Like Trump, Clinton Struggles With Independent Voters

Poll suggests Clinton viewed as more qualified, but lead is slight

Majorities of independent voters surveyed have unfavorable views of both candidates as the general election gets underway. Trump’s unfavorable scores surpass the 60-percent mark — but Clinton is not far behind, according to a recent Economist/YouGov poll .  

St. Anselm College political science professor Chris Galdieri said self-described independents in “swingy” states could make a big difference in deciding who will be the 45th president. That’s because some voters “can’t pull the lever” for either candidate and are searching for a viable alternative.  

The poll provides further evidence of the sizable gap between Trump and voters who do not pledge allegiance to either major political party. Fifty-one percent of those independents surveyed reported “very unfavorable” opinions of the real estate mogul, and just 31 percent among the group said they would vote for the GOP nominee.  

Obama Comes Back at Trump Over 'Radical Islamic Terrorism' ] A deeper dive into the poll, conducted June 2-5, reveals independents have deep doubts about Trump’s overall qualifications to be president. They also question his readiness to be commander in chief and find him to be dishonest.  

Asked if his party’s nominee can win without reversing the Economist /YouGov poll’s findings, Sen. Jeff Flake , R-Ariz., quickly replied, “No.”  

“He’s got to have them,” said Flake, who is withholding his support for Trump. He advised Trump to drop his recent rhetoric about “Mexican” judges and “our African-Americans .”  

“He needs to start talking about economics, poor job [creation] performance, low labor participation, wage growth [being] stagnant,” Flake said. “If he starts talking about that, he can pick up independents and blue-collar former Reagan Democrats.  

Sen. Bob Corker , R-Tenn., who recently met privately with Trump, has said the candidate needs to “reassess” and “realize where he is.” For Trump to become president, Corker said other Republicans must “encourage [him] in a direction.”  

Trump and the Re-Emergence of Unreasoning Fear ] GOP political strategist John Feehery warns that Trump could be in trouble unless he “recovers from what has been a rough period.” A key to attracting independents and even skeptical Republicans will be running a GOP convention in Cleveland next month that keeps Trump’s signature bombastic – some say, offensive – rhetoric at a minimum, Feehery said.  

Despite his low poll numbers with independent voters, Trump and his team might take solace in what the Economist/YouGov poll suggests will be his general election foe’s own uphill battle with the same group.  

Clinton secures “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” scores from 39 percent of independents surveyed. Trump comes close, with 33 percent. Clinton’s collective “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” score is 57 percent, only five percentage points better than Trump’s 62 percent rating.  

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist, is betting Clinton’s “numbers will improve once push comes to shove and independents have their eyes on the general race.”  

Sen. Chris Coons , D-Del., advises Clinton to treat the general election like a “job interview.” And, in so doing, “focus less on the negatives of her opponent and more on the positives of her agenda, her experience, her priorities, and how they will address the needs of the middle class, explaining how they will make us stronger and more secure.”  

For Clinton, a key will be “getting over the primary, which Democrats are now doing,” said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger , D-Md. “Once we’re into the general, the issues, the character of the individuals, their past history, all of that will really start to come into play.”  

Ruppersberger said Clinton should prod voters to think about “who is the best to lead this country” and which candidate will do more for American families, whom he described collectively as “hurting.”  

Clinton’s decades as a public figure and experience as first lady, senator and secretary of state are a double-edged sword with independent voters.  

A majority (54 percent) say she is qualified to be president, compared with only 22 percent who say the same for the likely GOP nominee. And nearly twice as many (45 percent to 24 percent) replied to the Economist/YouGov survey that she is ready to be commander in chief compared to Trump.  

(The Economist Group is the parent company of CQ Roll Call . The poll’s margin for error is 3.2 percent.)  

But independent voters have deep reservations about how honest Clinton is, something that has plagued her and her husband almost from the moment they stepped on the national stage almost 25 years ago.  

Sixty one percent labeled her “not honest and trustworthy.” That’s not much better than Trump, who was branded the same by 66 percent of independents surveyed.  

Still, on the issue of qualifications, Clinton holds a sizable advantage over the bombastic businessman as she begins in earnest to undercut his readiness to lead the country and its military.  

“It’s because she’s strong, she’s smart, she has a lot of experience,” Ruppersberger said. “I just got back two months ago from the Middle East, and those countries respect her. … She’s taking on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin . She’s not the one saying, ‘He’s a good guy.’  

[ Sanders Signals He'll Work With Clinton to Beat Trump ] “This isn’t about just saying what you think,” Ruppersberger added. “It’s about who you’ve got around you. And she and her husband have always done that.”  

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.