Gaming the general election possibilities

Donald-Trump-afp-800x430Donald Trump claims that he is capable of beating Hillary Clinton in a general election. He is probably wrong about this, but any predictions must be made with a number of caveats in mind.

Caveat One: Trump has shown an ability to at least interest people who don’t normally vote. Viewership of Republican debates has been extremely high in this cycle. While he has not shown any notable ability to bring in new voters in the primaries, there is a chance he could do so in the general election. This would render polling doubtful, as estimates of likely turnout would be wrong.

Caveat Two: Clinton is still under FBI investigation. An indictment would change the dynamic of the race.

Caveat Three: current polling incorporates high negatives for the two front-runners. The lesser known candidates poll better, but that may be because their weaknesses are not known yet. As an election unfolded, opposition research would uncover things and the other party would try to paint them in different lights.

Nonetheless, current polling, combined with a bit of judgment, enables us to make reasonable estimates as to how various general election matchups would play out. Let us start with the most likely: Clinton vs Trump. Though caveats one and two both apply, it does seem likely that Clinton would win all the states which Obama won, plus a few others, such as Arizona, which Obama did not target in 2008 because he was facing the senior senator from the state, Missouri or (surprisingly) Utah, which is strongly Republican, but very resistant to Donald Trump. The LDS Church is very internationalist. Young Mormons go on a two-year mission abroad for the Church. Trump’s anti-Mexican comments and hostility to international trade are not popular in Utah. 

The second most likely matchup is Clinton vs Cruz. Caveats two and three apply here. Cruz has fared better in polling against Clinton than has Trump, but it may be that his negatives are just not as widely known as are those of Clinton and Trump. There is certainly material for the Clinton campaign to work with. Even in the absence of this, Cruz generally trails Clinton so we can probably assume that, absent an indictment, she would win. 

Caveats two and three also apply to Clinton vs Kasich. He regularly trounces her in polling matchups, but perhaps he is just not well known enough. Democrats and the media have painted him as the “reasonable” Republican, and it might be hard to backtrack, though his position on abortion is fairly extreme. Kasich would probably – and deservedly – beat Clinton by a big margin. 

Caveat three applies very strongly to Bernie Sanders. Clinton and the media have been very soft on his extreme views. Most people know that he is honest and principled, but not that he took his honeymoon in the Soviet Union. Polling suggests that Sanders would beat any of the Republican candidates, but that might not actually be the case. 

Research is, obviously, less detailed on the less likely scenarios – and any scenario involving Sanders as the Democratic candidate is now very, very unlikely. However, it is probable that he would be a weaker candidate than Clinton: losing to Kasich (in the extraordinarily unlikely event of that matchup) and possibly to Cruz or Trump.



Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at

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