Trump Continues To Lead The GOP Field, But Is His Support Overstated?

Donald Trump's support in the polls appears to become coming largely from people who don't typically vote in primary elections.


Several new polls show that Donald Trump’s strength in the polls continues to rise, but there is at least some suggestion that the numbers we’re seeing are overstated.which is something that Steven Taylor pointed out last week, and which I’ve argued myself, Even taking into account those arguments, though, it is still clear that Trump is in the lead for the Republican nomination and that his momentum appears unstoppable at least for the moment.

First up, a new Public Policy Polling survey out of New Hampshire has Trump with a lead three times larger than his nearest competitor:

The latest poll from New Hampshire showed real estate mogul Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential field with more than three times the support of his closest competitor

The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found Trump in his strongest position thus far with 35 percent support among usual Republican primary voters.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich polled second at 11 percent and former technology executive Carly Fiorina polled at 10 percent. No other candidates reached double digits.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s support dropped dramatically. Walker lead the PPP poll in April at 24 percent. In the latest survey, Walker was tied with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 7 percent.

In addition to the lead in the first-in-the-nation primary, Trump also seems to be holding a lead in South Carolina, which holds it’s primary eleven days later:

Donald Trump holds a commanding lead among likely Republican primary voters in South Carolina, according to a new Monmouth University poll released Tuesday.

Three in 10 voters (30 percent) said Trump is their first choice, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 15 percent. Neither candidate has held elected office, and 61 percent of voters said they would prefer someone from outside of Washington to bring a new approach.

Trump received a solid favorability rating of 58 percent to just 28 percent unfavorable, though Carson drew the highest at 72 percent to 9 percent. Al,so drawing net positive favorability marks are: Rubio (43 points), Fiorina (40 points), Huckabee (30 points) and Walker (33 points).

Five candidates have net negative approval ratings, including South Carolina’s own Sen. Lindsey Graham (15 points), Christie (8 points), Paul (13 points), former New York Gov. George Pataki (24 points) and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (17 points).

Finally, there’s a new national poll out from Gravis Marketing that shows Trump with an astonishing 40%, with Ben Carson way back in second place at 13%, Jeb Bush at 10%, and everyone else in single digits. It’s worth noting, though, that Gravis’s polling has always been something of an outlier compared to other national polling. This would seem to be something to especially keep in mind in this case when every other recent national poll is showing Trump’s lead somewhere in the 25% range. At the same time, of course, this number from Gravis isn’t all that different from the numbers we’re seeing out of New Hampshire and South Carolina in the two polls noted above. Whether that actually translates into something close to 40% support nationally is something that would have to wait until we see additional polling that confirms this, it seems fairly clear that Trump’s strength in the race is not diminishing, and may actually be increasing.

Pushing back against this latest tide of seeming Trump victory in the polls, Nate Cohn suggests that current polls may be overstating Trump’s level of support among Republicans:

Ever since Donald Trump has risen to the top of the polls, Republican strategists have questioned whether those polls might be overestimating his support.

There is evidence to support that theory.

We wrote about Mr. Trump’s support on Sunday, using polling data provided by Civis Analytics, a Democratic data firm founded by the 2012 Obama campaign’s analytics director, Dan Wagner. It showed Mr. Trump faring worse than in many recent public polls, but it was not enough to call his lead into question.

An analysis of the data revealed that he fares best among voters who don’t regularly participate in primary elections. Nevertheless, he still leads the other G.O.P. candidates, even among the most frequent voters.

The analysis also suggests that although Mr. Trump fares better among irregular voters, it’s not by an unusual amount. And some other candidates also do better with infrequent voters.


If Mr. Trump had a big advantage among unlikely voters, a poll using a listed sample — like the Civis data — would be the way to find out. The Civis poll was conducted Aug. 10 to 19 and had a sample of 757 respondents. That sample was as much as three times larger than that of some public polls.

The results showed Mr. Trump with 16 percent of the vote, below any of his poll results in a month. But much of the difference was because 22 percent of voters in the Civis poll were undecided — much more than in many recent public surveys.


Parsing the results by vote history helps illustrate that Mr. Trump’s support was lowest among the most frequent voters. Mr. Trump had 15 percent support among voters who had participated in a primary since 2008, but he had 22 percent of the vote among Republicans who did not vote in the 2012 general election.

Mr. Trump’s seven-point gap was rivaled by Mr. Bush at five, and Chris Christie at four. Mr. Christie had virtually no support — at 1 percent of the vote — among voters who had voted in a primary since 2008.

On the other hand, Mr. Kasich fared four points better among voters who had participated in a primary than those who had not. Mr. Walker, Mr. Cruz, Mrs. Fiorina and Mr. Huckabee all fared three points better.

Over all, the data is consistent with the view that Mr. Trump’s support might be overstated by public polls. But he leads among voters who have participated in one or 12 elections. His challenge among likely voters isn’t necessarily unique. His lead might be modestly overstated, but it’s not a mirage.

You can read Cohn’s analysis for yourself, but the basic point of his argument seems to be that the polls we’re seeing right now are capturing voters who may not be very likely to vote in the primaries that start less than six months from now. Of course, this is always a problem with polls this far out from an election because it’s often difficult for pollsters to parse exactly who is going to show up to vote. This is especially true in a caucus state like Iowa where a voter must be willing to go out in the evening in February and spend several hours in a room for their candidate as opposed to simply showing up at a polling place and casting a ballot. That’s one of the reasons why a candidate’s “get out the vote” efforts are so important, because all the great poll numbers in the world don’t matter if the people who say that they would vote for you don’t show up to their caucus location or polling place when it actually counts. This is why pollsters try to refine their likely voter models as we get closer to election, but as we have seen many times in the past, sometimes it isn’t very easy to predict who is going to show up on Election Day. That’s why, for example, Virginia Senator Mark Warner barely won re-election even though pre-election polling was showing him leading by a comfortable margin.

None of this should suggest that Trump’s dominance in the Republican race is somehow phony. As Cohn himself notes, even if this analysis is largely correct it still shows Trump with a fairly decent lead among the Republican voters who are most likely to show up and vote in primaries and caucuses. Additionally, the fact that there is a large portion of his supporters who are unlikely voters doesn’t necessarily mean very much. One of the ways a candidate can succeed in an election is by appealing to voters who don’t typically turn out to the polls and making sure that they get out and vote. If Trump maintains is current lead in the polls and his able to do that, he could very well be quite successful once the time to vote comes around.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, Science & Technology, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Davebo says:

    Trump Continues To Lead The GOP Field, But Is His Support Overstated?

    Sadly, No.

  2. JohnMcC says:

    Dr Taylor in particular was required to repeat many times (and with considerable patience, IMO) there is a large difference between ‘liking’ and ‘preferring’ a candidate and actually voting and campaigning for him/her. It’s entirely possible that Mr Trump will be an amazing story of some sort of Potemkin Village. One can imagine him in 6 months telling us to ‘pay no attention to that little man behind the curtain’.

    It is also possible that Mr Trump has energized a portion of the R’s that have been alienated from participation by their disgust at their leadership (as they see it).

    And there is a third possibility I have not seem speculated on. If Mr Trump fails as a candidate, who is to say that another and more effective organizer of the ‘sans culottes’ in a future election could be watching the Trump phenomenon and craftily considering how he might use the emotions newly exposed?

    All I can say is that the on-line outlets favored by the Trumpettes are amazing in their ferocity and venom. If they behave as forcefully as they claim, they will extensively remake the Repub party.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    “Oh who the f*ck knows anymore.” Is my answer to every headline question about Trump.

  4. CSK says:

    The Trumpettes are the people who fell in love with Sarah Palin, got jilted by her, had a brief flirtation with Ted Cruz that ended in disillusionment when he voted for TPP, and are now head-over-heels about Trump.

    He mirrors their rage at being, as they see it, ignored and abused for so long. At base, they’re nihilists. One rabid Trump fan wrote, in response to an anti-Trump article at the Spectator, that he and his ilk wanted to see “blood in the streets,” and they didn’t care if the whole U.S. came crashing down.

    That comment was removed.

  5. Mr. Prosser says:

    @JohnMcC: “And there is a third possibility I have not seem speculated on. If Mr Trump fails as a candidate, who is to say that another and more effective organizer of the ‘sans culottes’ in a future election could be watching the Trump phenomenon and craftily considering how he might use the emotions newly exposed?” Absolutely, you were able in that paragraph to say exactly what I have been thinking since reading Dr. Taylor’s post. It’s probably not about this election, it’s the next one.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: The concept of playing Samson to the US temple shows that the mentality behind too many of these people is that of a five year old boy who, if he can’t win, kicks over the table and wanders home in a sulk.

  7. JohnMcC says:

    @Mr. Prosser: Kind of you to say so, sir.

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    My own impression is that Trumps support is a mile wide and paper thin. These are angry disaffected people who don’t even know what they are angry about. Given enough time they will become bored again and wander back to their 6 packs and soap operas.

  9. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:



    I’m not so sure. You should check some of the sites where these people comment. The rage is insane, as John McC said above.

  10. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: From your lips to God’s ears…

  11. Tillman says:

    @CSK: Now see, that dude is a fascist. Fascists kill people. Fascists are willing to tear down governments to remake them. The people who aren’t like that dude, but still like Trump? Naive or apathetic idiots.

    I’ve yet to encounter someone who didn’t fall into one of those threeish camps who prefers Trump politically.

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: They’re angry because they’re not living in the 1950s lala land promised them by too many TV shows and hucksters. They’re angry because life hasn’t worked out for them the way they were told it would. They’re angry because they were raised to believe that they were Special People On Top and the Universe isn’t cooperating.

    In other words, they’re kids from the 1950s getting old and hate hate hate it.

  13. JohnMcC says:

    Trump may be ‘impossible to take down,’ top Republican pollster says — headline of an artlcle describing a Frank Luntz focus group of ‘mostly college educated’ Trumpettes that left the veteran GOP operative shaken and uncertain about what is happening around him.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    @grumpy realist: I would never, ever inquire of a lady about her age. But I had the honor of being a kid in the 50s. Had the Hopalong Cassidy hat and gunbelt. Had the Davy Crockett coon-skin hat. Remember the first black kid that went to my school — which was my high school, for what that’s worth.

    Have to say that kids I grew up with were taught by our depression-survivor parents that the world was definitely not our oyster. When I was drafted just a few months out of that high school nobody felt very sorry for me. When I was working full time because the GI Bill that I was eligible for would not put me through the state university, nobody thought I was particularly victimized.

    When my generation moved almost as a body to end the draft and stop the war none of us expected anything except a hell of a fight. And we did get a hell of a fight. We were tossed in jails and wiretapped and had FBI files. No one in my cohort seemed to think that was outrageous. As far as my feeble old brain can be counted on to remember, we just expected that would be how those who hold power react to a challenge. We’d learned from the civil rights struggle and waded into our particular fight knowing we’d be bloodied and possibly would lose.

    There are plenty of Boomers out there that make a point of ignorance and @ssholerie but you’re barking up the wrong tree if you think you know all about my age-group by hearing only from a bunch of TeaParty types.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnMcC: From maybe a couple years ahead of you, hear, hear.

    I’d never even seen a black person in the flesh until they staffed Minot AFB in the mid fifties. I will, however, note that despite the lack of exposure, many of my peers managed to become quite bigoted. Grumpy’s got a good point, but I think it’s more white privilege than Boomer privilege. Maybe we’re the last generation to be raised able to feel that level of white privilege. To me it looks like something unfair, and no real sacrifice to give up. They feel a real sense of loss and threat.

  16. grumpy realist says:

    @JohnMcC: I’m technically still a Boomer, although at the very tail of it. Born in 1960. A lady may never tell her age, but I ain’t no lady. Free-wheeling bitch, much better description.

    The people who make my teeth ache are those who have this starry-eyed romanticism about the 1950s and how wunnerful it would be to go back to those days….yeah, providing you weren’t female, divorced, or black. Or Jewish. Or Hispanic. Or….(fill in blank.)

    Shall we say–the “set of American population that has confused TV shows with reality and has nostalgia for a 1950s-1960s life that never existed”? That’s whom I think Trump is appealing to.

  17. JohnMcC says:

    @gVOR08: Thank you for your remark. Regarding ‘privilege’ — Dr King taught me that what would appear to be ‘privilege’ is actually merely the reverse side of oppression and stole freedom from me as surely as it did our black brothers & sisters. If he were remembered correctly it would not because he advanced black liberty but because he advanced liberty for every one of us.

  18. Mr. Prosser says:

    @JohnMcC: @gVOR08: @grumpy realist: I’m of the same era as all of you and had the same experiences including one tour in RVN. I volunteer once a week at my local VA hospital to pay back for the care I get. It’s amazing to hear the complaints and how mean spirited many VN and older vets and volunteers are (at least at this hospital). The one thing that is a common theme is race and a CinC that is African-American. I think it’s race pure and simple and the increasing number of non-white citizens and vets. I don’t hear this from the Iraq and Afghanistan vets; it may be there but they stay pretty quiet.

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @JohnMcC: @gVOR08: I wonder whether a lot of it is simply misplaced rage at getting old and out of shape? Looking at Trump’s audiences, most of them seem pasty-white, overweight, and 60+.