If you can't beat 'em, join 'em: Voters in both parties look ready to back their likely nominees

Can Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton unite their parties? According to new polling: yes, absolutely

Published May 20, 2016 5:12PM (EDT)

 Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton
Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton

Even though the Republicans and Democrats are at different stages of their presidential nominating processes, the talk surrounding both parties deals largely with “unity.” The GOP has chosen Donald Trump as its nominee, and now everyone is waiting to see whether the Republican Party – specifically, the party establishment – will accept him. Meanwhile, the Democrats still have a contest going on, and while it is barreling towards a predetermined outcome, there’s handwringing and chin-stroking aplenty over whether the drawn out primary will make it harder for the party to come together.

As I wrote Friday morning, much of the drama that we’re seeing on the Democratic side is overwrought squabbling. The party is nowhere near as divided as press reports and Twitter fights make it seem, and the alleged “acrimony” we’re seeing between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is pretty anodyne compared to the nastiness that existed between Hillary’s and Barack Obama’s campaigns in 2008. As for the Republicans, they’re in a shakier situation given that Trump represents a dire threat to the party’s long-term health, and there’s a great deal of heat and light surrounding the #NeverTrump die hards and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s very public “process” of warming to the nominee. But there was never much doubt that the establishment will fall in line behind him.

And, as it turns out, new polling from The New York Times and CBS shows that party unity on both sides is looking pretty likely. Among Democrats, according to the Times’ poll, 83 percent expect that Hillary Clinton will win the nomination, and 83 percent say they will support her in the general election, whether it’s enthusiastically (44 percent), reservedly (23 percent), or simply because she’ll be the party nominee (16 percent). Among Sanders supporters, 72 percent say they’ll vote Clinton in November – compare that to polling from May 2008, which found that just 60 percent of Hillary supporters were ready to vote Obama. As for the drawn-out primary hurting the party, a strong majority of Democrats – 59 percent – say the longer race will help the party and make the nominee stronger. Back in 2008, just 38 percent of Democrats felt the same way.

On the Republican side, Trump’s divisiveness is proving thorny for party leaders and establishment types who still can’t quite believe that he’s their nominee. The Republican electorate, however, has already moved behind him and expects the party leadership to do the same. A full 84 percent of Republican voters say they’ll back Trump in November, and 80 percent of them think that it’s time for GOP leaders to “support Donald Trump even if they disagree with him on important issues.” By a 2-to-1 margin, they believe that the GOP needs to unite around Trump if he’s to stand any chance of winning in November. Findings like these explain why you’re seeing the #NeverTrump faithful slowly abandoning the cause, and why Republican leaders in Congress are steadily gravitating towards their nominee.

More interesting than the question of whether the parties will unify is how that unification will come about. For the moment, Trump is pulling the party behind him through brute force – establishment Republicans balk at his rhetoric and policy proposals, but they don’t want to risk alienating the large plurality of voters who support him. Clinton, on the other hand, seems to understand that the Sanders “revolution” has to be accommodated in some way, and Sanders himself has enough clout at this point to make sure that his views and his agenda find their way into the party’s 2016 platform. But whatever happens, the strongly prevailing sentiment among voters in both parties seems to be “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

By Simon Maloy

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