This is not the first time a small surge in support has led to a burst of media coverage. During the 2012 primaries, five GOP candidates had support of at least 20 percent at one point or another: Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney. With 15 GOP candidates in the race this year—and on Tuesday, Ohio Governor John Kasich will make it 16—rankings in a single-choice poll can be swayed by a tiny shift in public opinion. Conventional polls by themselves do not predict whether Trump will survive, like Romney did, or fizzle out after a few months like the others. Horserace polls also do not identify fringe candidates who are unlikely to survive the primary process.
There’s a way to clarify this mess immediately—an innovative technique that would determine who the true frontrunners are, and perhaps even save the GOP debates from becoming a chaotic circus or a ten-part infomercial.
The technique is called instant runoff, and here’s how it works: Ask respondents to rank all of the candidates, from most preferred to least. Pollsters then eliminate the candidate receiving the fewest first votes, and the loser’s supporters are reassigned to their next choice. This process is repeated until there is only one winner left. For example, in a three-way race, supporters of the third-place finisher would have their votes reassigned to the other two candidates.