 22-28 by The Marist Poll sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy. Adults 18 years of age and older living in the continental United States were interviewed in English or Spanish by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler, Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were selected by asking for the youngest male. To increase coverage, this landline sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers from Survey Sampling International. The two samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey one-year estimates for age, gender, income, race, and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. There are 964 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. There are 345 Republicans and Republican leaning independents and 450 Democrats and Democratic leaning independents. The results for these subsets are statistically significant within plus or minus 5.3 percentage points and plus or minus 4.6 percentage points, respectively. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.