Yes, Trump is the Frontrunner, but…

Polls are quite useful in the right circumstances, but knowledge, complexity, and timing all have to be taken into account in determining what they are telling us.

polling-stick-figures-1Poll are not predictions. Rather, they are measurements of a given sample at a specific moment in time that can tell us the views of a large segment of the population without having to ask all the members of that population.  The precision of the model that selected the sample, minus reasonable margins for error, dictate the basic accuracy of that snapshot.  Other key variables include the level of knowledge in the sample population, the complexity of the opinion being measured, and the proximity of the poll to an actual choice being made.  As such, polling for elections are most accurate in a two-candidate race on the eve of the election itself.  In such a context, the sample population has as high a level of knowledge as they are ever going to have about the candidates, their choice is both clear (it is vote X, vote Y, or don’t vote), and they will have been actively thinking about those possibilities given the pending nature of the choice.

All of the above-listed factors are deficient, to one degree or another, in the current polling for the presidency, whether we are talking about the nominations for the the two parties, or (especially) if we are talking about November of 2016.

So, let’s consider where we are:

1.  Information is not as high as you think it is in the electorate (or, as least, that a lot of you reading this think it is, as if you are reading this you are an atypical American:  you care a lot about politics and have likely been paying close attention for months).

2.  The choices are currently complex (and in more than one way:  there are multiple candidates running, especially on the GOP side, and the process for nomination is not straightforward).

3.  Choice is not imminent.  Yes, to a political blog reading news junkie the choice seems practically nigh.  However, for even dedicated primary voters it is a ways away (especially if one lives in most states). Keep in mind that in national polls of Republican primary voters that those sample include voters who are not scheduled to vote until February, March, April, May, and even June.  A lot of voters have not yet made up their minds (and, really, they don’t even know what their choices are going to be once the voting rolls around).

So, yes, there is a great deal of reasons why there is skepticism about whether there really is enough support in the GOP to nominate someone like Trump or Carson.

I will say that the attention given to these candidates raises some questions about the GOP, and it is truly disturbing that Trump’s belligerent xenophobia and general know-nothing approach is able to win support from 30+% of those polled.    However, really, it should not be shocking that there is a substantial portion of the Republican Party that is motivated by racial issues and that cleaves to belligerence and know-nothingness (this is a harsh, but true, observation).*

All of the above fits well into David Greenberg’s piece at The AtlanticThe Front-Runner Fallacy, which is worth a read.  One might take some issue with some of the historic examples given, insofar as the media and polling environments have changed drastically in the last decade or so, but the general issues he observes remain true (and comport with my run down above).

Some specific observations worth noting:

The prevailing diagnosis this campaign season—based largely on the unexpected popularity of several candidates who, by normal measures, would stand little chance of becoming president—is that something is profoundly out of joint: An angry populism is surging. Voters are exasperated with the status quo.

But polls from previous election cycles one year out—that is, from the November before the presidential election—suggest that this picture of a surly, restive electorate may be an illusion. Could it be that the Donald’s numbers don’t really bespeak a radically new Republican temper? Or that Bernie Sanders’s numbers indicate something less than a Democratic lurch leftward? The perceived discontent and restlessness this fall may well be more noise than signal, and not at all unprecedented.

Two factors to keep in mind in regards to Trump:  name recognition and media coverage.

First, there is little doubt that at least some of Trumps popularity comes from name recognition:

What the early numbers do reflect is name recognition. Amid all the explanations for Trump’s summer surge—his bluntness, his immigration message, his political innocence—the most important one may simply be that he’s famous. Everyone knows who he is. In contrast, names like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, familiar inside the Beltway, evoke shrugs or blank stares from many people. Name recognition accounts for the misleading early success of many past front-runners. It explains why the 2000 vice-presidential nominee, Joe Lieberman—who was far too conservative to ever win the Democratic primary—was the front-runner for a while in 2003. It even explains, in part, why George W. Bush bolted into first place among Republicans in 1999. Some respondents literally thought the man they were being asked about was the former president. “Despite the Governor’s popularity in the polls,” wrote Richard Berke in The New York Times in 1999, “surveys continue to show that many Republicans confuse Mr. Bush with his father.”(Name recognition also helped Jeb Bush vault to a lead in the polls earlier this year, although his weak campaign-trail performance, and perhaps lingering discontent with his brother’s tenure, led his numbers to fall.)

Something to keep in mind:  Trump is as known a quantity as there is on the GOP side, which means a lot of people will be drawn to him out of familiarity but it also means that a large swath of the population has made up their minds about him.  For him to be the true front runner at this stage, with this many candidates splitting the vote, would require him to have the ability to break out of the 30+% range on a consistent basis.  However, the numbers seems to suggest a ceiling for Trump in that range.  (In short:  he is not an unstoppable force).

Second, he gets a disproportionate amount of media attention (because regardless of anything else, he is entertaining**):

Besides sheer familiarity, the other big determinant of early success, according to the political scientist and Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein, is recent media attention. Press coverage of a race is, of course, never organized or systematic. As Walter Lippmann put it, the news is a searchlight—moving about “restlessly” and “bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision.” The news frenzy that Trump provoked with his disparaging remarks about Mexicans in his announcement speech goosed his numbers. Media hype also fueled the surges of Gary Hart in 1984 and Howard Dean in 2004, both of whom were eventually tossed aside in favor of candidates with stronger claims to the nomination—greater stature, more-impressive achievements, broader appeal.

A sidebar to the media attention is to underscore that the new media is an entertainment business, not an information business.  Along those lines:

If recent presidential races seem especially tempestuous, it’s not because of some new climate of desperation but because media attention to the pre-primary stage of the campaign has become unrelenting. A faster news cycle, fed by round-the-clock cable news and online coverage, transforms trivial developments into uproars. The media have more to feed on, too. Intraparty debates, which used to begin late in the season, are now held months in advance of the first primaries, and are broadcast to national audiences. Strong performances can propel obscure candidates into the limelight, and weak showings can doom candidates—like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker—who aren’t ready for the big leagues. Polls, too, used to be eagerly awaited events, with networks and newspapers soberly elucidating the implications of their proprietary surveys. Now they’re a daily fix, easily obtained through sites like RealClearPolitics, fodder for ceaseless Twitter twaddle.

I would also point to a recent Nate Silver piece (that Doug Mataconis commented on a few days ago):  Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls.  I would especially note the graph and tables that Doug posted that underscore the lateness at which voters (as opposed to political junkies) make their minds up in regards to the vote.  Silver’s conclusion is worth noting as well:

So, could Trump win? We confront two stubborn facts: first, that nobody remotely like Trump has won a major-party nomination in the modern era.4And second, as is always a problem in analysis of presidential campaigns, we don’t have all that many data points, so unprecedented events can occur with some regularity. For my money, that adds up to Trump’s chances being higher than 0 but (considerably) less than 20 percent. Your mileage may vary. But you probably shouldn’t rely solely on the polls to make your case; it’s still too soon for that.

I am not going to deny that my own view on this, as well as probably the writings of many political commentators on this topic, is not in some way influenced by the fact that  Trump nomination is a repugnant idea.  This likely spurs more attention to the topic than might otherwise be the case (Herman Cain and Rudy Giuliani, for example, inspired less writing than have Trump, one suspects).   However, this does not ultimately affect the analysis:  polling at this point in the process with this many candidates in light of the complexity of the primary process means that we have to take the leader of the national polling with a serious grain of salt.

As Silver notes above:  the unprecedented can happen, especially in a process that only happened a relatively small number of times.  However, the fundamentals of the situation really don’t look as extraordinary as some are treating them.

Again: polls aren’t predictions and they certainly aren’t magical.  They can be quite useful in the right circumstances, but again:  knowledge, complexity, and timing all have to be taken into account in determining what they are telling us. I am not, as some may assert, going the “unskewed polls” route that was popular in some GOP circles in late 2012 because I don’t like the current numbers.***  I am not claiming, for example, that the current polling is wrong.  I do think that Trump is the leading candidate in the field at the moment in national polls of likely Republicans primary voters.  What I am pointing out (as are others) is that the stability of that opinion at this stage of the contest is not high (as past races have demonstrated).  I am also noting that the polls in question measure one thing (national GOP preferences) while the process to select the candidates is a state by state process wherein one contest affects the next (and is a process that starts off with a atypical state with an atypical process, the Iowa Caucuses).

So, as I wrote months ago, it is still too early to declare this process over with.  Indeed, what I wrote in August remains in force:

I am not saying it is impossible for Trump to win the nomination (although I still think it an improbable outcome).  However, I am saying that I am having a hard time seeing him constructing the intra-party coalition needed to acquire the requisite delegates to win the nomination.   I am also saying that some of the ways in which Trump is being discussed needs to be dialed back.  He is far from the nominee at the moment and does not yet represent the party as a whole (because, well, the party is fragmented at the moment).


Really, at the base of it, as one who looks at voting and parties globally what I want most of all is basic acknowledgement of what such a crowded field means in terms of assessing likely outcomes.  Further, this is especially true since early front-runner status is often not indicate of the outcomes (see here and here, for example) and this is especially true because the US nomination process if not one of a simple plurality vote (far from it).  There is a lengthy and complicated process yet ahead and winnowing is coming.

One interesting aspect of all of this:  there has yet to be a serious winnowing of the GOP field (we have lost Walker, Perry, and Jindal) and such a winnowing is inevitable.   When Carson leaves, for example, there is going to be significant re-allocation of support.  And even the loss of Christie or Bush or any number of candidates will reshuffle the deck to some degree.  There are a lot of non-Trump votes out there.  Maybe they go to Trump when the winnowing starts, but given the nature of his candidacy it is actually more likely that they go elsewhere.  The field cannot stay this large for the entire process.


*First, keep in mind that 30ish% of the GOP is not all that huge a percentage of the overall electorate.  Second, that there is a xenophobic (or, to be kind, paranoid and unkind vis-à-vis foreigners, especially of darker hues) contingent of the GOP base is not really contestable (or that there is also a significant racists strand).  Third, the Tea Party, among others, have shown a clear penchant toward Know Nothing attitudes.  Fourth, there is a clearly belligerent strain within the party or, at least, the Green Lantern types who think that both passing legislation in Congress, as well as winning in foreign policy simply requires a leader with enough will.  None of this strikes me as empirically untrue.  One can debate the normative relevance of these topics as well as point out flaws with the Democratic Party, but such observation do not take away the reality of the situation.

**Seriously, if one likes his sideshow, he is entertaining.  If one find him to be a trainwreck, he is entertaining (i.e.. to either in the “I can’t look away from the horror” kind of way or in the “I like to laugh at my opponent” kind of way).  And if one is a late nigh comedians he is grist for the mill like no other politicians since Bill Clinton.  Heck, Trump’s candidacy temporarily got David Letterman out of retirement and gave us back Bloom County (for which I suppose we should all thank The Donald).

***If these are the numbers in late January, then so be it.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    Polling has continued to be less reliable with cell phones and caller ID. I think part of Trump’s high numbers may because his supporters are less likely to hang up on pollsters and more likely to answer their questions.

  2. CSK says:

    Well, Trump’s popularity seems to have been give a boost by his crude mockery of Serge Kovaleski’s disability. He’s doing two appearances at Sarasota, Florida instead of one, because they couldn’t accommodate at a single sitting the 14,500 who ordered tickets.

  3. de stijl says:

    This post seems to be an exercise in not ignoring reality, but seeing it.

    Seeing, but not accepting. It is the hope that “All will be well in the end.”

    Seeing is good. It’s the prerequisite to understanding.

    A bunch of folks made their bones (temporarily) by disputing the 2012 polls, but it turned out that Nate Silver was actually correct.

    Trump, in all his eminent glory, is not going away. A celebrity neo-fascist (in practice if not intent) is the the top polling candidate for the Republican party. That’s gotta sting a person that hopes, hopes, hopes (HT to Michael Rapaport for totally selling that line) that the party is redeemable.

    In my experience, those that question the validity of polls do so because they despise the findings. The majority of likely R voters prefer Trump over the other candidates. I’m sorry that that is the situation, but it is real.

    Hope, hope, hoping (HT this time Tarantino for his writing) won’t make it go away.

  4. @de stijl: while I this true that I hope that someone like Trump cannot be nominated, this is not my point. I sincerely think that the social science tells us that it is not reasonable to declare Trump the winner or to even assume that he is the likely nominee at this point.

    Part of it is simple math: he seems to have a durable ceiling in the 30s.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    I want to see the first post-Christmas/New Years polls. People will have been with their families and we’ll get a better sense that close to February of whether a consensus is shaping up.

    There is a great big bunch of anger out there, Right and Left. Angry people act differently and presumably vote differently. I thought Trump had topped out in the mid-20’s, and now he’s pushing a solid third.

    And I’d argue Trump’s splitting his vote with Carson and Cruz, forming the rage caucus, and together they are polling about 50%. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 11 months to soften all that rage, so I suspect that 50% number will be pretty durable. My guess (well, everyone’s guess, really) is that Cruz takes what Trump may lose. In which case we may be worse off, not better.

  6. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Part of it is simple math: he seems to have a durable ceiling in the 30s.

    If we assume that Trump doesn’t win the nomination, who does?

    Who has a higher ceiling?

    I don’t see any of the R cross-over candidates actually crossing over. Trump, like him or hate him, is the personable one.

    I see a full slate of folks that will titillate the base but will probably not do better than 47% in the general.

    Rubio is not going to win Iowa or New Hampshire. Nor is Kasich (like he ever had a chance). Nor is Bush (who would’ve made that call a year ago?) The Establishment guy or gal (whomever that turns out to be) is on the out. He or she is mistrusted specifically because of their perceived insider status.

    I hope for the nation’s fortune that it turns out false, but I predict that the R’s will nominate an unelectable candidate. The 2016 version of Goldwater.

    We put way too much importance on Iowa and New Hampshire. Their purpose is mainly in pruning the field, but we’ve elevated their temporal placement to actually have an input onto electability. Doing well in Iowa and / or New Hampshire means you get to continue on. That’s it.

    I’m not really a betting guy, but I’m intrigued by Cruz.

    In my understanding, R’s have really misunderstood the zeitgeist and are likely to nominate some yahoo who makes them feel good, but who will get ~45% of the vote in the general election. IOW,a Mondale/

  7. Pch101 says:

    Front runners at this point of the election cycle rarely win.

    As of now, support within the GOP is divided among several candidates. It’s hard to say what things will look like when the field has been narrowed down and it is clear who the Democrats will be fielding as their opponent.

    That being said, the Republican leadership and their media have been in denial that much of the party’s appeal is derived from its nurturing of populist xenophobic theocratic wannabes, not its supposed love of free markets. Trump’s views and persona are well aligned with most of the party membership, so intra-party attacks on his agenda or tone won’t help to reduce his popularity.

  8. elizajane says:

    Reuters is doing a huge favor to the anti-Trump forces by allowing them to proclaim that Trump’s popularity has dropped by 12% in a week. No mention of the fact that their previous poll, which had put him at 43%, was a complete outlier and that their new polling number, 31%, is about where every other poll has had him for over a month.

  9. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I sincerely think that the social science tells us that it is not reasonable to declare Trump the winner or to even assume that he is the likely nominee at this point.

    If Trump does not step up, who does?

    History is not a prediction. Why will Trump lose? Who does he lose to? How?

  10. Liberal Capitalist says:

    If I was his political adviser, I would suggest that he intentionally choose to step away from the limelight and let the other candidates do some stupid things for a while.

    Then he could come in as the “sane” choice for the GOP.

    But we all know: that won’t happen.

    He is like a moth drawn to flame.

  11. Pch101 says:

    @de stijl:

    Why will Trump lose? Who does he lose to? How?

    Given US presidential election history, it would be better to ask how Trump can maintain his lead.

  12. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @de stijl: If I were gonna guess about who rises to the top in a “not Trump” world (and I’m with Dr. Taylor on this, it’s too early to predict either way) I would go with Cruz if the nation is angry and afraid @ MR levels and I’m seeing Rubio in a more favorable light than I have in the past if the GOP selectorate turns sane. He seems to have momentum.

  13. @de stijl:

    History is not a prediction. Why will Trump lose? Who does he lose to? How?

    Indeed, but if he is the inevitable winner, why is he stuck at 30ish% If he really is what the GOP electorate wants, why are voters looking, at a 70ish% rate, at other candidates?

    The non-Trump vote is going to coalesce around someone and if I had to bet at the moment, I would say it is Rubio (but I am not 100% sold).

    Regardless: I return to my main point, which is that there is a reason Trump cannot break, on a consistent basis, that 30% mark,

    And while history is not a prediction, patterns matter and there needs to be a reason for established trends to end.

  14. @Liberal Capitalist:

    Then he could come in as the “sane” choice for the GOP.

    This seems unlikely 😉

  15. Kari Q says:

    @de stijl:

    I personally think polls are pretty reliable when used correctly, and I respect Nate Silver. So it’s worth pointing out what Nate Silver thinks poll numbers taken right now:

    If even by New Year’s Day (a month before the Iowa caucuses, which are scheduled for Feb. 1) only about one-third of Iowa voters will have come to their final decision, the percentage must be even lower now — perhaps something like 20 percent of voters are locked in. When you see an Iowa poll, you should keep in mind that the real situation looks something more like this:

    Undecided 80%
    Donald Trump 5

    Too soon to know how seriously to take Trump. Maybe he’ll win, but we don’t know.

  16. de stijl says:


    Given US presidential election history, it would be better to ask how Trump can maintain his lead.

    Who takes over the lead?

    Why? How?

    Given US presidential election history, the R electorate will be, poll, act, and vote anti-Establishment until we reach the point where that they can no longer be foolish and ignore the fact they must win 50+1% of the vote.

    Here’s the crux.

    Will R voters follow past behaviors or will they forge a new path?

    The newish path seems to indicate that at the end of the process they will accept the “Establishment” candidate. State results may skew wildly, but at the end the guy ends up being *the guy*.

    And by *new* I actually mean old.

    But will they hold to that path? Is history a guide?

    Nothing prevents the base from running amok.

    And they have.

    In what universe is a woman who has to deny that she is a witch electable? A man who says that rape sperm can’t impregnate if the woman wishes really hard enough? Chickens are acceptable trade goods for health services.

    Republicans are historically, recently, perfectly acceptable with nominating an unelectable candidate just because it feels good.

    It is the product of the demonization of those with whom you do not see eye-to-eye on political matters. Somehow, because they don’t vote like you do, your family or friends or neighbors have morphed into domestic enemies

    I’ve never written “Mark my word…” before. It’s so not me. So final. There’s no hedging there.

    But we’ve been sliding this way since Gingrich on. Representing is now more important than winning.

    Mark my word, the Republicans are going to nominate an unelectable fringe candidate in the 2015 Presidential race..

    Because they can. Because it feels good.

  17. Mikey says:

    Could it be that the Donald’s numbers don’t really bespeak a radically new Republican temper?

    Well, of course they don’t. AND THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT.

    Trump isn’t embodying some “new Republican temper.” He is embodying the actual spirit of the GOP as it has been for the past 10 years. That’s why he’s proving so insanely durable.

    Trump is the truth of the modern Republican party. He is their views, he is their outlook, he is who they are. Why else is it that nothing he says–no matter how insane–puts a dent in his popularity? Because he says exactly what’s in their hearts, but they haven’t been able to say themselves because doing so risks huge disapproval in modern society. But there’s nothing at risk for Trump. He’s got money, he’s got status, he can say whatever he feels. Whatever THEY feel.

    They love him because he’s the asshole they’d all be if they had the wealth and power to get away with it.

  18. Pch101 says:

    @de stijl:

    Given US presidential election history, the R electorate will be, poll, act, and vote anti-Establishment until we reach the point where that they can no longer be foolish and ignore the fact they must win 50+1% of the vote.

    As of this date in 2011, Gingrich had the lead.

    As of this date in 2007, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were both leading.

    It’s damn near impossible to predict when things will shift and who will reap the benefits from that shift. What we do know that it happens more often than not, and that it happens because voters are a lot less loyal than they may first appear.

    Trump could go from hero to zero in a flash, just because. Maintaining momentum over this long of a time frame is extremely difficult, and his fundraising effort to date has been as lousy as it gets.

  19. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    2015. 2016… whatevs.

    Gee frigging Dee, I employed the once in a lifetime “Mark my word” and then messed up the year. Golly, I’m a moron.

  20. Kylopod says:

    I am not, as some may assert, going the “unskewed polls” route that was popular in some GOP circles in late 2012 because I don’t like the current numbers.

    I would add that polling for presidential general elections has historically had an unusual level of accuracy compared with polling for other types of races. It isn’t perfect; for example, exit polls in 2004 showed Kerry winning key states he ended up losing. But we simply are not likely to see upsets on the order of “Dewey Defeats Truman” anytime soon. Indeed, people draw entirely the wrong lesson from that episode. For one thing, the science of polling has improved tremendously since then, but also, there are simply a lot more polling firms, and they take polls much more often than they did in 1948. (A lot of people do not know that the notorious headline was based on polls taken two weeks earlier. The brand-new Roper Center actually stopped taking polls of the race several weeks earlier, convinced that they were pointless as Dewey was the obvious winner. But it’s not as if the signs weren’t there: Truman was starting to surge in the polls; most of the media just decided to ignore it.)

    In other sorts of races, however, upsets like that happen all the time. It happens a lot in Congressional and gubernatorial races, as we saw in 2014. (This partly reflects the relatively small sample sizes, and partly the difficulty in measuring local effects versus national ones.) And it often happens in presidential primaries. There are a lot of factors explaining why: the localized nature of the races, the fact that caucuses aren’t based on popular vote, the fact that there are many candidates and that voters who prefer one can easily end up drifting to another, the fact that each successive race affects the later ones as the winners build momentum, the fact that it’s hard to define precisely who the winner or the loser is and that it’s as much about winning the expectations-game as it is about coming in first place. (Hence Bill Clinton in 1992 was deemed to have “won” New Hampshire even though he in fact lost it by double digits to Paul Tsongas.)

    In short, skepticism about primary polls generally has a lot more basis than skepticism about general-election polls.

  21. de stijl says:


    They love him because he’s the asshole they’d all be if they had the wealth and power to get away with it.

    Here is why we’re talking about Trump.

    I have family members who’ve told me that Trump’s edge is that he “tells it like it is” (although that’s debatable). Ted Cruz is their #2 and rising.

    We have entered the stage of history where assholery has become one of the character traits by which we judge Presidential candidates. Thanks, internet!

  22. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl

    Mark my word, the Republicans are going to nominate an unelectable fringe candidate in the 2015 Presidential race..

    I had people telling me exactly the same thing four years ago. That the GOP was certain to nominate a Cain or Bachmann or Gingrich who would go on to lose in a landslide, that Romney never could win the nomination. And they cited exactly the same things you cited as proof–the way the Tea Party got candidates like Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell to blow perfectly winnable races.

    And you know what I said to these people? I don’t even need to repeat myself, because I actually still have a link to what I said to one such person at the time:

    Ever heard of J.D. Hayworth, Chuck DeVore, Bob Vander Plaats, Pete Hoekstra, Vaughn Ward, Clint Didier, Rita Meyer, Bob McConell, Todd Tiahrt, Cecile Bledsoe, Cecilia Heil, Angela McGlowan, Karen Handel, or Brian Murphy? They were all endorsed by either Tea Party organizations or Sarah Palin for offices in 2010, and didn’t make it out of the primaries. But somehow these failures got a lot less publicity than the successes like Angle, O’Donnell, Paul, and so on.

    So the TP’s sabotaging of the nomination contests in 2010 met with mixed results at best. It wasn’t some all-powerful force the GOP establishment couldn’t stop. And a presidential contest by its very nature is far more difficult for insurgents to sabotage.

    For one thing, unlike a race for Congress or the governorship it isn’t decided by just one primary or caucus, but by many ones in states across the nation, not all of which are friendly to the hard-right.

  23. de stijl says:


    his (Trump’s) fundraising effort to date has been as lousy as it gets.

    Perhaps falsely claiming that he is a billionaire was a bad idea?

    My German is sub menu level. I have the key travel phrases and can recognize a few basic nouns. If schadenfreude means shameful joy, what would be the word/phrase for shameless joy? The unalloyed pleasure of seeing another bit by what he brought?

    I think the idiomatic English analog would be “hoist on his own petard.”

  24. de stijl says:


    I had people telling me exactly the same thing four years ago. That the GOP was certain to nominate a Cain or Bachmann or Gingrich who would go on to lose in a landslide, that Romney never could win the nomination.

    Those folks weren’t all that far from being correct.

    Romney took his sweet time getting to what was supposed to be his by right. The trees in Michigan ended up being the right size. Nobody’s first choice – that’s a hell of an epitaph.

    And exactly who is the Romney of 2016? Bush? Rubio? RINO’s at best. Unless they win the nomination, then they’re gold.

    I’ve knocked around a bit. I’m probably never going to be a trend maker, but I can see a trend in the making.

    You cite Romney as if that were a conversation stopper, but I’d asset that Romney’s rocky path to his nomination in 2012 is more of an addition to my stated opinion than a detraction. Anyone-but-Romney went through what like 12 versions in four months?

    I would have hedged my opinion more and probably not deployed the once in a lifetime “Mark my words” if there was an Establishment person in the top five of the polls. Ideally, in the the 2012 manner Romney should always be second in the polls and you just insert the new ABR as the temporary front-runner.

    In 2016, I argue that we have no Romney. There is no person that has that imprimatur of he’s next, or he’s due or she’s earned this shot.

    Because the “Establishment” failed to coalesce around one candidate and do so quickly and firmly, no one knows who they are “supposed to” vote for in the end. Without a “supposed to” guy in the field we are seeing 2016 play out like 2012 as if Romney weren’t there.

    I understand and acknowledge that R’s have not gone down this road since 1964 when they really didn’t have a shot anyway because of Kennedy’s ghost, but I will need more to shift me off of my statement that they’re gonna nominate a yahoo who’s going to creamed.

    Like I said, I can see trends.

  25. Kylopod says:

    And exactly who is the Romney of 2016? Bush? Rubio? RINO’s at best.

    What–and Romney wasn’t the RINO exemplar? You seem to have totally forgotten what most Republicans were saying about him at the time. He was attacked as the godfather of Obamacare, the socialist, freedom-killing, job-killing, grandma-killing monstrosity. And they didn’t accept his “But it’s just on a state level!” excuse either. I was following the rhetoric very closely at the time, and I didn’t misunderstand it. It’s what led some very smart commentators to assume that Romney couldn’t possibly survive the primary contest.

    You cite Romney as if that were a conversation stopper, but I’d asset that Romney’s rocky path to his nomination in 2012 is more of an addition to my stated opinion than a detraction.

    Let’s look at the final tally of votes:

    Romney: 10 million (52%)
    Santorum: 3.9 million (20%)
    Gingrich: 2.7 million (14%)
    Paul: 2 million (11%)

    Let’s put it this way: a candidate who wins the nomination by being 7 million votes–or 32 percentage points–ahead of his nearest rival, is not someone who was ever in any real danger of losing. Sure, it may have looked that way at certain points, but things look very different in hindsight.

    Because the “Establishment” failed to coalesce around one candidate and do so quickly and firmly, no one knows who they are “supposed to” vote for in the end.

    But they still have time. If you follow 538’s endorsement-list for the candidates, it’s clear there have been relatively few endorsements of any of the candidates, period. Jeb Bush still technically leads, but it’s clear that large portions of the establishment are sitting on their hands–and there’s no reason to assume they’ll stay that way indefinitely.

    It’s possible, of course, that the establishment will end up splitting its endorsements between different candidates, and that’s the sort of situation that could potentially lead to victory of a Trump or Cruz. But the simple fact is that that hasn’t happened yet. You can’t say that the Trump/Cruz faction is beating the establishment before the establishment has even acted, a couple of months before anyone comes out to vote.

  26. de stijl says:

    In 1999, R voters said they were going to vote for GW Bush and they ended up voting for GW Bush. The polling was pretty clear although McCain gave it a go until Rove spread his little hush-hush message in SC.

    Why do we treat 2015 polling that shows Trump with a lead so dismissively? To some degree I believe it is because people don’t like the fact that Trump is the leader. I don’t like the result, no one I know would vote for him, Dewey lost, Romney was second at this point, etc.

    Like I said earlier, R voters are about to cast some really stupid votes for an untested, unworthy candidate like they have before only this time he won’t win the general like W.

    He or she will get ~47% because duh Team Red. Cletus the slack-jawed yokel would get 47% in this climate. Cletus will do really well in The Old South(tm), the Plains, and the Rocky Mountain states that don’t have professional sports teams based there. Lose the EV by 130+.

    Rural America on it’s own cannot elect a President. They still need a goodly portion of the Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada electoral votes.

    (Actually, that’s not a bad predictive model factor. Pro sports and voting. Statistically like cities, counties, states with and without pro teams. Is OK and OKC redder or bluer since the Thunder came to town? Would voting change in Omaha (HT Peyton Manning) if they had an NFL team? – I know they don’t have the pop or density to allow it, but it’s still an interesting thought experiment. BTW, does Osweiler say “Omaha” when he’s changing the play call?)

    Here’s why I made the call and deployed the “Mark my words…”

    Ask yourself this: what is the likelihood that the present-day Republican base will behave rationally?

  27. Kylopod says:

    In 1999, R voters said they were going to vote for GW Bush and they ended up voting for GW Bush.

    And your point is…what? Nobody here argued that the leader in the polls will always fail. What we argued is that polling leads, by themselves, are not very predictive of the eventual winner. You have to take into account other factors, such as support from party elites, number of endorsements from party leaders, their on-the-ground campaign operations, and fundraising. And on those counts, Bush is the absolute worst example you could have chosen to support your point:

    George W. Bush’s campaign is their classic example of the party elite coordinating on a single candidate during the invisible primary season. Half of the Republican governors supported Bush’s nomination in early 1999, and all but one would endorse him by the end of the year…. Along with their endorsements, the governors introduced their key fundraisers and supporters to Bush. Other major Republican contributors also began to back Bush and help solicit still others to make contributions as well…. Bush was also gaining the support of key leaders among the party’s economic and religious wings. By the close of the invisible primary, not only was Bush endorsed by the party’s governors, but he was the recipient of 65% of the endorsements from other party leaders. In contrast, John McCain had the second highest endorsement total, but at a mere 10%.

    Furthermore, Bush’s polling lead in late 1999 was substantially stronger than Trump’s, never dipping below 59% from Sep. 1999 onward. Bush was not only overwhelmingly the establishment favorite, but (despite later revisionism that casts him as a RINO) was well-liked by much of the party “base,” especially evangelicals.

    You don’t seem to have any real evidence to support your claim about the inevitable Trump/Cruz/Carson victory other than (1) Their collective polling has remained solid for a long time, even though we’re still weeks away from any actual votes and not a single candidate has gotten a majority in a single poll (2) Republican voters are about to pick the “stupid” choice just like they picked the “stupid” W. in 2000, or something.

  28. JohnMcC says:

    @de stijl:

    Dadgummit! Here I was getting completely primed and cocked for a killer shot right into the bullseye and you guys have this discussion that seems to have left me very little to say. Thanx!

    I was going to make two arguments and can be succinct. First, that Mr Trump will lose (if he loses) because of an actual candidate. Either he will have his own “I’m-not-a-witch” or “pyramids-were-grain-storage” moment (which is unlikely since he’s a professional at this) or some other candidate will eat his lunch with the Repub primary voter/caucuser.

    Second, that there is no quantifiable way to measure the sort of leadership in the debate that Mr Trump has mastered so far. The political media loudspeaker is re-broadcasting constantly about whatever it was that Mr Trump was talking about just 1/2 a day ago. As long as he can keep that up (and he’s a pro) he cannot be vulnerable to any other candidate. That hypothetical and hoped-for candidate is busy right now being asked what reaction he has to the latest from the Donald.

  29. Mikey says:

    @de stijl: “Hoist with his own petard” in German is “mit seinen eigenen Waffen geschlagen,” basically “he got hit by his own weapon.”

  30. Grumpy Realist says:

    It seems a percentage of the population doesn’t trust Mainstreet Republicans and is willing to look for anyone who has the message of “put your thumb in your rear and eff you.”

    For all the squawking about barriers and immigration, there still seems to be more of an anti-republican than a pro-Trump flavor to the support.

    (Does anyone know how to switch the auto-correct on my IPhone to British, not American spelling? Very annoying when it insists on “correcting” perfectly well-spelled words!

  31. Pch101 says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    For all the squawking about barriers and immigration, there still seems to be more of an anti-republican than a pro-Trump flavor to the support.

    The populists consider themselves to be “true” Republicans as they denounce the leadership as being “RINOs,” making plenty of “no true Scotsman” arguments in the process. They consider themselves to represent a majority in spite of all the data that indicates otherwise and fail to recognize their need to maintain a coalition with said RINOs, then finger point when they lose the elections.

  32. @de stijl:

    Who takes over the lead?

    Why? How?

    Again, this is basic math: Trump is currently at 28.7% in the RCP average of polls. That means that 71.3% favors a candidate other than Trump. It is this fact that I find necessary to continually underscore If Trump was the unequivocal leader of the GOP, destined to win, then he would be able to pull more support than that. This is especially true given his high profile–people know who he is. Yes, some voters really love him, but to pretend like he has become the face of the party at this point is simply not supportable by the facts.

    (And the post above outlines a number of reasons why I am not convinced the polls are locked in at this point and @Kylopod is correct, the accuracy of these polls are lower than those used in the general).

  33. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Grumpy Realist: Don’t have an IPhone, but I would assume that you would do it the same way you do it on a Mac–change from American English to British English in the language settings.

  34. grumpy realist says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Thanks! I got British spelling pounded into me several years ago when I was there on an M.A. program and have never quite switched back.

    Hmmm. It may be a WP thing. My personal settings are British English and it’s still trying to correct my spelling.

  35. Kylopod says:

    I’ve so far been discussing this issue from a poli-sci angle, but there’s another angle I’d like to comment on. A couple of weeks ago David O. Atkins of Washington Monthly argued that those who think an establishment candidate will win the nomination are guilty of “wishful thinking.” That’s also the point of view taken by de stijl here–that those of us who doubt Trump has it in the bag are merely “hoping.”

    I’m sure most establishment Republicans are hoping Trump doesn’t win. I’m sure some Democrats also hope so. But speaking for myself, I actually do want Trump to become the nominee. That’s why I recently wrote here that I’d consider voting for Trump if I lived in a state with an open primary like New Hampshire.

    Yes, I’m aware of the “be careful what you wish for” idea, that if he wins the nomination there’s always the possibility he could win the election. Still, all the signs suggest it would be an awesome trainwreck for the GOP, not only practically guaranteeing Dems the White House but doing great damage to Republican candidates in downballot races.

    Therefore, the last thing you can accuse me of is “wishful thinking.” I’m not wishing Trump won’t win the nomination; I just think the evidence suggests he won’t.

    If there is anyone living in denial of reality, it is the Dems who think the GOP is seriously on the verge of nominating an “unelectable” candidate. Most Dems I talk to seem entirely too smug about their electoral chances in 2016; they seem to be shutting out the very real possibility that not only could Republicans win the White House next year, they could easily gain unified control of both houses of Congress. Fantasizing about a Trump nomination is part of that process of denial.

    These Dems are actually a lot closer to the “unskewed polls” people than they realize. They think they’re being empirical because they’re accepting what the polls are telling them. But that gets it all wrong. The problem with the unskewed crowd wasn’t that they discounted polls per se, it was that they discounted data. Data suggests that polls taken close to Election Day tend strongly to be predictive of the eventual winner; data equally suggests that polls taken weeks or months before primaries and caucuses tend to lack predictive value. That’s why Nate Silver, the most prominent target of the unskewed crowd in 2012, considers it unlikely that Trump will win the nomination–an irony lost on de stijl.

  36. @Kylopod: I think there is a certain amount of wishful thinking, so to speak, by Dems who think Trump is inevitable because they think it proves all of their points about the GOP.

    As noted in the post: I will admit to not wanting Trump to be nominated–but not because of some electoral calculus. I simply find the prospect that someone like him could be nominated by one of the major political parties of the US to be a truly disturbing prospect.

    However, as I keep noting, my analysis of this is predicated on issues apart from that: the nature of the contest, the actual numbers involved, and the fragmentation of the field.

  37. al-Ameda says:

    It’s way too early. No primary votes have been cast, no caucus votes have occurred. All we’ve had so far is/are debates and polling … that’s it.

    I continue to believe that the finals will include Rubio, Cruz, Bush and _________ (fill in the blank maybe Trump or Carson, who knows?)

    Right now I could be might be persuaded to make $20 bet with a brother or sister that the ticket will be Rubio/Cruz.

  38. JohnMcC says:

    Everything said about the ‘too early to make a prediction’ and ‘polls are just snapshots’ and ‘the establishment will coalesce’ makes wonderful sense and has historical weight. I do not disagree. But if not Mr Trump, who?

    Perhaps I’m misreading the Repub mood. Been wrong plenty of times and will be again. But it does not seem to me that the R-party primary voter is going to settle for a candidate who is incrementally more conservative that the Dem candidate. They feel entitled to something straight, no water, no ice.

    And yes, the Repub establishment is correct about Mr Trump not being doctrinally conservative. He captures their mood and that’s what they hunger for.

  39. @JohnMcC: The R mood at the moment has 70+% favoring someone other than Trump nationally. This is my point.

  40. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Sure. But of that 70%, 20% is Carson, and if you look at the graph on RCP you see Carson’s recent drop mirrored almost exactly by a Trump rise, which suggests Trump could get the lion’s share of Carson’s supporters when Carson (I think inevitably) drops out. That could put Trump at nearly 50%, with Rubio and Cruz holding a combined 25% and the rest divided up among six or eight exercises in futility. (Sorry, Jeb!)

    We may end up with a three-way primary contest between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio, with Trump holding the angry white guy vote, Cruz the angry evangelicals, and Rubio trying to hold on to whatever sanity remains.

  41. @Mikey:

    We may end up with a three-way primary contest between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio,

    Something like this could happen, yes. But that is a far cry from stating that Trump already has become the GOP (as some are arguing, even a few comments above).

    I am not saying Trump doesn’t have a constituency. I am saying that he has not yet become the nominee and therefore the true face of the party (and that there are reason to doubt that that will ever happen–significant ones, in fact).

  42. grumpy realist says:

    And if Trump does get nominated, you’re going to find a lot of Republicans who will hold their noses and pull the level for him in the general election, simply because he has an (R) after his name and Hillary has a (D).

    Sometimes I think we’re too stupid to be allowed with anything sharper than a marshmallow.

  43. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think if we consider the eventual nominee as the “true face” of the GOP, and assume the “establishment” doesn’t succeed in torpedoing that candidate, it’ll have to be either Trump or Cruz. None of the others capture the angry white spirit of the modern GOP.

    Maybe there’s a sober majority, currently silent, that will show up sometime next spring and catapult Rubio into the lead. But by then it may be too late, especially if Trump does very well in the earliest primaries.

  44. @Mikey: Such an outcome is certainly possible. I am just saying the available data does not support a certain conclusion at this point, and that it even points away from an eventual Trump nomination.

  45. John D'Geek says:

    At risk of overstating the obvious: it will depend entirely on who actually runs during the Primary.

    As one of the Token Republicans here, let me look towards* the PA Primaries. If it’s a run off by the first three (Trump, Carson, Cruz) I will not vote. If it’s Rubio vs. Fiorina, that’s a tough call; I’m good with either, really. If it’s either Rubio or Forina vs. two of the three, I’ll vote R or F.

    Does any of this make me a “likely voter”?

    Mind you, my favored candidates tend to self destruct early in the primaries …

    * — “Towards” is a perfectly good word. In PA English at least …