Lot of fanfare about this among the politerati on Twitter (politertwitterati?), who’ve waited four months for hard evidence that Trumpmania’s begun to cool. One national poll showing Carson ahead of Trump can be dismissed as a fluke; two showing Carson ahead are interesting, but not quite convincing. An average of four polls showing Carson in the lead, though, is officially fodder for “trend!” storylines.
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
You’ve got at least three reasons to shrug at that if you’re a Trump fan. One: Carson’s not going to be the nominee. He might win Iowa but even that seems hard to believe given what a smart, tight ship Ted Cruz’s campaign is running. It could be that Trump has reached his ceiling of support but that’s enough to win some of the early states if his competition divides the rest of the electorate among themselves evenly enough.
Two: Matt Bevin’s shocking landslide last night after trailing in the polls for months gives you a reason (maybe not a compelling reason, but a reason) to think that polls are chronically underestimating outsider candidates like him and Trump. None other than the head of the DGA credited “Trumpmania” with Bevin’s surprising win. It may be that both in Kentucky and nationally, there’s a critical mass of right-leaning “silent majority” voters whom pollsters don’t expect to turn out on election night but then do, rendering all the polls of “likely voters” meaningless. The question is, if the extent of Trump’s support is being underestimated, might the extent of Carson’s support be underestimated too?
Three: When push comes to shove, the national polls don’t matter. They’re interesting as a barometer of Republican sentiment generally, but only the state polls mean anything as predictors of individual caucuses and primaries. And Trump’s lead in New Hampshire, his strongest early state, is steady as she goes.
The survey of 400 likely [NH] GOP primary voters, conducted Thursday through Sunday, puts Trump at the top with 18 percent support. Carson is on his heels at 16 percent — within the poll’s 4.9 percent margin of error…
Florida Sen. Rubio’s support more than quintupled, from 2 percent to 11 percent, while New Jersey Gov. Christie’s support rose from 2 percent to 8 percent. Both candidates are also seeing big jumps in their favorability ratings…
“Underneath there has been some movement,” Koczela said. “Both Marco Rubio and Chris Christie were perceived as doing well in the debate and have seen their numbers climb substantially from where they were in September.”…
“There’s considerable potential now for Rubio to start to clinch the deal,” Scala said, adding that the poll shows Rubio getting high marks from both traditional and tea party-type conservatives.
Rubio’s favorable rating in the poll jumped 10 points since September to 56 percent. Chris Christie’s favorable rating jumped 12 points to 51 percent. Trump: Down three points, now sitting on an even 42/42 split. That’s a bad number for his big state. When Republicans were asked who they thought won the debate last week, Rubio also won that handily — 27 percent versus 20 percent for Cruz and 13 percent for Christie. Trump finished with just seven percent, tied with Carly Fiorina. But Trump fans don’t have to sweat this poll too much either. For one thing, this data bodes well for him:
New Hampshirites are trending towards revolution. Rubio, for all his gifts, is every inch a Bush/McCain politician. He’s not the guy you’d bet on when the electorate’s in “burn it all down” mode. Beyond that, though, there’s good reason to think this poll’s an outlier. Eighteen percent is the lowest level of support detected for Trump in New Hampshire in three months. The latest Monmouth poll, which was taken over the same post-debate period as this one (and was also a poll of likely voters), had him comfortably ahead of Carson by 10 points at 26 percent. Other recent (but pre-debate) polls have had him at 28 and even 38 percent. And the last WBUR poll in September also had him a bit lower than most other polls did at the time, suggesting some persistent difference in their methodology. Until we see a dent to his polling average in NH, which has him 14 points ahead of the field, it’s probably best to treat this as noise.