Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds a small lead over businessman Donald Trump in new Michigan poll that shows the unpopularity of both leading presidential candidates could create an opportunity for a third-party candidate to pick off votes.
In a head-to-head general election match-up, presumptive Democratic nominee Clinton led presumptive Republican nominee Trump 43 percent to 38.5 percent, according to the poll released exclusively to The Detroit News and WDIV-TV. The survey of 600 likely voters found 4 percent saying they’ll vote for someone else and 12 percent remaining undecided.
When surveyed voters were offered a third choice in Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, the support for both Clinton and Trump eroded.
Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, received 11.5 percent support, while Clinton held a 4-percentage point lead over Trump, 37 percent to 33 percent.
“It appears that right now the support (for Johnson) comes equally from both sides,” said pollster Richard Czuba of the Lansing-based Glengariff Group Inc., which conducted the poll that had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points. “It’s kind of that middle that’s intrigued with the Libertarian option.”
When Trump was matched against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who trails Clinton for the Democratic nomination, Sanders led the New York businessman by nearly 19 percentage points.
The telephone survey found Clinton and Trump are both equally unpopular in Michigan. Nearly 60 percent of polled voters view Trump unfavorably, and Clinton is not much better with 57 percent having an unfavorable view of her.
By contrast, Sanders has a slim popularity edge, with 43 percent viewing the democratic socialist favorably and 41 percent unfavorably.
Among the crucial independent voter bloc, 51 percent view Trump unfavorably and 69 percent dislike Clinton, according to the poll.
The poll leaves an opportunity for Trump to use his outsider candidacy to appeal to voters who are bolting from established politicians this election cycle, said Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan Republican Party chairman.
“I think Hillary Clinton’s biggest Achilles’ heel is she’s going to be the quintessential establishment candidate,” said Anuzis, who worked on Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s GOP presidential campaign.
The 4.5-percentage-point margin between Clinton and Trump closely mirrors a 5.5-point lead President Barack Obama held in Michigan over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in May 2012, Czuba said. Obama went on to win the state comfortably over Romney, a Detroit native and son of a popular Michigan governor.
The former first lady will begin to consolidate support when Democrats start filling in an “information gap” that voters have about Trump’s record as a businessman and his treatment of workers, said Democratic strategist Jill Alper, a Clinton supporter.
“The guy’s against raising the minimum wage. How do you think that’s going to play in Michigan?” Alper said. “All of those things are going to have to be litigated in a head-to-head fashion.”
Czuba said the electorate’s unfavorable views of the two leading contenders for the White House may be dampening voter enthusiasm this year.
In August 2012, Glengariff Group’s polls showed enthusiasm among strong Republicans and strong Democrats at 8.2 on a scale of 1-10. Last week’s survey found enthusiasm at 6.5 for loyal Democrats and 5.8 for reliable Republican voters.
For independent voters, the mood is even worse at 4.5 on the poll’s scale. Four years ago, independents had the lowest enthusiasm rating at 6.7.
“This is a major story developing in this election right now,” Czuba said. “Independents are not seeing an option they like, and they’re not excited.”
The one exception is among Detroit and African-American voters, whose enthusiasm ratings were the highest of any demographic group at an average of 7.3 and 6.9, respectively.
“That could be a big insurance policy in this election for Hillary Clinton,” Czuba said about the African-American and Detroit vote that is usually reliably Democratic. “The Republicans have their work cut out for them to figure out how to motivate their base.”
In the one-on-one match-up with Clinton, Trump led among male voters by 10 percentage points, but Clinton held a 16-point lead among women. Trump also led Clinton among white voters, 43 percent to 35 percent, when Johnson was not factored into the equation.
“What’s very interesting is both of these candidates are roundly disliked by the middle,” Czuba said.
The Libertarian Party formally nominated Johnson for president over the weekend at a national convention in Orlando and tapped former Republican Massachusetts Gov. William Weld to be Johnson’s running mate.
Bill Gelineau, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Michigan, said the poll shows his party has a chance to break into the mainstream this year with two “serious” candidates on their ticket.
“I think the immense, almost unprecedented unpopularity of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton presents an opportunity for the Johnson-Weld campaign,” Gelineau said Tuesday.
Sanders still a factor
While Trump has had most of May to begin consolidating support among Republicans, Clinton is still locked in a primary fight with Sanders, who upset Clinton in Michigan’s March 8 nominating contest.
And Sanders’ support in Michigan has shown no sign of dissipating.
The Glengariff poll shows Sanders at the moment would win Michigan in a landslide if he were the Democratic nominee, a milestone that appears unlikely based on how Democrats will allocate delegates in this month’s final nine primaries.
In a hypothetical head-to-head match-up, Sanders led Trump 52 percent to 33 percent, according to the poll.
Czuba said Sanders has been “unbloodied” by Clinton in recent weeks as she has largely turned her attention to defeating Trump in the fall.
“The Sanders campaign has really done damage to Clinton with independents and voters who lean Democratic. That’s where her problem is,” Czuba said. “She hasn’t had the chance that Trump has had already to solidify the Democratic base. Once that happens, this will become a much more uphill climb for Trump in Michigan.”
About 40 percent of voters surveyed for the poll said they identify as Democratic voters, 32 percent said they are Republicans and 24 percent said they consider themselves political independents.
The poll, conducted May 24-26, included a 33 percent sample of cellphone users.