Trump vs. Clinton: Who will voters like least?
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Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Centrists change tone of Democratic race In 2020, democracy will be decided at the margins Michelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award MORE and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE are set to be the two most disliked general election candidates of modern times.

Thirty-seven percent of voters hold a “strongly unfavorable” view of Clinton, according to results of polls from late March to late April aggregated by Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight.


Only one candidate in the last 36 years fares worse: Donald Trump. Fifty-three percent hold a strongly unfavorable view of him.

Those negative ratings are unlike anything seen in the modern era. And since both candidates are household names, having been celebrities for decades, it’s tough to change people’s views. 

“Both of them are highly polarizing figures,” said Boston University professor Tobe Berkovitz.

The poor approval ratings also almost certainly mean Clinton and Trump will look to demonize one another to win the White House.

“I think ‘slugfest’ would be an understatement,” said Berkovitz. “This is going to be a campaign where people are going to need sanitary wipes next to the television, between the commercials, the debates and the punditry.” 

The effort has already started, with Trump blaming Hillary Clinton over how women were treated by her husband, former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Press: Ukraine's not the only outrage The 2 events that reshaped the Democratic primary race MORE.

Last week, Hillary Clinton released an ad comprised of clips of various Republicans attacking Trump in personal terms. Among the jabs were 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney calling Trump “phony,” Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMcConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters GOP senator introduces bill to limit flow of US data to China GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week MORE calling him a “con artist” and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush asserting, “He needs therapy.”

It’s an early preview of what could be the most negative presidential race in history, and the polls underscore why each candidate is adopting the strategy.

Many voters are telling pollsters they will likely cast a ballot in November to keep the other side out, rather than because of any real zeal for their party nominee.  

In a poll released last week, 47 percent of Trump supporters said blocking Clinton would be their main reason for voting for the businessman. Among Clinton supporters, the number who wanted mainly to thwart Trump was almost identical, at 46 percent.

Trump appears to face obstacles beyond his high unfavorable ratings.

While Clinton faces a bit of a divide in her party because of the strong challenge from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersRahm Emanuel: Bloomberg, Patrick entering race will allow Democrats to have 'ideas primary' Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Jayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' MORE (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primary, a much bigger split has opened in the GOP over Trump.

A handful of Republicans have said they will actually vote for Clinton over Trump, and many more say they will not vote for Trump under any circumstances.

More broadly, Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, argued that Clinton’s experience and track record might make voters somewhat more ready to look past feelings of personal distaste for her.

“Hillary Clinton brings a lot more to the table than her personality — experience, resume, cautious approach to policy — which will help to cushion this a bit more,” he said. “With Trump, there will be concern that he can't handle the job and that they don't like him to begin with. 

“None of this obviously means that he will lose … but it will add a challenge,” Zelizer added.

But even some Democrats are not sure Trump’s poor personal ratings automatically doom him to defeat — or that attacks on him by Clinton will be enough to get the job done. Some draw attention to the fact that, in the Republican primary, the businessman often got a lift in the polls amid controversies that would be expected to wound more conventional politicians.

“Trump has been Teflon-ized from these excessive attacks,” said New York Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. 

Sheinkopf also predicted that Trump could project a less flamboyant or thin-skinned persona now that the general election is beginning, while Clinton will be more concerned with locking up the support of certain demographic groups than boosting her likability.

“What is likely to happen … is that she will target constituencies she needs, and he will be very logical. The more disciplined he is, the less he does ad hominem attacks, the higher probability he has of being president,” Sheinkopf said.