Don’t Overreact to Trump’s Polling Numbers

I see Republicans and Democrats alike making a huge deal out of the fact that Donald Trump is in first or second place among Republicans in recent national polls. It’s a huge overreaction to news that is both totally unsurprising and totally irrelevant to the outcome of the primary election.

The late 80s poli sci major in me would first like to make one really obvious point: Polls taken a year and a half before an election are totally meaningless, especially for a primary election and even more especially when the poll include more than a dozen candidates to choose from and the “leaders” are polling at a whopping 13-15%. At this point, the polls are primarily about name recognition, not an actual measure of how people are going to vote when the first primaries and caucuses happen nearly six months from now.

Harry Enten of Five Thirty Eight has more reasons not to take such polls seriously:

The magnificent Donald Trump has soared, bald-eagle-like, to the top of Republican presidential primary polls. He’s now in second place, behind only Jeb Bush, with what The Donald might call “the highest 13 percent ever recorded in human history” in polls conducted since he announced his bid for the presidency last month. So how seriously should we take the Trump “surge”?

The take-Trump-seriously logic goes something like this: There’s a lot of anger in the far right of the Republican Party, and The Donald is successfully tapping into it. He’s articulating positions that appeal to the far right on immigration, education and President Obama’s place of birth. The magnificent Trump, himself, has acknowledged that the tea party “loves me.” (Then again, what group does Trump believe doesn’t love him — besides the establishment?)

But the polling points to another, less sexy story: First, Republican voters don’t rate Trump as all that conservative, and second, he’s actually polling about equally well among all sections of the GOP. In Trump speak, this means he is loved universally; in reality, the broad, shallow nature of Trump’s support suggests it’s due mostly to near-universal name recognition, thanks in part to being in the news more often than the news anchors.

Once he makes it to the Republican contests, he’s going to do badly in Iowa (where the most dogmatic Christian right candidate usually wins). He should do better in New Hampshire, which has often gone for wildcard candidates, but once the primaries move South, Trump should be dead in the water. I still say that Trump is far more likely to mount a relatively serious independent campaign after quitting the Republican primaries, a la Ross Perot. Like Perot, he can finance it himself. And like Perot, his ceiling is about 20% of the vote. And like Perot, he’ll be driven primarily by his ego.

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  • dmcclean

    We can only dream that that 3rd party candidacy happens. I don’t think even Trump is that egotistical and stupid, but if he is, bring it on.

  • jedibear

    I’ve been laughing. Is that an appropriate response? Should I get popcorn, too?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    And like Perot, he’ll be driven primarily by his ego.

    I don’t fully agree with that. I think Perot was driven by a desire to see G.H.W. Bush lose. If you look at the timing of events in his campaign – his original entry, his dropping out, his re-entry – they all seem formulated to give maximal advantage to Clinton over Bush.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Third party? We could use a fourth, fifth and sixth party to divvy up the Republican vote. After all, one of their chief characteristics is an inability to tolerate the views of others.

  • howardhershey

    Given the amateurish nature of Trump speeches (which are stream-of-consciousness Republican id in action) I doubt that the Donald’s “organization” can weave through all the hurdles required for a third party to get on the ballot.

  • robertfaber

    And like, Perot, he would hand the election to the democratic candidate.

  • D. C. Sessions

    I’d be a lot happier about a Trump independent run if he actually had a party slate for the rest of the ballot. Ain’t happenin’.

  • caseloweraz

    Perot, IMO, has more credibility than Trump — certainly in the business realm. Then there is the successful rescue of two EDS employees from Iran, which he sponsored. Even his political positions are better than Trump’s, though not by much.

    He really blew his reputation with that nonsense about the CIA messing with his daughter’s wedding.

  • scienceavenger

    The late 80s poli sci major in me would first like to make one really obvious point: Polls taken a year and a half before an election are totally meaningless…

    Don’t be ridiculous, no competent poll is meaningless. There’s clearly a correlation between poll results and likelihood of winning, even this early. If you think its meaningless, then I’ll offer you a wager: I’ll take the top 5 finishers in the latest poll, you can have the bottom 5. Doesn’t look so meaningless now does it?

    The better point was made later: Trump simply has too low a ceiling to win due to so many people seeing him for the kook he is. I don’t care if he’s in first place, until he starts getting 40+% of the vote, I’m not too concerned.

  • StevoR

    I keep thinking that the polls in favour of Trump gotta be wrong anyhow and were probably taken at at a Comedians convention or a Democratic party one.

  • StevoR

    @6. robertfaber : “And like, Perot, he would hand the election to the democratic candidate.”

    Or to put it another way, unlike Nader he would hand the election to the Democratic candidate.

    Guess its time the spoiler helped the other side again? Of course the US system could easily avoid such scenarios if they shifted to sensible preferential voting eg. Nader -1 Gore-2 or Perot-1 Bush-2 etc ..

  • dingojack

    Setting the Wayback Machine:

    Republican Party Polling 2007-8.

    Republican Party Polling 2011-12.

    Who was leading/second around mid-July 2007/mid-July 2011? Did they get nominated?

    Did the win the election?*



    * or how did President Rmoney/ Perry/ Palin/ Bachmann work out in 2012 & President Giuliani/ Thompson/ Rmoney/ McCain work out in 2008?

  • Nick Gotts


    Actually, your 2011-12 link shows Rmoney was leading for most of July 2011. The pattern from right back in 2010, was for Rmoney to lead for a bit, then one of the chasing pack would briefly overtake him, only to fade as their hopelessness became evident. My hunch is that Jeb Bush might show a similar trajectory, but he hasn’t done so yet – he was leading for a while before Trump, and I think has only once scored below 10%, but Paul, Christie, Rubio and Rmoney himself (presumably he’s made clear he’s not running) have all had comparable spells in the lead.

  • StevoR

    @ ^ Nick Gotts : This is what happened toRmoneys thoughts ofentering teh 2016 R-Klown mini-bus:

    .. Rush Limbaugh has fired Mitt Romney ..

    According to Greg Laden’s “other” blog – the old X blog. Peter Sinclair’s excellent blog also has a story on this too – link via Greg Laden’s one linked above.