Facebook > Email > More Pinterest Print Twitter Play

Alas, Polling Results are Real

So what does that mean for the Donald Trump “problem”?

By Comments

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump walks on stage before speaking to a rally at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015.
AP Photo/Paul Vernon

In August, I noted that Republicans were “starting to get seriously nervous about their Trump problem, without fully understanding the nature of the problem, or its severity.” Donald Trump, at that point, was the frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination, and had been for much of the summer. Many on the right were clearly inclined to disavow him—historically, Trump has not been a Republican, much less a conservative—and to dismiss his popularity as a mirage, a sort of sinister summer fling on the part of a cynical electorate with an appetite for political theater.

Now here we are in November, barely two months away from the Iowa caucuses, which will be held on February 1. Trump remains the frontrunner for the Republican nomination; his lead has actually grown since I wrote that ominous post in August. At this point, Americans on both sides of the aisle are starting to get nervous about Trump’s apparently durable popularity. “‘We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job,’’ as one Republican strategist told the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa earlier this month. And as he continued, Americans can’t take much comfort in the fact that a major party’s suboptimal presidential nominee will inevitably mitigated by the candidate chosen by the other: “What if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?”

At the same time it remains the case that many Americans are failing to fully grapple with the Trump problem. Those who would like to see Trump’s popularity as a mirage have been forced to retool their arguments. The “summer fling” theory is no longer tenable. A new hypothesis has emerged in its place: the polls are wrong.

Exhibit A comes from the New Yorker’s November 16 issue, which contains one of those amazingly long essays for which the magazine is rightly famous—a historically well-sourced and analytically compelling piece of reporting from Jill LePore on the role of polls in American politics, which concludes that contemporaneous polling is unreliable, and vaguely pernicious:

The modern public-opinion poll has been around since the Great Depression, when the response rate—the number of people who take a survey as a percentage of those who were asked—was more than ninety. The participation rate—the number of people who take a survey as a percentage of the population—is far lower. Election pollsters sample only a minuscule portion of the electorate, not uncommonly something on the order of a couple of thousand people out of the more than two hundred million Americans who are eligible to vote. The promise of this work is that the sample is exquisitely representative. But the lower the response rate the harder and more expensive it becomes to realize that promise…Meanwhile, polls are wielding greater influence over American elections than ever.

Exhibit B comes from Nate Silver, the founder and editor of FiveThirtyEight, who published an open letter yesterday—“Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls”—in which he argues, based on his expertise as a statistician, that today’s polls are snapshots of an electorate that has yet to begin voting, and which may be swayed by intervening events:

…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 would encourage you to read both of the aforementioned pieces, which are well-informed and well-argued. At the same time, I continue to think that the Trump problem is real, and I can’t second Silver’s call for calm, for three reasons.

First: Regardless of how reliable any of these individual polls are, these are the only polls available, and for months now, they’ve shown Trump as the frontrunner. Silver is correct to say that their predictive value may be affected by unanticipated events, but since those events are unanticipated we have no reason to revise our expectations in anticipation of them.

Second: People are second-guessing the polls because they can’t get their heads around the idea that Trump could be the Republican nominee. I’m sympathetic to that intuition, because I agree that the prospect is gruesome; Trump is an abhorrent individual who is in no way equipped to lead a canned-food drive, much less the free world. But the grim reality is that many Republicans don’t see it that way. In August, I passed along Greg Gutfeld’s warning for Republicans who felt that Trump had crossed some imaginary line with his comments about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly: “Again, once you’re okay with the McCain joke, there are no limits up or down.” Trump’s supporters applauded him for sneering at a prisoner of war; on what basis would we expect such people to recoil at his plan to put American mosques under government surveillance?

And if you look at the RealClearPolitics polling averages—setting aside Trump—the results for the other candidates “make sense,” more or less. Ben Carson surged this autumn, on the basis of his appealing personal story and temperament, only to see his support coming down after his surge in the polls elicited a corresponding surge in media scrutiny, which exposed a troubling, Sarah Palin-esque tendency to vacuity. The other candidates with notable trendlines are Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both of whom are a cut above most of the candidates running and are campaigning accordingly.

And third: As I wrote in August, Trump’s defeat would only mean the end of America’s proximate problem. The underlying problem is that one of our two major parties is so receptive to someone so hateful, toxic, divisive and belligerent; Trump is only a symptom of that problem.

The good news, though, is that the proximate problem does have a proximate solution. I’ll save that for tomorrow, in anticipation of the holiday weekend.

Related Content

  • WUSRPH

    Good analysis.

  • Jed

    “based on his expertise as a statistician, that today’s polls are snapshots of an electorate that has yet to begin voting”

    actually, this isn’t a statistical analysis. this is based on his status as a wannabe political scientist. political science says that election results will be driven by economic performance in the year prior to the election (in other words, the period starting, not ending, now). that doesn’t have much to do with february, however.

    more pertinent to february, social scientists and statisticians would also argue that polls are not predictive, full stop, for the same reason that regression analysis is not predictive, plus a few others (people overreport their own likelihood to actually vote, for example). so silver might say that. except that this would undercut his entire claim to fame and reason for getting up in the morning … silver is a hack.

    the better argument, which i haven’t seen in the media yet, but which is also a product of political science, is that polls in advance of elections tend to skew towards protest candidates (a la independents and 3rd parties), but then when it is time to vote everyone gets in line.

    trump, carson, cruz, and fiorina will not win the nomination, and this latest point is the reason we know it.

    • Indiana Pearl

      Silver has a higher accuracy rate than most. That’s not saying much . . .

      • Jed

        all he does is average polls together.

        • Indiana Pearl

          They all do. He does something more, a “secret sauce.” It works.

    • wessexmom

      Yeah, right. Silver is such a hack that he accurately predicted the outcome in ALL 50 states in 2012, which was unprecedented. Romney’s pathetic pollsters where telling him he actually had a chance.
      http://mashable.com/2012/11/07/nate-silver-wins/#F_i.0pJrWaqw

  • John Johnson

    I think that Frank Luntz does an excellent job getting a good cross section of qualified voters in front of us to share their thoughts. I have been surprised at how many have positive ratings for Trump. It seems they are not so much enamored with Trump as they are totally put off by “professional politicians” and the wussy political correctness they bring to the table. Trumps fears no one and comes across as the alpha male. People like that and somewhat overlook the false, goofy and embellished statements. After all, don’t all politicians lie, obfuscate, make deals in the dark, and kiss Big Money’s butts? Trump bows to no one…he already has money. He pounds on Wall Street and Big Banking. People like it. He sticks his finger in China and Mexico’s eyes. People think both have been playing us for fools. They like it.

    • Erica Grieder

      Trump is an ersatz alpha at best. if he had put his dad’s money in an index fund in the 1980s he’d be worth considerably more today, and he’s afraid of lil ol Megyn Kelly. No?

      • Indiana Pearl

        She nailed him.

        • BostonTW

          No, he nailed her, exposing her lack of journalistic ethics and skills.

      • dave in texas

        Yeah, not so much an alpha male as just a bully.

        • John Johnson

          What are most alpha males, Dave?

          • Erica Grieder

            Well, they’re alpha, for starters.

          • When did standing up for yourself become bullying?

          • dave in texas

            To me, the difference is that there’s actual substance behind a real alpha male, while a bully is all bluster. A real alpha male would have an actual plan for, say, the immigration issue, not just some BS blather about “We’ll make Mexico pay for a terrific wall.” That’s the crux of it. Substance versus bluster. Trump is all bluster.

            I’m about to hit the road for a few days. Everybody have a great Thanksgiving.

          • John Johnson

            The term alpha male is used primarily in the animal kingdom. It is all about the ability to fight off the competition with size, strength and bluster. That guy slaps the others around and intimidates. The other point is that the females aren’t looking for the most intelligent male to hook up with. From my observations, neither do voters.

          • Indiana Pearl

            Females are looking for the mate that will help her raise her offspring to reproductive age – Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” That includes a whole host of characteristics. By “fittest” Darwin meant those individuals who produced the most offspring, not the strongest, the prettiest, the smartest. Biology lady talking now . . .

            You DO realize that there are alpha FEMALES?

          • John Johnson

            But of course…I married one.

          • Erica Grieder

            agreed. and happy thanksgiving to you too!

      • John Johnson

        Few know how he got his start. Few care. Few remember his dust up with Kelly. Those that do where probably thinking at the time, “Wow! Most conservative politicians running for office pander to FOX; most Libs run to MSNBC. This guy isn’t sucking up to anyone.” With regards to Megyn Kelly…I love her. She is the only one on Fox I watch regularly. She didn’t deserve the blast from Trump, but she sure handled it well.

        • Erica Grieder

          Yes, she’s ten times the man that Trump is.

          • Unwound

            youve made pretty clear to everyone what you think of trump, what do you think of the people who are his (likely) voters? misguided? swindled? easily led? morons? bigots?

          • Shari Pashilk

            yes

          • maggie

            thanks for the upvote Shari…have a great day (or evening) 😉 cheers, maggie

    • wessexmom

      Cruz and Trump will both get beat in the general. If Cruz is the nominee the election will be a Goldwater-level catastrophe for the GOP.

      • John Johnson

        Opinions are simply bets without money involved. You might be right. I don’t think so.

    • Indiana Pearl
  • Indiana Pearl
    • John Johnson

      You just latch onto whoever is broadcasting what you want to hear, don’t ya? Since we are talking about questionable poll numbers, I am sure you are not believing the ones showing most here in agreement about blocking Syrians entry and the substantial number of Repub candidates who would beat Clinton if the vote was held today.

      • Indiana Pearl

        I see you have your Archie Bunker hat on this morning.

        • John Johnson

          Don’t I always?

          • Indiana Pearl

            Yup, when you respond to me.

          • Stop acting like Edith.

          • Indiana Pearl

            Off the wagon again . . . oit-of-control fatty.

  • “The underlying problem is that one of our two major parties is so receptive to someone so hateful, toxic, divisive and belligerent;”
    Erica surely you realize this describes President Obama to a tee.
    Trump will not be a factor, Cruz is the one to watch. The establishment republicans will support Rubio but his gang of 8 stance finished him.

    • John Johnson

      Amen.

      • Erica Grieder

        I was thinking earlier today that Trump is the Republican Obama: they both pander to the baser impulses of their respective bases. But that’s a post for another day.

        • I agree that is why I think Trump will not be a factor, republicans are smarter than dems.

        • John Johnson

          I’ll look forward to that post. I would never vote for either of them, but understand how they appeal to many and get them fired up. They are both atypical.

        • WUSRPH

          I tend to agree…however, I think the “baser instincts” Trump appeals to are “baser” than most that you find among Democrats. Class and wealth envy is a lot less damaging to a society that racial, religious and ethnic hatred and the rejection of science and accumulated knowledge.

          The GOP’s receptiveness to what Trump is preaching is not something that resulted from Trump’s candidacy. It was there before him….He just drags it up out of the swill of anger and hate into the light so that it can be more easily recognized.

          A number of studies have shown that this is an increasingly divided nation, perhaps as divided as any time in its history. To me this raises the threat that that, in their self-proclaimed righteousness, many from the far right up will not accept the election of any but their candidate…..

          Fortunately, this was not been the case in 1990 when, despite evidence that could have shown his victory, the Democratic candidate accepted the outcome of that contested election. But the fear and hate that drives that division has greatly increased since 1990 as show by the way the haters have reacted to President Obama. As such, I fear that many Republicans would not show that same dedication to the lesson of 1800 should their candidate lose such a close election next year and that this country could be torn apart by that refusal.

          • Is what you wrote true, of course not. But then that’s why you’re a democrat, you actually believe what you wrote.

          • wessexmom

            Hmm…It seems quite obvious that Erica leans right ideologically–at the very least.
            No Democrat, or any reasonable person, for that matter, would ever compare Obama to Trump because the link is patently absurd. Perhaps the two come together in Ms. Grieder’s mind because she fears their political powers of persuasion.

          • Erica Grieder

            Yes, I agree. I actually think what Obama panders to more is the intellectual vanity of the left more than its class envy but either way, as you say, that’s less “base” than the baser instincts Trump is pandering too.

        • Trump is the Republican Obama? That is not a defensible thesis, at least if you go by personality, policies or rhetoric. It’s frankly discrediting to even suggest such a thing, for both you and for Texas Monthly.

          Also, what are the “baser impulses” to which Obama has appealed? Universal health care? Immigration reform? Rescuing the economy from the worst crisis since the Great Depression? Trying to end two wars?

          If the argument is that Obama over the past two years has been more overtly partisan and critical of his ideological opponents, I hope it takes into account the previous five years of unprecedented partisanship, obstruction and demonization undertaken by those opponents, at the cost of nearly driving the nation into default and even lowering its credit rating. And even if we were to accept that Obama’s response has been too negative, I’d love to see a place where Obama appealed to his base’s “baser instincts” at a level equivalent to Trump calling Mexicans rapists, labeling John McCain a coward or calling for the registration and surveillance of Muslims and their houses of worship.

          • Rules of Blazon

            It’s a bog-standard Erica Grieder false equivalence. Lather, rinse, repeat.

          • jammerjim

            Yep. Pretty sad. I don’t have to agree with someone’s opinions to respect them, but this is ludicrous.

          • John Johnson

            He’s a liar; has a head on him like Humpty Dumpty; is too lazy to read briefings; too busy working on his golf game to attend D-Day ceremonies; initiated an ill thought out, lobbyist written healthcare law; sends Al Sharpton to Ferguson as his emissary; has a wishy-washy foreign policy; spouts off condemingly about racial incidents before facts are in, which has added to racial tension; has allowed Too Big to Fail banks to grow bigger than ever; and after promising to reign in Wall Street, has done nothing their either. I could go on.

          • Vik Verma

            Amen Paul

      • WUSRPH

        Take a look at the numbers on Cruz in the National Review article I posted on the prior thread. They indicate that he will have real problems getting support outside about 25% of the GOP and especially from those whose concern is winning next year. As such, he may be what the NR calls “the flavor of the week.”

        • John Johnson

          I see all that, WUSRPH. I’ve listened and read all about him never making it to the top, but when I see all the people still looking at Trump I know that they are not going to peel off and be satisfied with one of the conventional candidates that the GOP hierarchy would like to see on the ballot. Rubio has the best shot, if not Cruz, but I think Cruz would rip him up in a heads up, one on one debate. That’s my take.

          • wessexmom

            Dems can only hope and pray that Cruz will be the GOP’s nominee! If you think he can win the general then you & Ms. Grieder are out of your collective minds. Ms. Grieder already lost her shirt betting on Perry, which was equally preposterous.
            Ted is the TRUE foreign born son of a Communist revolutionary and a megalomaniac delusional enough to believe there really are enough wing nut religious zealots in America to OUT vote women and minorities, not to mention sane people!

            PS: Hillary Clinton would shred Cruz in a debate. Bring it on!

          • John Johnson

            Hey, you know what they say about opinions. Everyone has one. Some are stronger than others, and many, like wagers on a horse race, are going to be wrong. Look at all of you who won the “Obama is going to be our next President” bet, only to turn around and lose the “Obama is going to be a good President” one. I do not know who is going to be the GOP nominee. It looks to be either Rubio or Cruz. Two Cubans. Who’d have guessed? Current polls show both of these guys beating Clinton if a vote were held today. You think it’s going to get better for her; I think she’s toast. Her righteous indignation, “what difference does it make?” blow ups during debate questioning and charges made by either Repub guy will not gain her any points. She’s damaged goods. Only a fool would vote for her, but there are a lot of them out there…as Obama’s last win reflected. We shall see.

          • wessexmom

            Obama was the first president since Eisenhower to win both elections with more than 52% of the vote so the majority of Americans do not agree with you. I hope Cruz IS the nominee-Maybe that will finally put the stake in Cruz and his wing nuts. You must admit that our junior senator does bear a remarkable resemblance to a young Grandpa Munster.

          • John Johnson

            Like I said, there are a lot of fools out there. More all the time, it would seem. I am not sure Cruz is the right choice, but I know Hillary is not. With regards to appearance, how can you make fun of Cruz and not have any comment about Clinton’s looks?

          • wessexmom

            Because there’s nothing wrong with Clinton’s looks. (She looks a lot better and younger than Bill does these days!) Cruz is a creepy dough boy, who looks like he could have stepped right off the set of HOWDY DOODY or an early 60’s episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, playing “the alien in human disguise”. I mean WHO uses or has ever used the expression “Jiminy Cricket” as emphasis!? No one except Cruz, that’s who!
            As for Trump, he looks like one of those bird-like characters from a Dr. Seuss book, but much fatter and orange all over–except for the white outline of his tanning bed goggles. Mmm, Mmm, Mmm. What a lineup you have, GOP!

        • Indiana Pearl

          Mr. W, did you see this poll? Racism is a problem.

          Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

          http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/24/us/racism-problem-cnn-kff-poll/

  • Rules of Blazon

    Trump’s consistently solid numbers this far in – and everyone else’s anemic numbers – have Trump looking more and more like the Republican nominee with every passing day, and there aren’t a whole lot of those left before voting.

    Trump is not a “protest candidate” – he gives voice to everything ugly lurking beneath the surface of Republican skins. He is the logical extension of everything Republicans have been running on for the last several decades.

    Anyone who is even considering voting for any Republican this cycle absolutely deserves Trump as their nominee.

  • wessexmom

    Note to Ms. Grieder: Ted Cruz is every bit as “abhorrent” as Trump and would be even more disastrous as leader of the free world! Cruz is equally narcissistic and much less accomplished than Trump; In fact, our junior senator has never shown he can do anything well except argue bombastically in court or behind a lectern.

    Cruz is an right wing extremist who associates with INSANELY religious zealots and he will NEVER survive the close level of scrutiny he will surely receive from the national media if he continues to rise in the polls. You (along with Mr. Burka and Evan Smith) have been bamboozled by this political swindler!

    • David Wilshire

      “You (along with Mr. Burka and Evan Smith) have been bamboozled by this political swindler!”

      Much like the “bamboozling” we’ve all been victim of at the hands of our “Community Organizer” President. I have to take a shower every time I see Obama (or Hillary) on tv, lying to our faces and thinking we’re too dumb to catch on to his deceptive words and actions!!!

      He travels overseas to verbally assault the American people in a time that demands patriotism and leadership. Neither he or Hillary have either trait!!!!

      • John Johnson

        Obama is the Worst President Ever. He is a petulant, hardheaded, ill prepared, egotistical, racist, unrepentant liar …who can read a TelePrompTer well. Hillary is not a racist, and is better prepared, but has all the other traits.

        • Indiana Pearl

          Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

          • John Johnson

            I lather, rinse, repeat as a public service to those who have not been paying attention until now. While “thank you’s” might be in order, I do not want any. I do this with a purely altruistic heart.

          • Indiana Pearl

            No. You do it because you have Obama Derangement Syndrome.

            Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

          • gordo

            Hey, you two. And others here. It gets tiresome reading your repetitive posts excoriating each other on every topic raised in this blog. Please be respectful, and stick to the topic. Take your axes and grind them somewhere else. And please knock off the personal attacks on the moderator (s). Nobody cares what you think about them.

          • Indiana Pearl

            I have NEVER attacked Ms. Grieder. I seldom agree with her politics, but she does an excellent job in a male-dominated business and deserves praise.

          • John Johnson

            And to you and yours, Pearl.

      • wessexmom

        Stick to the topic at hand–Ted Cruz!

        If you must equate patriotism and leadership with sending more American servicemen and women to fight and possibly die in a Middle Eastern desert for no good reason, then I’m sure you also support re-instating the draft–unless you and/or YOUR KIDS are ALREADY serving combat duty overseas. (And we know you’re not by your senseless rhetoric.)
        And this time, there will be NO deferments like the FIVE (Yes 5!) TRICKY DICK the Draft Dodger CHANEY secured!

    • Erica Grieder

      It’s oddly refreshing to be accused of having been bamboozled rather than being a bamboozler! 🙂

  • emptyk

    What is it that Republicans stand for that allows a Trump to prosper, even in polls?
    Do Republicans cherish individual liberties” Of course they do, unless you are a Hispanic immigrant without a full set of documents or an African American seeking to enroll at a college or to be awarded a contract as an HUB. Too bad if you want to marry your life’s love and are gay. Republicans oppose individual freedom for gays. If you are a woman who wants to exercise your constitutional right to terminate an early pregnancy, Republicans strongly support laws requiring that a medical probe be inserted into your vagina before a picture is shown to you of your intimate parts. If you are a child refugee of torture and murder trying to find humanitarian asylum in the US, Republicans oppose granting you safe haven.
    Having worked and paid into social security, Republicans support the invasion of your privacy by requiring that you submit a urine sample to discover if you use drugs. If you are an atheist, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Muslim a Hindu or anything other than a Christian, Republicans respect your point of view unless you submit to stand quietly and respectfully in school while a Christian prayer is read aloud.
    So, why are you a Republican if you don’t hold these same values?

    • There is but one problem with your assertions, those are not republican values. What you listed are republican values as spun by the DNC and subserviently “reported” by the media.

      • wessexmom

        Well, I’ll bet you most of them are in the GOP platform.

    • John Johnson

      Your inept president won’t say “Islamic terrorists” because he says not all Muslims are trying to kill us. That does not keep you from lumping all Republicans in a big ‘ol stinky pile. In fact, the WPE does the same thing. He is so bad one of the most liberal columnists in the country, Dana Milbanks, called him Obummer in his WaPo piece this morning. I can’t wait until he’s gone. Hope we can survive that long.

      • Unwound

        milbank voted for mccain in 2000. hardly noam chomsky.

        • John Johnson

          Wow. He’s really evolved over the last 15 years, huh?

          • Unwound

            chuck hagel in 04, and bloomberg in 08.

          • John Johnson

            Yuck! Bloomberg? He might have been worse than what we ended up with.

  • Garrett Menard

    What is even more worrisome is that Cruz “Dr Demintia the Dominionist” will end up the GOP, now a far right party, banner carrier.

  • S Kamel

    Very interesting

  • pegasusx86

    The title of this article suggests that we have a Trump problem. Only problem would be for hilbillery

  • Mark

    The solution is to stop listening to boring liberals like u whose only solution is to continue the never ending circle of life of dependency on the government instead of helping people become better more productive people. Trump may be a crass politically incorrect individual but that’s because he isn’t a trained politician like all the other assholes. He says what most of us think just with a poor presentation. Most of us are tired of the bullshit going on in this country and are willing to deal with his crass behavior to actually better our lives and the future of the country. If u leave it in the hands of basically inept liberals we will be Greece soon enough. We basically just finish 8 years of the worst president in the history of this country! Time for a serious change!

  • William Devan

    Wrong again. You gave credence to Nates column but his theory does not take into consideration that there are 15 candidates right now on the republican side, so a 30% support is actually huge with that in mind. Where will the other 70% go if trump is elected? Definitely not to Hillary or Sanders. Also, he compares the primary to a general election which is useless. Of all the candidates on the republican side, who has the best chance to pick up democrats unwilling to vote for a 3rd term of Clinton, or Obama? Not to mention that Clinton has violated many laws and lied about all of it. That would be /trump in spades. That is why he does so well in general election polls. Once Hillary is the nominee for sure and Trump is as well, Trump will surge with new democrat supporters.
    Also take into consideration that Trump is getting no support from any GOPe supporter. That will change once the choice comes down to Trump and Hillary and the ones wanting cabinet posts and support for their causes become important to get Trumps blessing.

  • Madrigalian

    Just one conservative writer for TM. Is that too much to ask? Why is every article out of TM a hit piece against the right?

  • awotter

    I’m sorry, I thought this article was about HRC, known felon and rape apologist.