Hillary Clinton continues to hold a steady lead against Donald Trump in SurveyMonkey’s Election Tracking. While her five percentage point margin this week (48 to 43%) is slightly narrower than last (49 to 41%), it exactly matches the average over the past nine weeks.
But, that’s old news.
This week, as reported by our partners at NBC News, we asked some entirely hypothetical vote choice questions pitting Clinton against three alternative Republican nominees: 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ohio Governor John Kasich.
What’s the point of this? After all, the conservative #NeverTrump movement has all but collapsed and Trump’s eventual nomination is, at this point, mostly a formality. Moreover, neither Romney or Ryan even ran in 2016, and many voters were still unable to rate Kasich even at the height of his unsuccessful campaign. Any of these candidates would have been attacked more by Democrats by now, had they been the Republican nominee rather than Trump, and so their images would have been very different.
The goal of asking questions like these isn’t to simulate what the campaign might look like in some alternative universe where the Republicans opted to nominate a candidate other than Donald Trump.
Instead, we’re trying to provide a glimpse of Clinton’s and Trump’s strengths and weaknesses among different types of voters in each of their parties.
While Clinton leads Trump by five points, she runs even with Romney (at 45% each) and trails Ryan by two percentage points (45 to 47%). Kasich, probably the least well- known of the three alternative Republicans, leads Clinton in the hypothetical match-up by eight percentage points (42 to 50%).
As our NBC colleagues point out, the bigger hypothetical lead that Kasich holds over Clinton is “mostly due to the fact that he pulls in more Democrats and Independents than either Ryan or Romney—who pull in similar numbers of partisans.”
Let’s take that a step further and look at which independents make the most difference.
Democratic Leaners Still in Play
The gap between Clinton’s performance against Trump and her performance against Kasich (and the other Republicans) is greatest among Democratic-leaning independents and independents who do not lean to either party. The gaps are much narrower among Republican-leaning independents and partisans of both parties.
In short, this means that Trump consolidates the Republican vote as well or better than these more mainstream Republicans.
For example, Trump leads Clinton by 84 percentage points among voters who are independent but lean Republican. Romney, Ryan, and Kasich lead Clinton by similar numbers among the same voters (71, 78, and 81%, respectively). But Trump does better than all three hypothetical candidates among pure independents, independents who lean Democratic, and Democrats.
Clinton’s weaker poll performance against a moderate candidate such as Kasich also occurs most among voters under age 35, and especially among those age 18 to 24.
These results show the most potential play in the election is among younger voters who initially identify as independents but lean to the Democrats. Bernie Sanders did consistently better in the Democratic primaries among younger voters and Democratic-leaning independents, exploiting a Clinton vulnerability that these data show continues to exist.
Applied to the actual campaign looming between Clinton and Trump, these results suggest Clinton is well positioned to select a running mate to help her solidify support among the younger, Democratic-leaning independents she needs to maintain her lead.
This SurveyMonkey Election Tracking survey was conducted online from June 27- July 3 among a national sample of more than 11,705 adults aged 18 and over in the U.S. Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Results have an error estimate of 1.5 percentage points.
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