I know what you’re going to say. It’s an online poll. The sample is small, just 277 Republican voters. That means a margin of error north of six percent. Why should we trust a poll like that?

Well, you should trust it if you trusted it back in August when this same poll pronounced Trump’s lead sturdy after the first GOP presidential debate. That was an online poll too. Sample size: 278 Republicans, for an MOE of 6.7 percent. A lot of Trump fans at the time declared that de facto proof that the best laid plans of Fox News and Megyn Kelly to sink the unsinkable Trump had failed miserably.

How about now, on a day when another national poll is also suddenly showing a Ben Carson lead?

rtp

That’s the state of the race in Reuters’s tracker since October 1st. Trump is the green line, Carson the purplish one. Carson’s numbers chug along pretty steadily until October 20th, when suddenly he begins to tick upward, first gradually and then with a major leap in the last two days. Probably not coincidentally, October 20th was also the last day of polling for the first survey in Iowa that showed Carson ahead of Trump there. That is to say, both nationally and in Iowa, Carson appears to have experienced a surge in the last two weeks of this month that’s now breaking across various polls. Why that is, I don’t know. The only news he made over the last few weeks was talking up gun rights and Nazis on cable news and being quizzed on what he said about not supporting a devout Muslim for president. Maybe he hit Republican voters where they live with those comments, just as Trump did back in June when he took off after warning about criminals from Mexico coming across the border.

Here’s a subsample from the polling data. Any guesses which group is captured here?

bac

Yep, that’s likely Republican voters who are born-again Christians. On October 17th, Trump and Carson were essentially tied among that group; 10 days later, Carson is blowing Trump out of the water, 45/25. It’s a very small sample so that lead may to some extent be the handiwork of a large MOE, but the trend over nearly two weeks is clear. Why born-again Republicans have suddenly decided in the last 10 days that they really, really prefer Ben Carson to Trump is a mystery, but there you go. The answers to “values” questions at tomorrow night’s debate probably deserve extra attention given how significant they may be in influencing who leads the race.

Three notes of hope for Trump fans here. One: As you can see in the first graph above, the tracker can be volatile. Two weeks ago, Trump was out to a sizable lead over Carson and the rest of the field. Things change fast in a field where most voters are still making up their minds. Two: The sample sizes of likely Republican voters used by Reuters over the last few days are conspicuously smaller than they were a few weeks ago, when Trump was cruising in first place. Today the sample was 277; on October 18, when Trump led Carson 38/19, it was 438. Two days later, when Trump led 34/20, it was 484. In theory, given the size of today’s MOE, Trump could actually be leading 32/27. That’s hard to believe given the trendlines towards Carson, but a bigger sample would be nice. And three: If anyone has both the means and motivation to expand the pool of likely voters by launching a drive to register unregistered Republicans, it’s Trump. I don’t know why he hasn’t made that a core talking point of his campaign, frankly. The script writes itself: “There are millions of blue-collar people out there who like what Republicans stand for in principle but don’t bother to vote because they’re disgusted with our leadership. The first step to making America great again is getting these people registered and voting again.” Getting Trump fans to the polls en masse would render a lot of these recent polls showing him trailing meaningless. But whether he’s willing to spend the money and build the organization required for that task, only he knows.

Via Mediaite, here’s Trump telling MSNBC this morning that it’s hard to trust the polls lately because “they are all so different,” which is true, I guess, in the sense that him suddenly trailing in various national and Iowa polls is different from what he’d come to expect.