Presumptive GOP nominees have averaged more than 75 percent of the primary vote after their main challengers have exited the race

donaldtrump20On the surface there is little on the line for Donald Trump as he heads into the last three weeks of primaries, with the last of his challengers exiting the race for the Republican nomination on May 4th.

However, as the presidential campaign shifts from primaries to the general election, there is still one thing to keep an eye on as Trump looks for decisive primary victories in Oregon on Tuesday followed by Washington in a week and California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota in early June.

With no other challengers still in the race, to what extent will GOP voters who come to the polls rally around Trump or will a notable contingent continue to support one of the many ex-candidates who appear on the primary ballot now weeks or months after exiting the race?

It is too soon to tell, but early signs suggest Trump could win these last seven primaries with historically unenthusiastic support.

Smart Politics dug into the data and found that Trump’s victory in Nebraska last week with just 61.4 percent of the primary vote was arguably the worst showing by a presumptive Republican nominee in the modern political era.

Trump faced four ex-candidates in that race – Ted Cruz who won 18.5 percent, John Kasich (11.4 percent), Ben Carson (5.1 percent), and Marco Rubio (3.6 percent).

Some of those anti-Trump votes were cast, to be sure, during the four-week window of early in-person voting (April 11th to May 9th). Cruz and Kasich were still in the race during three of these four weeks (getting clobbered by Trump across seven state primaries all the while).

However, on that same day Trump also won a much more impressive 78.6 percent in West Virginia, where early voting was also allowed from April 27th to May 7th – a period during which Cruz and Kasich were still campaigning for all but a few days.

Trump’s win in Nebraska could go down as the worst showing for a presumptive GOP nominee.

In June 1996, Bob Dole won 61.3 percent of the primary vote in Montana – one-tenth of a point less than Trump in Nebraska – with Pat Buchanan winning 24.3 percent.

However, Buchanan had not withdrawn from the race at that time and had not released his nearly four-dozen delegates. But the conservative commentator had ended active campaigning on April 17th that cycle – a few weeks after Dole had decisively swept three Western states including delegate rich California.

In general, once the main competitors have officially withdrawn from the nomination battle (or stopped campaigning), the presumptive GOP nominee has recorded victories averaging more than three-quarters of the primary vote in the remaining states on the calendar.

If Trump’s vote share averages well below that mark in the coming three weeks, as it did in Nebraska, it could be seen as a failure of his campaign to rally Republicans around his candidacy.

For example, after George H.W. Bush exited the 1980 race on May 26th, Ronald Reagan won an average of 81.1 percent of the vote in the 12 remaining primaries.

Reagan won less than 80 percent of the vote in just two of these 12 states: in New Mexico (63.8 percent) and Rhode Island (72.0 percent).

In 1988, Vice President Bush won 80.9 percent of the primary vote in the 15 states to hold contests after Bob Dole dropped out on March 29th. [Note: Pat Robertson was still in the race for a few of these primaries in early April].

Bush won less than 70 percent in just one state – Nebraska (68.0 percent).

In 1996, Dole averaged 71.6 percent of the primary vote in the 13 remaining states after Buchanan (who, again, did not withdraw from the race) ended active campaigning on April 17th.

Dole fell below the 70 percent mark in four of these states: Montana (61.3 percent), Idaho (62.3 percent), Pennsylvania (63.6 percent), and West Virginia (68.7 percent).

In 2000, George W. Bush won 77.7 percent of the vote in the 26 states to hold presidential preference vote contests after John McCain withdrew on March 9th. [Note: Alan Keyes did not withdraw from the race until July].

The Texas governor won north of 70 percent in all but four of them: Utah (63.3 percent) and Colorado (64.7 percent) on March 10th, Illinois on March 21st (67.4 percent) and Wisconsin on April 4th (69.2 percent).

In 2008, McCain averaged 76.6 percent of the vote in the dozen primaries held after Mike Huckabee withdrew on March 4th. [Note: U.S. Representative Ron Paul remained in the race].

The Arizona U.S. Senator failed to reach the 70 percent mark in just one of these states – Idaho (69.7 percent).

In 2012, Mitt Romney averaged 71.9 percent of the vote across the 14 primaries conducted after Newt Gingrich withdrew on May 2nd.

Romney received less than 70 percent of the vote in eight of these states: Indiana (64.6 percent), North Carolina (65.6 percent), West Virginia (69.6 percent), Arkansas (68.4 percent), Kentucky (66.8 percent), Texas (69.1 percent), Montana (68.4 percent), and South Dakota (66.2 percent).

Romney’s relatively unimpressive tally in these states can be attributed in part to Congressman Paul’s refusal to withdraw from the race and release delegates, though he did end active campaigning on May 14th.

Both Paul and Rick Santorum continued to receive double-digit support in more than half of these states – Paul in 13 and Santorum in eight.

Overall, these presumptive Republican nominees averaged 76.8 percent of the vote across more than 90 primaries conducted after their main competitors had withdrawn from the race or ended active campaigning.

[In 1976, there was no presumptive nominee as Gerald Ford did not have a majority of delegates backing his campaign until the convention. In 1992, although Pat Buchanan stayed in the race until the convention, he never won a single contest and George H.W. Bush won north of 60 percent of the vote in every state after New Hampshire, locking up the nomination much earlier in the cycle].

And so, can Trump win three-quarters of the vote in the upcoming seven states beginning in Oregon on Tuesday?

If there is still a prevalent anti-Trump mood among GOP voters, it will be measured in the upcoming races through the support garnered by:

  • Five ex-candidates in Oregon: Bush, Carson, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio
  • Nine in Washington: Bush, Carson, Christie, Cruz, Fiorina, Huckabee, Kasich, Paul, Rubio, Santorum
  • Four in California: Carson, Cruz, Gilmore, Kasich
  • Four in Montana: Bush, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio
  • Two in New Jersey: Cruz, Kasich
  • Five in New Mexico: Bush, Carson, Cruz, Fiorina, Kasich
  • Two in South Dakota: Cruz, Kasich

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  1. Nikoli Orr on May 16, 2016 at 1:06 am

    1. How is it that ex-Governor Gilmore has a place on the CA ballot (he was excluded from all those basic-cable debates, as I recall)?
    2. States N of the River Ohio & Mason-Dixon Line AND W of the River Mississippi (e.g. NE) seem to be ripe for takeaway (from “Drumpf”) by the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, or some other right-leaning political force – as hinted by the conspicuous lack of “enthusiasm” emanating from (youngish) leading officeholders such as Senators Heller (NV), Flake (AZ), and most notably the Cornhusker State’s Sasse. Unlike the Rs in the Mountain State and the rest of Appalachia and “Dixieland”, the hardcore base electorate in the remaining venues tend to be more pro-global trade and less inflation-friendly – the direct antithesis of his calls for steep tariffs against trade competitors, and unrestrained currency printing as solution to debt relief.

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