Donald Trump’s massive lead isn’t just in one poll, but two. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll puts Trump at 38% among registered Republicans and GOP-leaning Independents, while Ted Cruz is at 15%. Ben Carson and Marco Rubio are tied at 12%, and all other candidates are in single digits. Trump’s lead has actually grown six points from last month, while Carson has seen his support collapse from 22% to the 12% it is now. But The Washington Post puts a little bit of a damper on the poll numbers, by comparing them to 2012 and 2008.
At this point in the campaign, even with the first votes fewer than 50 days away, national polls are not always the reliable predictors of where presidential nominating contests are heading. At this time four years ago, former congressman Newt Gingrich was tied with eventual nominee Mitt Romney on the Republican side. Eight years ago, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani led the GOP field, while Hillary Clinton held a wide lead over then-Sen. Barack Obama among Democrats. Giuliani and Clinton eventually lost.
This presents an interesting situation for GOP voters if the election follows the track of 2012 and 2008. If Trump’s support eventually collapses, who will it go to? Will all Trump supporters now move over towards Ted Cruz or another candidate not named Trump? It’s probably one reason why there are still 12 candidates in the race with initials other than DJT, because they hope to somehow capitalize if the election goes the way of the previous two. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, because for all we know Trump’s support will keep growing and growing until it’s as big as Trump Tower. But the question is whether Trump 2016 is enough to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. The WaPost/ABC News poll isn’t sure that’s going to happen (but, again, it is early).
The Post-ABC survey isn’t all good news for Trump. In a hypothetical general-election race, Trump trails Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, by 53 percent to 40 percent among all adults and 50 percent to 44 percent among registered voters. The latter margin is within the range of sampling error.
Beyond that, 69 percent of adults nationally say they would feel anxious with Trump as president, with 49 percent saying the would feel “strongly” so. That compares with just 29 percent of Americans who say they would feel comfortable. In contrast, 51 percent say they would feel anxious with Clinton in the Oval Office, compared with 47 percent who say they would feel comfortable.
It should also be pointed out 29% say they’d be comfortable with a Trump White House, and 50% of those in the GOP part of the poll thought he’d handle terrorism just fine. But there are a couple other things which are pretty interesting about the poll which, shockingly (actually not really), The Washington Post didn’t choose to put in their news story. The first has to do with the sample size.
So the poll actually talked to more Independents than Republicans and Democrats, and more Democrats than Republicans. One thing The Washington Post didn’t break down is how many of those Independents are GOP-leaning or Democrat-leaning. That might clear up as to whether those Independents were more small-c “conservative” or small-l “leftist.” There’s then the question as to whether these Independents are actually registered as Republicans or not. If they live in an open primary state, then it doesn’t matter because they can vote in whatever primary they want. But if the Independents live in closed primary states, then they’re going to get a shock when they’re not allowed into the primary to vote. This won’t have an effect on South Carolina (which is open), but it will in New Hampshire (which is closed) [see update]. So GOP candidates are going to have to start making sure their supporters get registered to vote as a Republican if they want to make sure they’ll have the votes in the actual primary.
The other interesting part is what issues are important.
So there are still qualms about health care, the economy, and terrorism, but immigration issues have actually dropped from last month. It’s completely possible some of the people who are worried about both terrorism and immigration voted in the “Any 2” category, but it’s still interesting to see how immigration really isn’t making a ton of waves. This means one of two things: either the WaPost/ABC News poll didn’t talk to enough people who cared about immigration or the set of people who think immigration is the major issue isn’t as large as anyone thinks. It’s still an issue which needs to be figured out, much like tax reform, but it looks like no one is thinking about it right now.
It’s still early and it’s possible Trump’s lead will disappear, especially now that he’s rankled the talk show circuit on his Ted Cruz criticism. But it’s always possible the polls are right and Trump is going to stay in the lead until all the primary votes are counted. That’s the fun part about polling: you never know if they’re right or not. You also never know if the candidate is a good pick or a bad one until the rest of the votes are counted.
Update (Ed): As reader Richard W astutely noted, New Hampshire’s primary is only semi-closed. Voters can only vote in one primary, but they can choose the party primary in which they want to participate. Independents can and will choose to vote in the GOP primary, but those who do can’t vote in the Democratic primary.