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Donald Trump wasn't wildly popular to begin with. Trump is, by far, the GOP delegate leader - and the only candidate with a realistic shot at winning a majority of delegates before the July convention. The danger for Trump is two-fold: His declining popularity is taking a toll on his standing in the 17 states that will hold primaries between now and the end of the process in early June. Losing some of these states - or even winning fewer delegates in proportional states - makes it more difficult for Trump to secure a pre-convention majority of 1,237 delegates.POLITICO
Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders lead in new Wisconsin primary pollCBS News
Trump is, by far, the GOP delegate leader — and the only candidate with a realistic shot at winning a majority of delegates before the July convention. But at the same time, nearly two-thirds of Americans view Trump unfavorably — and his image rating has declined since Republican voting began in February.
That’s where Trump’s horrific poll numbers could haunt him again: If Trump misses the threshold to win the nomination outright in bound delegates, it will be more difficult to persuade unbound delegates to put him over the top if they see him as a general election disaster-in-the-making due to his high unfavorability ratings among all voters.
How bad are Trump’s image ratings? The HuffPost Pollster average of recent national polls puts Trump’s favorability at only 31 percent, while 63 percent view him unfavorably.
That’s a notable decline from late January, on the eve of the first votes in the GOP nominating process, when Trump’s average favorability rating was 37 percent, with 57 percent viewing him unfavorably.
Trump is hardly alone: Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz are also viewed unfavorably by majorities of Americans, according to polling averages. Only John Kasich and Bernie Sanders — neither of whom has faced many negative attacks from either party — have positive image ratings.
Among Republicans, Trump’s numbers aren’t stellar, but they have been durable — even as the other GOP candidates have trained their fire on him. Polls earlier this month from CNN/ORC and Quinnipiac University show Trump’s overall favorability rating tanking, but the figures are virtually unchanged among Republicans: A little more than 60 percent view him favorably, and about a third have an unfavorable opinion of him.
But the remainder of Republican primaries — which resume next week in Wisconsin — will be held at the state level. And in a three-way race with Cruz and Kasich, the forces aiming to halt Trump’s march to the nomination will continue to chip away further at Trump’s image.
Some of the anti-Trump groups have chosen to target female Republicans, betting that Trump’s past — and some current — statements about women would alienate those voters. Data from the states that have already voted bear that out: Trump has run, on average, 7 points better among male voters than among female voters in the 17 states in which there have been entrance or exit polls.
One of the leading anti-Trump groups, Our Principles PAC, credits some of its attacks on Trump — including an ad featuring women reading some of Trump’s past quotes on women — with bringing those statements to the fore. And the group cited paid media and ground efforts to oppose Trump with hurting him in some of the states he’s lost, like Iowa.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said that even if those attacks don’t crush Trump in the primary, it could be difficult for him to hold female Republicans in a general election. “For women, Trump is like your worst date ever,” Lake said.
Club for Growth Action, another independent-expenditure group that has opposed Trump, has taken a more general approach, focusing mostly on Trump’s conservative apostasies on economic issues, though the group has also targeted Trump’s business record.
The Club ascribed Trump’s losses in states like Iowa and Oklahoma to its paid media efforts. (The group’s latest ad, in Wisconsin, specifically encourages anti-Trump voters there to get behind Cruz, whom the Club has endorsed, instead of Kasich.)
But attacking Trump doesn’t ensure defeat: Both the Club and Our Principles PAC spent heavily to attack Trump in states he went on to win, like Florida and Illinois.
Just as trying to sink Trump’s favorability doesn’t guarantee he’ll lose, nor do high favorable ratings equal votes: Some of the best-liked candidates this election cycle have faltered when voters have picked the people they want to represent their party in November.
“Oftentimes the candidate with the highest favorability doesn’t get the highest percentage of votes,” said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. “Ben Carson had the highest favorability. They liked him — they just wouldn’t vote for him.”
Still, Trump’s poor image ratings make him the worst of the three Republicans in a general election, polls show. And some Republican pollsters say that creates the prospect of a bitter campaign, at least when targeted to different demographic groups. For example, Clinton could use negative advertising against Trump geared toward women. Trump could try to motivate Republicans and independents by reinforcing their lack of trust in Clinton. Clinton could strike back by painting Trump as an enemy of Latinos, who are growing as a share of the electorate, in Spanish-language advertising.
“Hispanic media would be the most rippingly negative campaign you’d ever see,” predicted Whit Ayers, who polled for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s now-suspended campaign. “It would basically be a campaign against Darth Vader in Hispanic media — with good reason.”
But there’s also evidence that Trump’s favorability rating could rebound if he wins the nomination and Republicans rally around their standard-bearer. According to Gallup, Mitt Romney’s image ratings skyrocketed among his base after the national convention.
“Should Trump be the nominee, a lot of Republicans who have a hard time believing they would actually vote for him — once he begins to take on Hillary the same way he’s taken on Marco [Rubio], or Ted Cruz, or Kasich or Jeb Bush — they may turn,” said Newhouse, Romney’s pollster in 2012. “The great unifier among Republicans is being against Hillary Clinton — and against Barack Obama. That may help remedy some of our problems.”