Is Donald Trump Winning The Polls — And Losing The Nomination?
As the Donald Trump phenomenon continues — the press is constantly wrong about his durability, the head of Fox News kowtows to him and doesn’t completely stick up for his organization’s star anchorwoman who dared to ask him tough questions like journalism profs teach their students to do, polls show him in the lead — could it be that he’s on a path to losing the GOP nomination? Nate Silver, who has a good track record with polls, thinks so.
Silver points to the many political figures of both parties over the years who at this stage before a Presidential election seemed like they were on track to nominated, but their campaigns and candidacies fizzled. He then writes:
But the problem isn’t just that the national polls at this stage in the race lack empirical power to predict the nomination; it’s also that they describe a fiction. I don’t mean to suggest that Donald Trump’s support in the polls is “fake.” I have no doubt that some people really love him or that he’d be the favorite if you held a national, winner-take-all Republican primary tomorrow. However, the “election” these polls describe is hypothetical in at least five ways:
*They contemplate a vote today, but we’re currently 174 days from the Iowa caucuses.
*They contemplate a national primary, but states vote one at a time or in small groups.
*They contemplate a race with 17 candidates, but several candidates will drop out before Iowa and several more will drop out before the other states vote.
*They contemplate a winner-take-all vote, but most states are not winner-take-all.
*They contemplate a vote among all Republican-leaning registered voters or adults, but in fact only a small fraction of them will turn out for primaries and caucuses.
This is why it’s exasperating that the mainstream media has become obsessed with how Trump is performing in these polls.
He notes that there are many other factors that are indicators of success besides polls. And ends with this:
It’s possible — pretty easy, in fact — for a candidate to improve his standing in the polls while he simultaneously lowers his chance to become the nominee. Currently, the average GOP voter has a favorable view of seven Republican candidates; being agreeable won’t help you stand out in the near term, even though the nomination is a consensus-building process in the long term.
What about being a jerk? If you can make yourself the center of attention — and no candidate in modern memory has been more skilled at that than Trump — you can potentially turn the polls into a referendum on your candidacy. It’s possible that many GOP voters are thinking about the race in just that way now. First, they ask themselves whether they would vote for Trump; if not, they then choose among the 16 other candidates. The neat thing about this is that you can overwhelmingly lose the majority in the referendum — 75 percent of Republicans are not voting for Trump — and yet still hold the plurality so long as the “no” vote is divided among a sufficient number of alternatives.
Another trade-off comes from entrenching your appeal with a narrow segment of the electorate at the expense of broadening your coalition. I’ve seen a lot written about how Trump’s candidacy heralds a new type of populism. If it does, this type of populism isn’t actually very popular. Trump’s overall favorability ratings are miserable, about 30 percent favorable and 60 percent unfavorable, and they haven’t improved (whatever gains he’s made among Republicans have been offset by his declines among independents and Democrats). To some extent, the 30 percent may like Trump precisely because they know the 60 percent don’t like him. More power to the 30 percent: I have plenty of my own issues with the political establishment. But running a campaign that caters to (for lack of a better term) contrarians is exactly how you ensure that you’ll never reach a majority.
At FiveThirtyEight, however, we’re fairly agnostic about what will happen to Trump’s polling in the near term. It’s possible that he’s already peaked — or that he’ll hold his support all the way through Iowa and New Hampshire, possibly even winning one or two early states, as similar candidates like Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich have in the past.4 Our emphatic prediction is simply that Trump will not win the nomination. It’s not even clear that he’s trying to do so.
As I have noted consistently here on TMV and in the Cagle Cartoon column that I used to do: the conventional wisdom is all the rate until it isn’t, and then pundits kind of sheepishly sweep it under the proverbial rug hoping on one will notice.
It is NOT a “given” that Donald Trump cannot win the nomination. As of today, in monitoring more talk radio and news stations (on good ‘ol Sirius XM radio while on a long drive) it was clear the conventional wisdom is starting to shift. No longer are pundits saying, “No way can he be nominated!” Now they’re hedging and talking about him not as a colorful if boorish candidate but as someone who is outside the realm of normal political measurement — and could well go the distance.’
But most of this mainstream media punditry is all really “my gut says” by people highly paid to state with certainty something they do not know is certain. (I listened to one top analyst on a cable show give a take on Trump and wondered: “They PAY this person to say this? It’s regurgitating newspaper and blog headlines!” It was No-Duh City.)
Silver’s argument is more solid here. But:
1. The conventional wisdom and punditry in general involves personal analysis and guesswork. No one knows for sure what will happen.
2. Trump’s appeal could be an underlying desire by many for a kind of American strong man a la Vladimir Putin, or he could be a parallel to Italy’s former Prime Minister, the powerful, rich and also boorish publisher Silvio Berlusconi.
3. We’re seeing in the way Trump is being embraced how, yes, Americans can be political lemmings. One cable show today noted Trump supporters saying they believe he’d be a great President because they saw how he found people to do tasks on The Apprentice.
Silver’s is one of the best, politically logical arguments yet.
The question is whether Trump will continue to defy political logic, just as he defies the standards of minimum classiness that most candidates for the Presidency have at least attempted to show publically in our country’s history. Being “in your face” and saying what you want –and getting away with it — trumps policy. But the bad news for the conservative movement is that his followers who are so devoted to him may go along with him and stray from 21st century conservative orthodoxy.