Steve M over at No More Mister Nice Blog made an interesting point about how the push for a third party candidate may be an attempt to recreate the conditions in 1992 and 1996, where Bill Clinton did not get a majority. I don’t really buy the argument (nor does he) because it doesn’t matter what happens when a Democrat is elected president: the Republican Party treats them as though they are invalid. Most conservatives are convinced that if it weren’t for voter fraud, the Republicans would win every election in a landslide.
But he wrote something that I am very skeptical about, “That may not be completely crazy polls show that Clinton would lose to a Republican who was less offputting than Trump or Ted Cruz — Kasich, for instance.” And he linked to a study by Morning Consult, 50 State Snapshot. I don’t buy it — at all. We can start with the fact that polls this early are generally meaningless. But it is especially meaningless when it comes to John Kasich.
There are a few things that make any polling results related to John Kasich particularly stupid. First, most people don’t even know who he is. And those who do know don’t know much about him. And everything that is known about him is put through the lens of Donald Trump. Kasich is the “reasonable” Republican. The fact is that he is ridiculously conservative and not a very nice guy (very much like Chris Christie). This is not the kind of thing that would stay hidden in a general election.
So what this study really shows is how people feel about Hillary Clinton generally. And like anyone who is well known, she has high disapproval ratings. So that poll is more or less Clinton vs Clinton. And the fact that she comes close to winning even in that theoretical match up is pretty amazing. But to show you how absurd it is, the match up indicates that John Kasich would win Oregon, Minnesota, and New Hampshire. There is no way they are going red, so that brings Clinton’s total up to 255. And I also have a hard time believing that Michigan would go red in a presidential election, and that would put Clinton over the top.
None of this is to say that the Democrats can just skate through this election. The economic fundamentals are very slightly negative for the Democrats. But what I expect is for the unemployment rate to stay roughly flat during the next five months, which will make this campaign roughly a wash. But if unemployment starts to take off, a candidate like John Kasich really could have won. I tend to think that Donald Trump is so horrible a candidate, that even a stark rise in the unemployment rate wouldn’t put him over the top.
I’m willing to admit that a head-to-head polling match up between Clinton and Trump might have some predictive value. They are both, after all, widely known and for a long time. And you could make a case for Cruz (who actually loses worse in the poll, because he doesn’t win Maine). But ultimately, this is going to be another race between a Democrat and a Republican. John Kasich may have the reputation of being a different kind of Republican, but he isn’t. And his negatives would go way up in a general election.