As Mitt Romney locked up the Republican nomination after 14 weeks of contests, he saw his ratings rise as Republican rallied behind their standard bearer, giving him a 4-point bounce and bringing the race against President Obama into a tie.
In the latest Fox News poll, Trump got exactly the same 4-point boost out of his primary victory after his 13-week battle. But Trump swung from a 7-point deficit to a 3-point lead in a head-to-head matchup with Hillary Clinton.
The difference, of course, is that Democrats were solidly behind Obama but far less united for Clinton. Clinton’s numbers fell 6 points from last month, while at the same point four years ago, Obama was holding steady.
And that’s still true today. Just 74 percent of Democrats expressed a favorable view of Clinton compared to 89 percent for Obama.
Team Clinton is betting on the fact that the prospect of a Trump presidency will be enough to unite Democrats and retake the lead. And surely, the remaining 25 weeks until the election will give Democrats a good chance to get together.
But While Trump taking the lead in the early going may chasten some Democrats, it also adds to a narrative that says Clinton is a loser. She lost in 2008, she has continued to struggle with a long-shot challenger in primaries and now is suddenly trailing Trump.
Voter psychology can be hard to decipher, but we do know that there is a general distaste for supporting losing candidates and a preference for being on the winning team. Trump proved that in the primary contests.
With a lull in the primary calendar, Clinton has one more chance to try to unite her party: The suite of contests on June 7. She’s favored to win big in California and New Jersey, but would be well served by placing an exclamation point, rather than an ellipsis, on her primary victories.
Waiting until the Democratic National Convention invites the hardening of that “loser” narrative. She needs to get Democrats together sooner than that.
It may be harder for Clinton to get a post-primary bump than it was for Trump given the long, long years of Democrats’ familiarity with her, but she’s going to need to find a way to make it happen.