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.