A Contested Convention Won't Fix The GOP

Republican voters may not love their candidates, but they're not pining for an alternative.
Republican voters won't be overwhelmingly happy to see any of these guys win the nomination.
Republican voters won't be overwhelmingly happy to see any of these guys win the nomination.

Political conventions are meant to be unifying events, rallying voters around their party and their presidential nominee ahead of the general election.

If the GOP primary ends in a contested convention, though, pretty much any possible outcome will leave a sizable chunk of the party dispirited.

It's not just that front-runner Donald Trump is startlingly unpopular for a leading candidate, with nearly half of voters in many state primaries saying they'd be unsatisfied to see him elected. If Trump fails to collect the 1,237 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination outright, he may actually be the least-divisive option for the party.

The alternatives, which involve the party coalescing around Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Ohio Gov. John Kasich, or a yet-to-be-named dark horse, risk giving the appearance of party elites overriding the will of the electorate. That may be even more toxic than polarizing candidates in a campaign notable for hostility to the establishment. 

In a new HuffPost/YouGov survey, 52 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters say that if Trump falls short of a majority of delegates, they'd still prefer to see him chosen as the nominee. A combined 39 percent would rather see Cruz or Kasich selected, while just 4 percent want to see somebody else get the nomination.

Those varying preferences aren't necessarily a sign of a divided party. Most Democrats, for example, say they'd be happy to see either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders elected.

But just 40 percent of GOP voters say they'd be enthusiastic about Trump winning. That actually makes Trump the consensus candidate, with fewer than 30 percent of GOP voters saying they'd be enthusiastic about any scenario that wasn't a Trump nomination.

Cruz's nomination would be the second-least divisive option, with a bare majority of voters saying they'd feel positively if he were chosen. But Kasich, whose viability rests on his ability to win a contested convention, garners almost no enthusiasm. Just 8 percent of GOP voters would be enthusiastic if Kasich were chosen, with fewer than a third saying they'd be at least satisfied with that outcome. The majority, 61 percent, would be dissatisfied or upset.

One possibility, despite widespread speculation, is even more deeply unpopular: bringing in a last-minute savior, like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Just 4 percent of GOP voters say they'd prefer to see a new candidate chosen as the nominee, and just 16 percent would be satisfied with such an outcome. The vast majority, 55 percent, say they'd be outright upset.

Until any of those scenarios shake out, it's hard to say what they'd mean for the GOP's general election chances. Nominees tend to get a boost once they're officially crowned, and even unhappy Republicans may be willing to rally around whoever is chosen if the alternative is losing the White House to a Democrat.

But a contested convention is unlikely to convince the GOP's increasingly unhappy electorate that the party is headed in the right direction.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted March 18 to March 21 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.