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Yes, it’s early, but Trump would have an uphill battle against Clinton

A general election matchup between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton became all but certain Tuesday after Trump’s decisive victory in Indiana.

He would begin that matchup at a significant disadvantage.

Yes, it’s still a long way until Election Day. And Trump has already upended the conventional wisdom many times. But this is when early horse-race polls start to give a rough sense of the November election, and Trump trails Clinton by around 10 percentage points in early general election surveys, both nationally and in key battleground states.

He even trails in some polls of several states where Mitt Romney won in 2012, like North Carolina, Arizona, Missouri and Utah.

Could Trump overtake Clinton? Sure. Clinton is very unpopular herself. Her polling lead is a snapshot in time, before the barrage of attack ads that are sure to come her way. There have been 10-point shifts over the general election season before, even if they’re uncommon. But there isn’t much of a precedent for huge swings in races with candidates as well known as Trump and Clinton. A majority of Americans may not like her, but they say they’re scared of him. To have a chance, he’ll need to change that.

Trump’s biggest problem is that he would be the most unpopular major party nominee in the modern era, with nearly two-thirds saying they have an unfavorable opinion of him. More than half view him “very unfavorably” or say they’re “scared” of his candidacy — figures with no precedent among modern presidential nominees.

Trump’s ratings are worst with the voters who made up the so-called Obama coalition of young, nonwhite and well-educated voters who propelled President Barack Obama’s re-election four years ago.

In some ways, Clinton is not a natural fit to reunite Obama’s supporters — especially the younger voters who have overwhelmingly preferred Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. But whatever challenges she may have among these groups dissipate against Trump. Recent surveys even show her leading among 18- to 29-year-old voters by a larger margin than Obama’s when he won them four years ago.

Clinton’s strength among young, nonwhite and well-educated voters would be enough to make her a favorite. The GOP path to victory without adding some of these voters is narrow. The Republicans would need to do nearly as well among white voters as Ronald Reagan did in his 18-point re-election landslide in 1984 merely to fight to a draw in today’s far more diverse country. Nonwhite voters could make up nearly 30 percent of the electorate in 2016, up from 14 percent in 1984.

But what raises the possibility of a more decisive defeat for Trump is that he is struggling to reunite the voters who supported Romney — especially white women and white college-educated voters.

A recent ABC/Washington Post poll showed Trump with just a 29 percent favorability rating among white women and 23 percent among white college graduates, while 68 percent and 74 percent had an unfavorable opinion.

Trump is faring worse than Romney among white voters in all of the presidential battleground states. Polls even show Trump losing white voters in states where Romney won them, like Colorado, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It’s enough to put him at a big disadvantage in early surveys of diverse battleground states like Florida and Virginia — as well as North Carolina and Arizona, two states Romney won in 2012.

Trump has even trailed in a poll in strongly Republican Utah, which is one of the best-educated states in the country. It’s unlikely that Clinton could win Utah in the end, but it’s nonetheless telling that Trump trails in a survey of a state where Democrats have not won more than 34 percent of the vote in the last 11 presidential elections.

The Trump campaign’s aim to compete in industrial Democratic-leaning states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio has not looked promising either. That’s in part because of his broader challenge with well-educated whites (a recent NBC/Marist survey showed Trump trailing by 29 points in the Philadelphia suburbs), but it’s also because he isn’t connecting among white working-class Democrats the way the campaign had hoped.

The same NBC/Marist survey showed Clinton leading in western Pennsylvania, where Obama lost many registered Democrats to Romney.

Part of the problem for Trump is that the anger that has driven his success in the Republican primaries isn’t seen at the same levels in the general electorate.

A majority of Americans now narrowly approve of Obama’s performance — a big improvement from his standing in surveys ahead of the midterm elections, when his ratings were decidedly negative. An ABC/Washington Post poll found that just 24 percent of Americans were angry at the federal government.

There also isn’t much evidence that Americans are particularly dissatisfied with the state of the economy. The unemployment rate is at 5 percent, and gas prices are low. Consumer and economic confidence indicators are well within historical norms.

By all of these measures, national political and economic conditions are more favorable to the president’s party than they were at this time in 2012, when Obama won re-election. These indicators might make Clinton a slight favorite even if she were facing a more typical Republican nominee. Instead, it seems she will be facing a nominee who has both defied expectations and created enormous challenges for himself.

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