Trump-Clinton Matchup Almost Certain: An Explainer on Where the US Polls are Headed

Trump has a significant disadvantage in a presidential contest with Clinton, not least because of how unfavourably the majority of voters perceive him.

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With a matchup between Clinton and Trump in November now almost certain, focus is moving to who could be the next US president. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Republican front-runner Donald Trump won a decisive victory in Indiana on Tuesday, May 3, to become his party’s presumptive presidential nominee after his top rival, Ted Cruz, dropped out of the race.

His victory at Indiana has put to rest the belief that the Republican Party would choose its nominee at a contested convention when party leaders gather in Cleveland in July.

Being just under 200 delegates shy of the total number needed to win the GOP nomination, Trump is well on his way to spar with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the November 8 presidential election.

His nomination is not yet formal, and likely won’t be for a few more weeks, but the party has acknowledged their almost-certain candidate. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted after Trump’s victory, calling him the “presumptive GOP nominee” and encouraged the party to “unite against Clinton”.

Although Clinton is leading the Democratic race, her path to the nomination has been slowed by Bernie Sanders, who won the Indiana primary. Despite the setback, Clinton will likely win the nomination by a comfortable margin.

The Republican numbers: Trumping home

Of the 44 GOP primaries held so far, Trump has won 26. Trump currently has 1047 delegates, with 98% of the Indiana vote counted. He is now 190 delegates short of winning the GOP nomination.

Going in to the Indiana primary, he had made a clean sweep in the April 26 primaries, winning Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Trump has also had decisive victories in Florida (99 delegates) and New York (89 delegates).

Nine primaries remain, with 445 delegates, including unpledged ones, up for grabs. In the weeks ahead, Trump will compete with John Kasich, the last remaining challenge to his nomination, for Nebraska and West Virginia (May 10); Oregon (May 17); Washington state (May 24); and California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota (June 7).

Two-hundred-and-twenty-three delegates are up for grabs in California (a winner-take-most contest with 172 delegates) and New Jersey (a winner-take-all primary with 51 delegates) – the largest number of delegates among the remaining states. According to The New York Times, victories here will put Trump comfortably past the number needed to win the nomination, even if he were to lose in the seven other states; FiveThirtyEight gives Trump a 89% chance to win California.

Even in the states that award delegates proportionally – Washington, Oregon and New Mexico ­– he is expected to garner a substantial number of delegates, even if he loses. But he is expected to win in Oregon, where 43% of voters will support him, according to a poll by an Oregon-based research group. Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota are tougher challenges for Trump, where Cruz was expected to win. With Cruz now bowing, there remains uncertainty over these states, but victories for his opponent there will not dent Trump’s nomination in any significant way.

Is Trump’s nomination a given?

Although highly unlikely, Trump could yet be denied a clear win of the GOP nomination, with the decision being made at the party convention in July.

Cruz, who had the next biggest share of delegates among the Republican candidates, announced the suspension of his campaign at the end of the Indiana primary. This leaves Kasich as the last challenge to Trump’s almost-certain nomination.

Kasich is far behind Trump at the moment, having won only 153 delegates so far. Cruz’s departure means a substantial number of voters (546) could now go to Trump or Kasich. According to The New York Times, Kasich would need to win every Cruz voter to even have a chance at forcing a contested convention. But were Trump to get even a quarter of these votes, he will win a majority before the convention.

If the decision does go to the convention, there is a minute chance Trump could lose. For instance, delegates are only “bound” to their candidates based on the primaries. If Trump fails to win the 1,237 delegates required, all delegates are free to vote for whomever they like at the convention. Some Republicans are hoping Trump falls short of the number needed so another nominee can be present on the convention floor. But such a scenario remains highly unlikely.

Another scenario could see Marco Rubio make a comeback. Rubio, who suspended his campaign in March after failing to win his home state, Florida, had kept his options open, informing party leaders in a letter that his bid remained alive. By holding on to his delegates, Rubio appeared to want to be able to use them at the convention to back any one but Trump. However, this scenario now seems increasingly improbable, with Rubio saying he will support the party nominee and that Trump’s performance had “improved significantly”.

The Democrat numbers: Clinton on her way

A Democrat presidential hopeful needs 2,383 delegates to clinch the nomination. With his win in Indiana, Sanders now has 1,400 delegates, while Clinton has 2,202.

There are 13 caucases and primaries to go – Guam (May 7); West Virginia (May 10); Kentucky and Oregon (May 17); Virgin Islands (June 4); Puerto Rico (June 5); California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota (June 7); and District of Columbia (June 14) – with a sizeable number of delegates available (1,114, inclusive of the super delegates). But with the Democrats awarding delegates proportionally (this means there are no winner-take-all states) Sanders’ chances of winning the nomination appear slim.

Sanders must win large victories in most of these primaries if he hopes to overtake Clinton. But he needs 983 delegates more to reach the number required, while Clinton needs only 181. With Clinton projected to win in California, where 546 delegates are up for grabs, losses in the other 12 contests will not impact her in any way.

Besides, Clinton also has 520 super delegates on her side, while Sanders has only 39. If he hopes to win the Democrat nomination, Sanders must now focus on winning over the super delegates to boost his numbers.

Preparing for the November big fight

Having been frontrunners for their parties’ nominations, Clinton and Trump have long targeted each other in their campaigns.

Soon after his victory in Indiana, Trump was quick to turn on Clinton saying she would make a “poor president”.

Last week, after sweeping five states, he had accused Clinton of “playing the woman card,” and had said in an interview to CNN that many women did not like her despite the card.

Meanwhile, Clinton has consistently criticised Trump for this inflammatory rhetoric, with her campaign calling him a “bully” and saying he was “unprepared to lead” the US.

With a matchup between Clinton and Trump in November now almost certain, focus is moving to who could be the next US president. Trump has a significant disadvantage, not least because of how unfavourably the majority of voters perceive him – some prominent Republicans are now voicing support for a Clinton presidency. Trump may well face the biggest challenge from within his own party.

Note: This article was written before John Kasich suspended his campaign to seek the Republican Party nomination  for president.