This week’s Polls analysis. Big problems for Trump. Why? 7 Days ending 10-26
This past week’s polls show some serious Donald Trump slippage. A deeper look into the polls suggests that his problems go well beyond losing the lead to Dr. Ben Carson in Iowa and Wisconsin. In today’s post we will show why his campaign is in real trouble. For the Democrats events of the week suggest a big Hillary win. Now for the details.
Polls, released Thursday and Friday, indicate that Dr. Ben Carson has surged ahead of Donald Trump in Iowa. Monday, the Monmouth poll showed that surge continues. A Wisconsin poll also shows Dr. Carson moving into the lead there.
Trump’s spectacular, and unconventional campaign, until now, had resulted in him taking a sizable lead in both state and national polls. There were, however, clear warning signs that his campaign had hit a wall–at a polling level well below the majority needed for nomination. We’ll look into what these signs were, but first note the reasons so many political pundits had expected his campaign to implode. This will provide the background for the data analysis.
Donald Trump, with his bigger-than-life bombastic, insulting, and egocentric style, combined with his celebrity, ensured him of intense early media attention–both traditional and on-line. I have seen reports that 90 percent of all television time given to the Republican race, thus far, centered around Trump. In short, to use the term so popular in social media like Facebook and Twitter, Donald Trump was “trending.” The Republican debates drew record television audiences, and this was largely due to Donald Trump. In Iowa the competition has overtones of a war about religion. Dr. Carson has made Christian themed appeals a mainstay of his campaign. Now, with him taking the lead over Trump in the latest polls there, Trump has upped the volume on an attack on Dr. Carson’s Seventh Day Adventist background. Trump now reminds most audiences that he is a Presbyterian, and Dr. Carson, he suggests, belongs to a fringe or cult religion. The separation of church and state, has been a mainstay of our constitutional government since its inception. The place where the line between legitimate values-based positions cross over that separation has not always been agreed upon. Not since John Kennedy was attacked as a “papist,” can I remember so much attention being placed on religion and religious differences by the leading candidates during a presidential campaign. Undercurrents against Romney’s Momonism, and the accusals that Obama was “really a Muslim,” were always fringe attacks not made by the front-running candidates themselves. How the current religion-based arguments will play before mainstream America will be one of the historically interesting questions that the 2016 election promises to answer. Clearly, though, they promise to attract considerable media attention–likely one of the intentions in making the arguments to begin with.
Now it has long been known that in early polling name recognition predominates. Most candidates, early on, have high “never heard of” numbers. In a general election not only has there been more time for the voters to become familiar with the candidates, but there is the party label to help guide them. Not so for the primaries, especially early on. Hence wide swings in early polling is not uncommon.
Trump and Jeb Bush, the pre-race favorite, had the highest recognition numbers among Republican voters. Trump seemed to have hit the mark in disparaging Bush as a “low-energy”type. The contrast betwen them was dramatic, and was visually apparent in television reporting. Trump regularly told audiences that he was a tough businessman, a political outsider, a take-charge guy–the kind you’d want leading the country. Bush, he implied, was a meek, fumbling nebbish–and to boot, the brother of the guy who got us into the unpopular Iraq war and gave us economic upheaval. In presenting himself as a “tough negotiator,” promising to be the “greatest jobs creator ever,” and his over-the-top illegal immigration stance, he apparently hit the right chords for a portion of the Republican electorate. As a result Trump surged to a big lead in the early Republican polls, and Jeb Bush’s numbers dropped like an anchor before leveling off at a still-in-the-race, but barely, at around 6 to 9 percent.
Despite gaining all of the headlines and media attention, Trump, thus far, hasn’t been able to consolidate his core support and build upon his standing. Donald Trump was Donald Trump and he couldn’t stop being Donald Trump. He planted the seeds of distrust among the very conservative voters by espousing liberal positions such as infrastructure spending and criticism of our involvement in Iraq and Syria. His insults didn’t stop with Jeb Bush. He infamously called women ‘fat pigs’, ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals,’ and then when Fox’s Megyn Kelly asked him about that, at the first debate, he suggested that she had been menstruating. He regularly blamed others for his own errors in judgment, as well as for every imaginable problem in the world. Hardly a day goes by without a new insult or blame. Trump has boasted of “gaming the system” to explain his four bankruptcies–hardly the kind of talk that would appeal to fiscal conservatives and the financial community. His three marriages and years spent in the gambling business are not exactly a model for “family values” voters. Party professionals knew that for a Republican candidate to win the general election he or she would have to make some inroads into the large Hispanic vote–who generally vote Democratic in large numbers. Trump’s message to send children of illegal immigrants back to Mexico, or wherever they came from, even when they were born in the country and lived their whole lives in the United States, was exactly the kind of policy that would run counter to Republican Party needs. And George Bush is still popular with Republicans. Yet, his poll numbers continued to show him leading the pack. When, we wondered, would his shtick get old with Republican voters? Now, in response to the polls showing a Carson lead in Iowa, Trump “fights back” by attacking Carson’s Seventh Day Adventist religion. I simply am not confident enough of how this will play out in states with sizable numbers of born again evangelist voters.
The first sign of trouble for Donald Trump’s campaign came when his national polling numbers stagnated in the 22 to 28 percent range. A deeper look at the polls data reveals that Trump has a backlog of troubles. To begin with, virtually every Republican voter has heard of Trump. Fully 90 percent of those had formed an opinion of him. That opinion was, far too often, negative. By the second week of October, 40 percent of all Republican voters had an “unfavorable” opinion of Trump. When the sample was expanded to include all voters, Trump’s “unfavorables” rose to 59 percent! Even so Trump led all candidates for the Republican nomination with 27% of those polled. In a few state polls, such as Nevada and South Carolina, Trump had even higher numbers. His New Hampshire numbers remain strong. Clearly, Trump had touched a certain segment of the population.
One-third to one-half of his supporters came from the Tea Party self-identifiers. A social psychological profile of the rest of Trump’s supporters as disgruntled and alienated has been speculated about, but there is little hard data to determine the accuracy of those speculations. It appears, however, that once past his hard-core supporters, Trump’s national support has leveled off.
It is equally clear that the more he spouted what I’ve called “Donaldisms”–his insults, blames, and shameless self-praise–the higher his “unfavorables” rose. Where then could his campaign pick up support? Will Trump gain from the winnowing out of the field that is sure to come? The data suggest otherwise. When asked to name their second choices, Trump trails all of his main competitors. Cruz seems to appeal to some of the same Tea Party population, but, since he also has conservative self-identifiers, it may well prove more likely that Ted Cruz will pick off some of Trump’s support rather than the other way around. Rupert Murdoch, who controls Fox News among an empire of international media, all but gave his blessing to Dr. Ben Carson recently. This means more attention given to Carson from that bastion of conservative Republican network. More trouble for Trump.
Last week three state polls, two from Iowa and one from Wisconsin, suggested that Trump’s campaign’s hidden problems, as noted above, are finally manifesting themselves in his top-line numbers. Both Iowa polls had Carson surging past Trump. One, the Quinnipiac poll, released on Thursday, October 22, had Carson now leading Trump by 8 points, 28 to 20 percent. The other one, the highly thought of Des Moines Register poll, reporting Friday, October 22, showed similar results with Carson leading Trump 28 per cent to 19 percent. In Wisconsin, The Wall Street Journal poll, on Thursday, had Carson edging Trump 20 percent to 19 percent. Trump also fared worse than Carson when matched against Hillary. A CBS Iowa poll, released Sunday, was a bit of an outlier, though it still showed change in the wrong direction for Trump, as it now had him and Carson tied at 27 percent. That finding was challenged by the Monmouth Poll released Monday, October 26, which showed Carson’s lead in Iowa expanding to double digits. That poll had him leading Trump 32 percent to 18 percent. Two months ago the Monmouth poll had Trump and Carson tied at 23 percent. The number of voters who claim to have at least a “strong preference” for their candidate is now 62 percent. Wisconsin’s primary comes later than the Iowa Caucus, so the poll’s main significance is that it reinforces the suggestion that Trump’s support has hit a wall. Two state polls, it will be pointed out by Trump supporters, do not a national election make. A bit deeper look into the Quinnipiac data suggest that the change in direction away from Trump is significant.
Trump’s high “unfavorables,” in the national polls is problematic in Iowa as well. 30 per cent of the Republicans in the Iowa poll said that they “definitely could not” support Trump for the nomination. By comparison, only 4% said that about Dr. Carson. The dislike of Trump appears to be personal, and not issue driven, since the same sample of Republicans selected Trump over Carson in terms of who can better handle the economy, taxes and illegal immigration. Demographically, women and social conservatives gave Carson a big boost over Trump. Self-identified Tea Party’ers favored Trump. “Born-again evangelists” and “very conservative” voters held much higher “favorable” views of Dr. Carson. Only 3 percent said they hadn’t heard enough about Trump to form a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. It seems that the more voters get to know Trump, the less they like him. We will have to see some more polls before we can pronounce Donald Trump’s campaign “dead.” But clearly it has peaked and his hopes for expanding his base is on life-support.
Carson is now the “trending” candidate. Subjectively, I had thought Dr. Carson’s performance in the second debate weak. His poor understanding of civil liberties and the separation of church and state, should have relegated Carson to the born-again evangelist demographic. And he figured to lose some of that vote to Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum. Perhaps, Trump’s attack on Carson’s religious preference will change the latter’s numbers. Republicans, in polls thus far, have a favorable view of Dr. Carson. With Murdoch’s support, and his surge in the polls, Carson’s candidacy must now be taken seriously. It appears that it is his time of the election cycle to shine. In my next post I will attempt to see beyond the thick fog of early primary season noise to hazard a thoughtful guess as to who will be the likely finalists for the Republican primaries which don’t begin until February with the Iowa caucus.
On the Democrats side, events overshadow polls this week. Joe Biden decided not to run–at least for now–and Hillary’s strong performance in the Benghazi “tribunal” should mean some big changes by next week’s polls. We’ll look at them then. It should be remembered that a very small percentage of the electorate watched Hillary’s Benghazi testimony. Public perceptions are likely to be molded by media reports of the testimony and, thus, its effects on the general electorate will likely not be as significant as for Democratic voters. Clinton is the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination. Within a few weeks, Hillary should pick up most of the Biden vote. Some increased support should accrue to Sanders, as the only real Hillary opposition. But, not enough to change the outcome.
One problem persists for Democrats: The debates are a source of free advertising and television debate ratings are likely to reflect how competitive the races are perceived; more than twice as many viewers tuned in to the last Republican debate as compared to the Democratic one.