December 4, 2015
Another day, another poll for Donald Trump to crow about. CNN/ORC just released a multiple day survey of national GOP voters. Trump towers over the field with a 36% share of a 14-person field. He’s followed by Ted Cruz at 16%, Ben Carson 14% and Marco Rubio 12%. If you’re doing the quick math:
Next 3 Contenders 42%
Time for the normal cautionary notes. It’s still almost two months until anyone actually votes. Several other candidates have higher favorability ratings among Republicans. Primaries and caucuses take place over several months, not at once.
The voting begins in Iowa, which is less favorable to Trump than many other states. It’s time for a new poll there, but in the last one Cruz was already almost even and has considerable upside. We still don’t know what happens if/when someone actually defeats him at the polls as opposed to temporarily in a poll.
Disclaimer over. Time to unpack the crosstabs and other questions on the survey. While this is unquestionably good news for Trump, there are opportunities for a couple competitors buried in here too.
People assume Trump voters are less educated. True. Among Republican voters without a college degree:
With a degree:
These are two entirely different campaigns. In one, Trump should start planning for the general election. In the other, he’s narrowly last in a tight four-person contest. The gender gap is limited. Trump does better with men, 40/33, but Cruz is 16/15, Carson 14/14 and Rubio 13/11, so other than noting women are more likely then men to have chosen none of the above, it’s not worth mentioning.
Other factors don’t seem to matter very much. Trump gets 36% from voters 50 and over, exactly matching his total. Carson does better with voters under 50, Cruz and Rubio are almost exactly the same with both groups.
Most Republicans are white, but not all. None of the four candidates did more than 1 point better or worse with white voters than GOP voters as a whole. Democratic voting Hispanics likely hate Trump, but those who vote Republican don’t seem to.
Many assume less financially successful voters are pushing Trump forward. After all, their wages are often stagnant or worse and it’s not a stretch to expect voters making less than $50,000 per year to worry more about competition from illegal immigrants or foreign factories and call centers taking jobs.
They do like The Donald:
However, these numbers are pretty close to the overall results. The gap is nowhere near that of college degree or not. When you consider a college degree normally means a higher income, it’s even more of a stark difference. The transitive property seems to indicate non-college educated, higher-income Republicans really like Trump.
Gap between $50,000+ and college educated:
Trump +15% (33/18)
Carson -4% (15/19)
Cruz -4% (18/22)
Rubio -6% (13/19)
Lower-paid degree holders like Rubio.
You can build a stereotype of a $30,000/year, high-school educated 56-year-old guy from Mississippi being a retrograde, bigoted xenophobe who couldn’t find Syria on a map if you removed all the other countries and watches Fox News except for when he gets mad because they’re too liberal.
If such a man exists, the data says he does probably support Trump (who at 41% runs better in the South than his average). People who somewhat resemble this description do not exist in anywhere near large enough amounts to win even the reddest of primaries. Plus some support the Cuban-American Cruz or African-American Carson.
The archetype keeping Trump in the lead is a 45-year-old female insurance broker from Connecticut, who makes $140,000/year and attended college, but didn’t graduate. Plenty of Republicans look like this too. For whatever reason, at this exact moment, this type of voter is choosing The Donald instead of Rubio (theories later on) and isn’t even considering Jeb Bush.
People who spend a lot of time writing about politics, who by the way are usually degree holders, meaning even the Republicans among them would prefer Rubio or Cruz to Trump, are waiting expectantly for our insurance broker to come to her senses and choose one of the other candidates. Doesn’t she want someone who can defeat Hillary Clinton?
Experts (and even I) often think Rubio is most electable. Politico publishes a regular rundown of what “insiders” think. Their informal group of surveyed Democrats would far prefer to avoid the Floridian. By a wide margin Dem operatives fear him the most and Trump the least.
Rubio does finish second when Republican voters are asked this question:
This was shocking. The question was not which candidate was most likely to win the GOP nomination. You could see voters who don’t support Trump still thinking he was most likely. He is leading the polls after all. Instead, a not insignificant amount of voters who do not prefer Trump, still think he’s the best chance to defeat Hillary.
So if voters started changing their mind based on perceived electability, he would start gaining votes, not losing them. This shows an enormous disconnect between actual GOP voters and pundits, not to mention insiders and operatives on both sides of the aisle.
Here is how Trump does on a number of questions:
Economy: 55% (+11 from mid-September)
Best Chance of Winning: 52% (new question)
Federal Budget: 51% (new)
Illegal Immigration: 48% (+1 from mid-Sept)
ISIS: 46% (+14 from mid-August)
Solving Country’s Problems: 42% (new)
Can Handle Being Commander-in-Chief: 37% (new)
Trump Poll Number 36% (+12%)
Foreign Policy 30% (+8 from mid-Sept)
The Commander-in-Chief number almost exactly matches Trump’s overall poll standing. Republican voters are worried if The Donald has the temperament to lead the free world. They aren’t as on board with him on foreign policy as on the economy. That’s why he’s only at 36% in the poll.
A significant portion of voters think he would handle the economy better than anyone else, get the Great Wall of Trump built, win the election, whack ISIS and solve problems, but still aren’t planning on voting for him yet.
The way CNN constructed the data release makes it hard to tell if educated voters think he’d do well on those measures but just can’t tolerate the tone, or if virtually every non-college educated voter thinks The Donald would do everything best. My guess is the former, but can’t prove it.
Many have assumed the recent terrorist events have helped the tough-talking Trump gain support. It can’t have hurt his cause, as the numbers show, but his increase on doing best on the economy is comparable. What about the past couple months would have made Republicans shift toward him on the economy?
It isn’t actual economic performance. Recent jobs reports, for those paying attention, were strong. Car sales are at record levels. Yes, workforce participation is still low, wages for many workers depressed, but nothing new there. Unlike national security issues where he’s said new things lately, Trump’s pitch is no different on the economy now.
Have to take a guess here, but I think media scorn did the trick. Trump has taken more incoming fire again over the past few weeks. Most media stories on him are sharply negative. It’s not like it’s difficult for his opponents to find something to highlight.
It appears the relatively well-off, moderately educated GOP-leaning voters who are helping Trump to this lead absolutely detest the media. Each time somebody criticizes him, more people like him. These voters are not necessarily sharply conservative.
Trump only runs two points better among conservatives than moderates. Here’s how he compares to key competitors:
Cruz +20 (22/2)
Carson +4 (15/11)
Trump +2 (35/33)
Rubio -3 (11/14)
Bush -4 (2/6)
Fiorina -5 (1/6)
Christie -6 (2/8)
The split for Cruz, 11 times as many conservatives as moderates is not a typo. Carson, Trump and Rubio are relatively balanced. Bush, Fiorina and Christie are very imbalanced the other way.
Fiorina was more popular with conservatives than moderates when she had high CNN poll numbers after the second debate in September (19% with conservatives, compared to 15% overall–data was displayed differently). She’s lost considerable ground to Trump and Cruz with these voters since.
Carson is very close to where he was in mid-September, slightly better with conservatives, slightly worse with moderates. So is Rubio, having shifted slightly towards moderates from conservatives. Pretend Carson and Rubio exchanged a few voters.
Rubio is still the most widely acceptable Republican, but he’s at risk of being squeezed out. Cruz is now very well positioned on the conservative side of the fence. If Trump falters, the more conservative of his supporters are headed for Ted.
The new PPP poll in New Hampshire shows how popular Cruz is with his voters. Should Carson recover somewhat, he’s a more favored candidate for Trump’s conservative voters. What about stealing Trump’s moderates?
Not easy. Believe it or not, the data shows a few of these voters went from Jeb to Trump, bypassing Rubio. More relevantly, Christie is a more natural fit for a moderate Trump supporter. He’s less conservative and more belligerent than Rubio. Already the CNN poll shows the two are only separated by 3 points among moderates. The PPP New Hampshire poll has them separated by 1 point among all voters.
The media is being relatively friendly to Marco. Perhaps if Jeb were a strong contender this wouldn’t be the case, but for now, Rubio is the media favorite of the four leading Republicans. Adding Christie to the contenders or restoring Fiorina wouldn’t change this.
He rarely speaks off key, needs to correct previous statements, or fails to convey his point. When was the last time you saw a slightly out-of-context Rubio sound bite making him look foolish? This is the sort of thing that makes insiders from both sides think he would hold up well against Hillary.
This isn’t John McCain, who was not a smooth communicator but got along well with individual reporters, propelling himself forward in the primaries before they ditched him for Barack Obama in the fall. Not only does Rubio not require their help, but he’s probably most helped if he can get them to turn on him.
His best polling moment in 2015 came when the New York Times attacked his personal finances. Responding to the Florida Sun-Sentinel calling for him to resign from the Senate didn’t hurt either. Even for more moderate/mainstream Republicans, getting into it with the media is important.
This is where Rubio can build trust with voters who want to see he can handle what next fall may offer. Cruz has his pylons deep in conservative grass-roots ground. He’s very likely a final three candidate. Christie is closing fast, quicker than his 4% national number indicates.
If Rubio wants to ensure a strong finish in Iowa and strong odds to beat Christie in New Hampshire, he needs to pick a fight with the media stat and keep it going for the next several weeks. This is also necessary to give him enough votes to have a chance at finishing ahead of Trump there and afterward.
The Donald is not going away on his own. Much like he said in reference to Cruz, everything goes through him. Rubio will need to take these votes from him (if he can) before Christie does (if he can).