Breaking down the polls: Signs of Trump peaking out, Clinton maintains lead over Sanders. Updated Tuesday.
The latest polls as of this writing show Donald Trump’s voter support leveling off or declining. Jeb Bush has his challenges as well. After two polls last week showed Bernie Sanders moving into a small lead over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, two new ones show her moving back into a comfortable lead both in Iowa and nationally. I consider only respected, probability-based polls. Caveat: Polls this far removed from the election are notoriously volatile. Now for the details.
Trump’s problems are three-fold: 1) His support has leveled off to about 24%. 2) His unfavorable ratings are high, the highest of any Republican candidate, and 3) Virtually every Republican voter has heard of him. Taking the last point first, it should be noted that one of the most significant variables in early polling is name recognition. Donald Trump’s celebrity made for high name recognition going into the first debate (Hillary’s, on the Democratic side, as well). Trump’s controversial utterances insured that his name would get a lot of publicity. Bad as well as good, it seems. Going into the first debate, about 90% of the Republicans polled knew of Trump. By the end of the second debate, he was known by virtually every Republican voter. Thus, the fact that the number of respondents supporting him has actually declined by about 3 to 4% from the first debate to a few days after the second debate is doubly problematic for his campaign. Trump didn’t pick up any increased support once he became familiar to that last tenth of Republican voters. In contrast, his two closest competitors early on, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, are unknown to 28 and 30 percent of the voters respectively. Jeb Bush, the pre-debate choice to win the nomination, also has relatively low number of voters in the “never heard of” category–7%. Candidates generally see the “never heard of” category as a pool of potential supporters. The shrinking of Trump’s “never heard of” category means the contrary–fewer potential supporters from that grouping. The problematic aspect of this shrunk category, for Donald becomes clear when one looks at his unfavorability numbers. 59% of the sample of all Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. Among only Republicans, his unfavorable numbers drop to 40%, but is the worst of any of the Republican hopefuls. Notably, Carson was viewed unfavorably by only 10% of registered Republicans and Fiorina by 21%. Jeb Bush also has a problem with unfavorable opinions of him-38%. Trump’s “no opinion” reservoir, however, is the lowest of all of the Republican hopefuls. Only 9% of the Republican sample answered “no opinion” about Trump, the second lowest of all Republican hopefuls. Taking all of these numbers into account, it seems that Trump’s campaign is in trouble. His support numbers have stagnated (actually declined by a few points), while he is viewed unfavorably by more Republicans than any other candidate, and the vast majority of them have already formed an opinion about him. Although he still leads the race for the nomination, his numbers are far short of what is required to win it. Further support will have to come from supporters of other candidates, seemingly possible, as long as they are still in the race, if Trump somehow alters his style in an attempt to change his unfavorability numbers. The latter doesn’t seem likely, or even possible, given Trump’s personality. He could pick up some supporters when other candidates drop out of the race (Note: Gov. Walker dropped out this week and yet Trump’s numbers didn’t appreciate–not that Walker had that much support at the end, but his earlier supporters had to go to another candidate, and it doesn’t look like that one was Trump). Looking over the list of candidates who are most likely to drop out, if their poll results continue low, it’s difficult to see where Trump’s necessary additional support could come from. With an irreverent approach to religion, three divorces, and his history with gambling casinos, he doesn’t exhibit the kind of “family values” necessary to pick up religious right candidates’ supporters (such as Mike Huckabee or Ben Carson, should their campaigns dissolve). Ted Cruz’ backers might migrate (no pun intended) over to Trump, but, at this juncture, Cruz’ candidacy seems far from over and he might well be thinking in terms of Trump’s supporters coming over to him! SUNDAY, Sept. 27 UPDATE: A Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll released Sunday showed Trump’s lead dwindling to just 1 percent. The good news for Trump supporters is that Dr. Carson is the one closing in on him, and, I suspect, that as his support is based so heavily on the right-of-center conservatives as well as the religious right, (and those also looking for a new face while being turned off by Trump’s unceasing personal attack style) won’t last past the first two primaries, if that. His momentum, however, is substantial. This should help Carson since at this time this poll indicates that Trump’s momentum has been halted. When WSJ/NBC pollsters added in both the respondent’s first and second choices, Dr. Carson actually leads Trump 35% to 31%, Fiorina and Rubio are tied, in the WSJ/NBC national poll, at 11%, still 10 points behind Trump, but narrowing the gap. Counting both first and second choices, Fiorina has 28% with Rubio just two points behind her. Bush, at 7%, is like a horse who broke slowly and hopes for a late finish when the front runners tire each other out–don’t forget he still has that large pile of cash to use on advertising, and the race is a marathon. Still his showing thus far is anemic. And adding in his second choice numbers still leaves him with only 19%. Tuesday Sept. 29 update: A new PPP poll (Dem) of North Carolina voters shows Trump maintaining his support there, though his momentum has leveled off. Fiorina and Rubio have passed up a fading Jeb Bush in the North Carolina Poll. The South still appears safe for the Republicans in the general election. Carson does the best, in North Carolina, in head-to-head comparisons with each of the three Democratic leaders.
On the Democratic side, Hillary’s trust numbers have taken a significant blow in the face of constant Republican criticism of her use of her private server for government business. Yet, apart from New Hampshire, where Sanders has a ten point advantage over Hillary, polls show that her lead over Bernie Sanders is still substantial. In a Michigan poll, she leads Sanders 41% t0 22%. In Iowa 43% to 22%, in the latest poll, a reversal of one a week earlier that gave Sanders a ten point edge. Nationally, Clinton leads Sanders by an average 42% to 24%. These numbers, from three different polling organizations, are so similar that it seems reasonable to give credence to them. It should be noted that a recent Bloomberg poll found Hillary’s lead to be only 9%. If Joe Biden enters the race, we’ll have to reexamine her chances at the nomination. Even with his candidacy unannounced and uncertain, Biden still tied Bernie Sanders for second place at 22% in the Michigan poll. In Sunday’s WSJ/NBC poll, both Sanders and, to a lesser extent Joe Biden, have gained on Hillary. She still leads Sanders, in that poll, but by only 7% at 42.% to 37%. Biden gets 17% in the three-way race. When Joe Biden’s name is removed from the poll, Hillary’s lead jumps to a comfortable 15%–53% to 38%. Clearly Joe Biden attracts some of the same moderate vote that Hillary appeals to. Even apart from the e-mail controversy, Clinton always figured to experience a period where her candidacy would give the appearance of faltering. She had very high numbers when thought of as the Secretary of State. Once she became a candidate, Republicans who had previously viewed her favorably would migrate back to their party, and these days that seems to require demonizing the Democratic opponent. Still, her momentum has slipped and she will have to be careful not to antagonize Sanders’ supporters, she’ll need them in the general election. The e-mail attacks on her have had their effect. She has lost considerable ground in polls abut honesty, and, for the moment at least, has gone down in match-ups with various Republican hopefuls. Biden remains the joker in the deck. I don’t think he wants to be just a Hillary-killer, and will enter only if his private polls indicate that he has a real chance to win the nomination. Monday’s WSJ/NBC poll shows Biden doing super in various match-ups with Republican hopefuls–but that’s probably due to his not yet being in the race and getting the right-wing’s contumely. In Tuesday’s PPP poll, Hillary has a small, but sufficient lead over Biden, whose supporters generally have Hillary as their second choice. Sanders runs a distant third in the North Carolina poll. Hillary’s numbers clearly would be hurt by a Biden candidacy.
There is a long way to go in each of the primary races, and large swings in support are more the norm than the exception. Yet it’s safe to say that, at this point, Trump’s candidacy, though still leading the pack, is nowhere near the number needed for nomination, and gives noticeable signs of peaking out. His best chances would appear to be to gain Cruz’s support and for the field to remain large, going into the convention. Carson has a reservoir of good will among Republican voters, but his campaign looks to me to have a temporary flash quality. Fiorina is on the rise. But I’ve earlier commented on why I believe her numbers, though likely to rise in the short-term, will eventually flatten out. Other media sources feel the same way. So, the main challengers for the nomination are still likely to come from candidates who are now back in the pack: Bush, Rubio, possibly even Cruz, and, as a longer shot, Christie. On the Democratic side, though Sanders has an enthusiastic group of supporters, as I’ve also noted earlier, as a self-proclaimed Socialist, I think his race for the Presidency is doomed. I’ve not seen signs that America has moved this far to the left of center for him to win a general election, although Sanders does have a dedicated group of supporters. Taken together the polls results may entice the almost ready, yet somewhat reluctant, Joe Biden to throw his hat in the ring.