The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll sure looks like a nightmare for Donald Trump.
- 57 percent of voters have an unfavorable impression of Trump
- 56 percent of voters think Trump is unqualified for the presidency
- A plurality of voters (44-39) think Clinton better understands "the problems of people like you"
- A plurality of voters (44-40) say Clinton better represents their personal values
- A majority of voters (59-33) think Clinton has a better personality and temperament to serve as president
- A majority of voters (57-34) think Clinton has more realistic policy proposals
- A majority of voters (50-36) trust Clinton more to look out for the middle class
- A plurality of voters (48-47) prefer a candidate with political experience to an outsider
- A majority of voters (64-25) think Trump would do more to advance the interests of the wealthy than Clinton would
- A plurality of Republican-leaning voters don't think Trump represents the values of their party
All in all, a disastrous poll for Donald Trump. Except for one thing: Among registered voters, he leads 46-44. (He trails by 6 among all adults.)
So the question arises: What the hell is going on here? How can the candidate that most voters consider an unqualified champion of the plutocratic class be leading in the polls?
One answer, of course, is that this is just one poll. But the broader trend of Trump tightening against Clinton — even as his own numbers are terrible — is visible across many polls. For the first time, he's edged ahead of Clinton in the RealClearPolitics polling average:
Another answer is that this is a temporary blip. The dominant thinking among Democrats right now is that this reflects the fact that the GOP is consolidating now that its primary is over but Clinton is still locked in an (increasingly bitter) fight with Bernie Sanders. A similar thing, they say, happened in 2008, when John McCain temporarily pulled ahead of Barack Obama after the Republican primary ended but while the Democratic primary was still going.
A third answer is that Americans so loathe the political system and so mistrust Clinton that they're willing to consider Trump even despite their misgivings. Probably the best result for Trump in this poll is that people trust him to bring needed change to Washington, 53-39.
Which explanation is right? It's impossible to say. Sam Wang notes that May polls are notoriously unreliable. "Truly, now is the single worst time to be paying attention to fresh polling data," he writes. "I don’t know why this is. It could be because typically, one or both parties are still going through an active nomination contest ... national polls won’t reach their February levels of accuracy until August."
My instinct is that this poll shows the size of Trump's challenges, not his opportunity. I don't think you have to be overly confident in the wisdom of the American voter to think it unlikely that we'll elect a candidate who nearly 60 percent of voters think is unqualified to hold the presidency.
And I don't think the Clinton campaign needs to be stocked with geniuses to see Trump's weaknesses, or how to attack them. As Brookings's Bill Galston told Vox, "Look at voters' evaluation of the traits of the different candidates; then you see the raw material for the general election."
But this certainly shows the size of Clinton's challenge, too. A majority of Americans fundamentally don't like her. She's locked in a bitter Democratic primary with a challenger who's temperamentally and institutionally capable of going to war with the party if he feels ill-treated. And she's trying to follow a two-term president from her party — a rare feat, historically.
Given all this, Clinton is extraordinarily lucky that she's facing a candidate who's as mistrusted and disliked as Trump. But if the polls are showing anything, it's that it won't be enough for Clinton to be lucky. She'll also have to be good.