Wild Swings in Republican Polling Continue

Another day, another poll.

Another day, another poll.  Friday night, IBD/TIPP released a poll showing Donald Trump leading the field by 5. Last night, NBC/WSJ showed Ben Carson up by 6. Aside from the fact that “outsiders” continue to dominate the competition, the real news is the sheer volatility of the poll numbers.

Here is the RealClearPolitics average over the last three months, the span since the first big debate of the cycle:

rcp-GOP-20151103.png

 

At first glance, there’s a remarkable consistency: Trump has dominated, Carson has been rising fast, and everyone else is far behind. But go back to points in the cycle and there are wild swings. Look at the lead changes over that period:

  • August 3: Trump 22.5, Bush 12.7, and Walker 12.0.   (Walker dropped out six weeks later.)
  • August 18: Trump 22.0, Bush 10.7, and Carson 9.7.
  • August 28: Trump 23.5, Carson 10.3, and Bush 9.8
  • September 22: Trump 28.0, Carson 19.0, and Rubio 8.0
  • September 23: Trump 25.7, Carson 18.3, and Fiorina 9.3
  • October 10: Trump 22.9, Carson 17.7, and Rubio 9.9

Since then, those three have held as the top three with fluctuation in their numbers and the competition among the also-rans has continued.

 

Scott Walker’s fall off the cliff is almost as interesting as Carson’s meteoric rise. Carly Fiorina, who vaulted herself from the kid’s table to the main debate after a solid debate performance and then flashed into a solid third place after a second fine showing, had a rather brief moment in the sun. She faded away for no apparent reason, having committed no obvious gaffes.

Rubio hasn’t so much risen as others have fallen off. He’s been no lower than 8.0 and no higher than 10.2 going back to mid September.

Bush hasn’t led any national poll since July 19, when Trump exploded into first place. But he’s been holding steady for the past two-and-a-half months.

It’s been pretty clearly a two-man race for first for the last two months. We’ll see if Trump’s crazy uncle at Thanksgiving and Carson’s low talker who knows nothing at all about national politics act wears thin between now and February 1, when the people of Iowa cast the first actual votes in the contest. My bet continues to be that they will, although this cycle is so unlike anything I’ve ever seen before that it defies prediction.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. The one thing that has been constant over the period you outlined has, sadly, been Donald Trump, who seems to be averaging a solid 22-25 percent of the Republican electorate. Yes, he’s gone up and down from that over the past 3-4 months, but it’s been within a narrow range. In the meantime, we’ve seen other candidates — Walker, Carson, Fiorina — rise and fall.

    Now, it’s Ben Carson who seems to be rising, but mostly not to the detriment of Trump, who remains solid within his range. As one of the round table people on Morning Joe noted this morning, if you look deeper into this poll and others, you find that Carson’s voters are far more likely to say that they could switch to other candidates than Trump’s supporters are. This suggests that Carson’s rise will be short-lived and that Trump will stick around. If that’s the case, heading into the early primary states with 20% in the polls puts him in disturbingly good shape. And he hasn’t even started to spend really money on paid media yet; if he does that who knows what could happen.

    I’d like to think Republicans are sane enough to actually look at “real” candidates other than Trump when we get closer to actual voting, and that may happen. So far, there’s not much sign of it yet.

  2. Todd says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I’d like to think Republicans are sane enough to actually look at “real” candidates other than Trump when we get closer to actual voting

    I’m oddly comfortably resigned to the idea of Trump as the Republican nominee. It’s the “real” candidates who scare me more, because I know how they would govern if elected. And with Democrats seemingly set on nominating Hillary Clinton, I think there’s a very real possibility that a Republican will be elected. For all his obvious negatives, at least with Trump there’s some mystery about how he’d actually govern … and more importantly (from my perspective anyway), he’s by far the least “authentically conservative” candidate on the Republican side.

  3. Mikey says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As one of the round table people on Morning Joe noted this morning, if you look deeper into this poll and others, you find that Carson’s voters are far more likely to say that they could switch to other candidates than Trump’s supporters are. This suggests that Carson’s rise will be short-lived and that Trump will stick around.

    And when Carson drops, most of his supporters will go to Trump.

    Then, Trump will be at nearly 50% and would gain the perception of inevitability, which would cause still more supporters to shift from the not-Trumps to Trump, which would make the perception a reality.

  4. Scott says:

    Most of the polling doesn’t make sense to me. Two identical polls do not even overlap on their margins of error. Are they even measuring the same population? Without pealing back a few layers, the stories accompanying the released polls are fundamentally shallow.

  5. stonetools says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I’d like to think Republicans are sane enough to actually look at “real” candidates other than Trump when we get closer to actual voting, and that may happen. So far, there’s not much sign of it yet.

    I think the Republicans have decided that they want their Truly Conservative Candidate next year. For those who want a sane Republican Party, that’s disappointing, but it’s become increasingly clear that they want their right wing talk show hero Presidential nominee.Steve M. blogs:

    The people who told us that Trump would fade as the caucuses and primaries approached feel vindicated — except that they also told us that this would happen as Republican voters became more “serious” about the contest, and switch their allegiances to more “serious” candidates. If Ben Carson is in the lead, that’s not what’s happening.

    Trump isn’t fading because Republican voters are getting tired of the circus act — he’s fading because he’s not doing the circus act very well these days. When was peak Trump? It was when he was attacking Mexicans and John McCain and Megyn Kelly. He’s been mellower lately. He’s been less outrageous in the last two debates. This fall he’s done a series of interviews in which he’s tried to demonstrate that he’s a nice guy, not an angry bigot. A couple of weeks ago, his campaign spoon-fed the press a series of stories about the prominence of his daughter Ivanka and other women in his businesses, as a way of blunting charges that he’s a sexist.

    All of this was a huge mistake. Carson has stolen his thunder with outrageous comments about whether a Muslim should be allowed to run for president and whether privately owned guns could have stopped or slowed down the Nazis. Carson has claimed that mass shooting victims are cowards for not rushing shooters. Now he’s out there on the hustings proudly embracing creationism.

    The GOP voter base still wants fist-shaking rage. That’s why Ted Cruz is getting a bounce from his denunciation of the CNBC debate. That’s why Marco Rubio is trying to reposition himself as an angry young man incensed by liberal media bias. That’s why Carly Fiorina — who had a momentary poll bump when she positioned herself as Planned Parenthood’s worst nightmare — is out there on the trail promoting her beef with hosts of The View who insulted her after last week’s debate.

    My guess is that the biggest threat to Trump and Carson is Ted Cruz. He is a smoother version of Trump the fist-shaking white nationalist and also of Carson the conservative Christian, rolled into one. I think he will be the one left standing when Trump and Carson fade-IF they fade.

  6. Stan says:

    If you read today’s New York Times and Washington Post you’ll find that middle-aged whites in the US are dying much faster than expected due to big increases in substance abuse and suicides. I think these are the core voters for the Republican radicals, Trump and Carson, and I don’t expect them to switch unless something really scandalous comes out about Trump’s or Carson’s personal lives. If I’m right, Trump and/or Carson will be big players at the convention, even if they don’t win, and they’ll have a lot of influence in the party at least for a while. This nominating season is going to be agony for business oriented conservatives, particularly because Hillary is beatable. Very interesting,

  7. Franklin says:

    @Scott: Statistically, of course, that *can* happen, but the probability is quite low. A more likely explanation is that people aren’t answering truthfully. Their margin-of-error calculation doesn’t take that into account.

    Many would also argue that most of these polling methods are fatally flawed in terms of the people they even reach. I’m in my 40s and have never even once been polled on a political race.

  8. Scott says:

    @Franklin: If you look at the individual polls, the population pools are all over the place. Some poll all voters, some likely voters, other registered voters. For individual party polls, do they include actual party-registered voters or are they just self declared party voters. I just think more analysis needs to be done.

    And yes, means of contact are problematic also whether by land line, cell, internet, etc.

  9. Todd says:

    @stonetools:

    My guess is that the biggest threat to Trump and Carson is Ted Cruz. He is a smoother version of Trump the fist-shaking white nationalist and also of Carson the conservative Christian, rolled into one. I think he will be the one left standing when Trump and Carson fade-IF they fade.

    I think you’re right. In the end it will probably come down to Trump, Rubio and Cruz. I think Cruz would be the easiest for any Democrat to beat, but he’d also be the biggest nightmare if by some chance he actually got elected.

    I know it’s not a popular opinion around here, but I do believe that both Trump and Rubio would be very competitive against Hillary Clinton. Of those two, there is almost no doubt how Rubio would govern … based on his record in Florida, he’s Very Conservative.

    Trump on the other hand is a wildcard. He surely says some outrageous things. But in a way he reminds me a bit of “old school” politicians who would say some crazy things to rile up the “true believers”, but who you could be pretty sure were primarily serving the kool aid rather than drinking it.

  10. Pinky says:

    @Stan: 6400 more people are dying each year than if the old rate continued. There are 130 million voters in the US. If the death rate continues, in 200 years it’ll be responsible for a drop of 1% of the vote.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    If Trump gets the nomination, look to his VP pick. I suspect a President Trump would likely end up being impeached on something or other, with both Democratic and Republican votes.

  12. JohnMcC says:

    @Pinky: For those whose mind is cast in a literalist mold you have definitively answered our friend Stan. Congratulations!

    For those who read news stories with empathy and deeper understanding that figure of 6400 suicides reflects a segment of society — probably rather large and certainly widespread — that is suffering social ills and responding inappropriately, even self destructively. So, yes — conservative voters.