In November, People Could Be Voting Against — Not For — Trump And Clinton The general election may be decided not by which candidate is more popular but by which one is less unpopular.
NPR logo In November, People Could Be Voting Against — Not For — Trump And Clinton

In November, People Could Be Voting Against — Not For — Trump And Clinton

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump speaks to supporters and the media at Trump Tower in Manhattan following his victory in the Indiana primary. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump speaks to supporters and the media at Trump Tower in Manhattan following his victory in the Indiana primary.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The dust has settled. The mists have parted. The GOP has an apparent nominee, at long last, and it is Donald Trump.

Trump will most likely face off against Hillary Clinton, who leads Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side by several hundred delegates. And a new poll suggests that a Trump-Clinton contest would be an overwhelmingly negative fight. The November election may be decided not by which candidate is more popular but by which one is less unpopular.

In a new CNN/ORC poll, 54 percent of registered voters said they'd choose Clinton in a matchup against Trump. He only got 41 percent support. But the interesting thing is how people made their choices:

Around half of Clinton general-election supporters told CNN/ORC their vote wouldn't be so much for Clinton as against Trump. Trump's supporters were slightly less enthusiastic: 57 percent said they would be more voting against Clinton than for Trump.

It's just two questions in one poll, but it underscores what we've been hearing for weeks now: the most likely Republican and Democratic candidates are both also remarkably unpopular. Right now, by RealClearPolitics' average, Clinton's net favorability (that is, the share who see her favorably minus the share who see her unfavorably) right now is negative 16.5 points. Trump is far worse yet, at negative 37.

It's not unheard of for candidates to change voters' minds on this; Mitt Romney managed to boost his favorability numbers considerably as the 2012 election approached.

But these unfavorability ratings show the major difficulty that both Clinton and Trump would face in November: enthusiasm. That means both candidates will have to do everything they can to drum up support — an unenthusiastic voter just might not turn out at all.

Both candidates could of course boost their enthusiasm by trying to get more voters to like them. But it's also clear that many voters in this election will simply really, really dislike the other party. That means Clinton and Trump could each choose the other path: drumming up enthusiasm against the other candidate.

Trump has already proven his willingness to go negative — threatening to "spill the beans" on Heidi Cruz (whatever that meant) and attacking Clinton for playing "the woman card." Clinton, meanwhile, has a new online ad showing a string of Republicans mercilessly lambasting Trump throughout this election cycle.

That means this could just be the start of six months of mudslinging. Given how angry the electorate has been this cycle, the candidates might just do well to appeal to voters' dissatisfaction.