What the polls are really telling us about Donald Trump — and Hillary Clinton

A summer lead in national primary polls doesn't always end well, as Rick Perry can attest. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

A summertime lead in national primary polls doesn’t always end well, as Rick Perry can attest. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Lots of people are either laughing or fretting about Donald Trump’s rise in the polls. If you don’t understand why all polls are not created equally, you might be one of them. I am not talking about the credibility of a particular pollster or even the number of months between now and the actual casting of votes, but rather the question being asked and whether that question has any relevance whatsoever.

A national Republican (or Democratic) primary poll, like the ones that show Trump leading the field, might have some relevance if we chose party nominees in a nationwide primary, or even if all primaries were held on the same day. Neither is the case. As we all know, the nominating contest is instead a series of state primaries and caucuses over the course of about five months, an electoral gauntlet that not only produces its own momentum but which shows national front-runners are often quite weak in any given state. To put the relevance of national polls in context — especially those taken this far before voting begins — consider that four years ago today Michele Bachmann, who suspended her campaign after one state contest (Iowa), was running in second place nationally among Republicans. In third place, soon to rise to a double-digit lead over eventual nominee Mitt Romney and the rest of the field, was Rick Perry, whose campaign didn’t make it to the third state. Five different candidates held a national lead in the GOP contest at some point in the 2012 cycle; the last person to reach that level, Rick Santorum, finished ahead of all but Romney.

A deeper look at the national polls is instructive. At Five Thirty Eight, Harry Enten explains that while Trump is thought to have particular appeal to the far-right end of the GOP electorate, his support is actually relatively even across different segments of the party’s voters. But, somewhat counter-intuitively, this is probably bad news for the Donald: “(T)he broad, shallow nature of Trump’s support suggests it’s due mostly to near-universal name recognition, thanks in part to being in the news more often than the news anchors.” We will know more about Trump’s real support, Enten writes, “once the novelty wears off.” And within a piece (“Donald Trump is the world’s greatest troll”) by Five Thirty Eight’s editor, Nate Silver, there’s a chart showing how bettors at the prediction market Betfair rate Trump’s chances of capturing the nomination: just 5 percent, barely above Mike Huckabee and Benjamin Carson, who each are at 3 percent. Instead, bettors still think there’s a nearly 75 percent chance that the nominee is either Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Scott Walker. Chances are, they’re right on the money.

So, what does state-level polling tell us at this point? In Iowa, Walker still holds a nearly double-digit lead over Bush, with Trump in a tie with Rand Paul for third place. (It is worth noting Romney led the polls there only briefly before finishing in a virtual tie with Santorum, who never led.) Bush still leads in New Hampshire, although the data in the Real Clear Politics average are a bit old at this point. There aren’t data current enough to be worth mentioning from South Carolina at the moment. In short, to believe Trump stands even a decent chance of becoming the nominee is to ignore the history that says the Republican Party is by far the less prone to surprises of our two major parties.

In fact, if anyone should be truly worried about what the polls are saying this far out, it’s probably Hillary Clinton.

Despite Clinton’s consistent lead in national head-to-head polls over potential GOP rivals, state-level polls suggest she’s losing ground where it matters most. Here’s a summary by The Hill of new data from Quinnipiac in three swing states:

“In Iowa, Rubio and Walker both hold an 8-percentage point lead over Clinton, while Bush would defeat her in the hypothetical matchup by 6 points.

“In Colorado, Walker holds the largest lead over Clinton — 9 percentage points. Rubio follows shortly behind with an 8-point margin, while Bush leads by 5 percentage points.

“Clinton’s margins are much closer in Virginia, but she’s still on the losing side of all three hypothetical contests. Bush and Walker lead her by 3 points, while Rubio leads by 2. All of those results are about within the margin of error of 2.8 percent.”

In 2012, Virginia and Colorado were the third- and fourth-closest states, respectively, of the ones Barack Obama won; Iowa was the seventh-closest. When Quinnipiac polled those match-ups in April, Clinton led in five of the nine. Now she trails in all nine. Even worse, perhaps, she may even be losing her case as the most electable Democrat. Also from The Hill:

“Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) polls about as well as Clinton, if not better in some of the general election matchups in Iowa and Colorado, despite trailing the former secretary of State significantly in polls for the Democratic nomination. Vice President Joe Biden, who has not publicly announced a decision on 2016, matches up slightly worse than Clinton.”

Heck, even Al Gore is getting some press as a possible savior for the party. If we can’t have Bush-Clinton II, maybe we can have Bush-Gore II?

Reader Comments 0

70 comments
AhmirHaddad
AhmirHaddad

Hard to know what's the bigger joke:  Donald Trump claiming to be worth 8 billion dollars, or Hillary Clinton claiming to be broke.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Please do not go third party, Trump. I want to vote for a third party if it's Bush v Clinton redux, but not if Trump is in the mix. 

M H Smith
M H Smith

Trump goes to the border. This should be interesting.

JoelEdge
JoelEdge

What the polls should be telling you is that conservatives are getting tired of this Rockefeller Republican/Rino posturing. The Republican party is going to lose big in 2016 if it doesn't stop saying one thing and doing another.

lvg
lvg

@JoelEdge Republicans have not had an original idea since the 1950s and are without a clue on foreign policy except to oppose whatever Obama and our European allies do.

HDB0329
HDB0329

.....interesting that many see that Trump is saying out LOUD what many in the GOP have been saying BEHIND CLOSED DOORS....particularly when talking about Hispanics and black people......but Republicans don't want Trump to say much more because he's EXPOSING the GOP for what it really is!!


I'm just glad he turned the lights onto the TRUE GOP!!!

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Says the shill for the party that can't win without dividing Americans by race.

M H Smith
M H Smith

@HDB0329 

Your man Bernie didn't want to talk about Sandra Blane. Makes me wonder what ol' Bernie says behind closed doors. He didn't seem to want to play into the hands of the ethnocentric crowd. 

Sanders might not be black enough?   

After Protesters Call Him Out, Bernie Sanders Condemns Sandra Bland's Arrest


"On Wednesday, Sanders acknowledged that his presidential campaign has not done enough outreach to black and Hispanic voters."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bernie-sanders-criminal-justice_55b04b36e4b0a9b94853b3a4

TicTacs
TicTacs

Trump is today's GOP man, and will be destroyed....

MANGLER
MANGLER

I love how everyone in politics treats Iowa like it matters.  It's Iowa.  Corn and cows.

You get New York, Florida, California, and possibly Ohio/Pennsylvania.  The rest of 'em can line up on the other side and it won't matter.

It's part of why I dislike the Electoral College.  It's entirely possible for a President to win with less than the popular vote.

Kerry_James
Kerry_James

No one on the left of the Howard Party supporting Bernie Sanders? 

Yahhh! Yahhh! Yahhh!

M H Smith
M H Smith

@HDB0329 @Kerry_James 

I'll give this to Bernie he is a honest socialist  - and proud of it! Sanders will finish what Obama set out to do - fundamentally destroy the former capitalist United States of America.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

Hillary Clinton is a poor politician and would likely be a disaster as President.  I'm pretty liberal and I readily admit that. If she couldn't beat Obama in 2008, I don't think she can win against anyone.  For that reason, I think the Democrats should run a real competitor against her instead of putting up whipping boys.  No one wants to lose though, because then they feel like they have no shot at winning in the future.


The problem is that she is really a Republican.  She has been pro war at just about every turn and Bill instituted some pretty awful policies mostly hurting African Americans and Hispanics. The Republicans basically can't lose this round.  They either get a Republican or Republican light.  I wish we could shove Bernie Sanders brain in her body.  Unless she shows me something other than the past 20 years of taking either no position or the absolute wrong position, I'm probably not voting.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@Kerry_James @JFMcNamara  , I agree, neither side can really trust her to be for or against anything. She's the worst of both worlds.  If I mostly liked her but disagreed on a few points, then I would be fine. The problem is that either she doesn't have a position, has switched positions multiple times or is just flat out wrong.  She needs to clarify who she is. She's been around 20 years and no one really knows where she stands on anything.  

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kerry_James @JFMcNamara  The Republicans basically can't lose this round. 


Wanna bet ?


They have gotten more votes ONCE in the last 30 years. And the demographics keep moving further and further away from that small tent. 


I'm probably not voting.


Then you will be partly responsible when the bombs start dropping on Tehran. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@JFMcNamara Princess Liawatha is still available if someone could talk her into running.  She would eclipse Hillary in the polls about 15 minutes after announcing.  


I believe she thinks 2020 will give her a better shot.  She can support ole Hillary in 2016, and then call on her and Bill and the Clinton Global Corruption outfit to get behind her with big money donations.  Hillary will be all consumed with revenge for her loss, and be a big asset for the Princess.  It might be a winning strategy.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@Hedley_Lammar @Kerry_James @JFMcNamara ,


Indeed, even if Hillary wins they get a Republican.  That was my point.  


Republicans won't bomb Tehran.  If a Republican had been President, I doubt things would be terribly different in terms of foreign policy. The economy would be a disaster, but they would have made all of the same decisions overseas.  Iran would probably still be on track to get the bomb.  Even if they get it, the nothing really changes, but they say they have it.  They certainly wouldn't drop it because they are reasonable people who understand they would be instantly dead.

22gameguy
22gameguy

Any reasonably sane person knows that the harridan Hillary can't be trusted. Dishonesty is her defining characteristic. Although, one could argue that a craven lust for power might actually edge out her dishonesty. Let us call it a coin flip.

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

its too early to look at the national polls but not the state polls especially the swing states that Hillary is projected to lose in July 2015....got it


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ATLAquarius You missed the part about national polls not really telling us anything even late in the game.

Red_GA
Red_GA

The funny thing about Trump is that his previous record defines him as what most call RINO. Even a couple of years ago Trump had nothing but wonderful things to say about Hillary - he hopes she was healthy and would run in 2016, she was a great leader, did great as a Senator and SecState, and was always there for him. Suddenly all of his positions are 180 and he happens to say exactly the right things to get the angry base even angrier. But the usual suspects who usually call out the "RINOs" have given Trump a pass all of a sudden just based solely on rhetoric alone with no record to back it up. The anger and bitterness even allows for a draft dodging type to trash a veteran with distinguished service. Had Jane Fonda or Michael Moore said this statement they would have been tied to a pole and run out of the country. But previously RINO Trump suddenly says it and the angry crowd agrees with it. The psychology of this is astounding. It shows a segment of the population willing to trade out one set of standards and beliefs that were strong for another.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@332-206 "use national polling to present their candidates to the nation"

I don't know that I'd characterize it that way, if you're talking about which of the candidates appear in the debates. In any case, what other objective measure would you use, knowing that we're talking about the difference between No. 10 and No. 11, not No. 1 and No. 2?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

 maybe we can have Bush-Gore II?

For what it's worth, and not that anyone asked, but I'd actually prefer that.

WW5
WW5

all the candidates stink, just like this story

Dimick
Dimick

Glad to see Kasich make it official. 

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

And 'ya know what?

Some of our liberals made a huge deal out of Newt's philandering. If it was good enough for Newt, I fully expect our liberals to attack Gore for his womanizing ways.



Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@Wena Mow Masipa How @FIGMO2 Nah, they dont cram their environmental, diversity,minorities are protected species, racist programs aimed at minorities, etc down our throats.  Silent as mice be they.. 

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Wena Mow Masipa How

Neither was Gingrich.

Gingrich has been married three times. His third wife is Callista Bisek Gingrich, a former congressional staffer. In a March 2007 interview with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Gingrich admitted to having an extramarital affair with Bisek during his U.S. House tenure, while he was married to his second wife. When a college student at a February 2011 question-and-answer session in Philadelphia asked him how he reconciled his affair with his religious values, Gingrich responded, “I believe in a forgiving God, and the American people will have to decide whether [that’s] their primary concern.

It wasn't my primary concern either. It was liberals who made it out to be a big deal.

What you should've said was Democrats have loose morals...they push them when convenient, and ignore them when not.


FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Every thoroughbred has a companion pony running alongside before the race begins. Trump is the "companion" pony.

...maybe we can have Bush-Gore II?

I dare say Gore would do worse than Hillary. The guy is a scam artist, but then again....

schnirt  

straker
straker

I'll take Gore over Hillary any day.

Dusty2
Dusty2

Kyle


Please Please do not even suggest the hanging of a dead bird like Gore the Bore  around the neck of Bush.  Americans do not believe in torture.   

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Dusty2 Americans do not believe in torture.


Funny because Bush does. At least his brother did

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister @Hedley_Lammar @Dusty2  Since Obama turns a blind eye to illegal criminals and sanctuary cities


Probably because they are safer. Illegals there arent afraid to call the police.


Statistics back that up. 

PJ25
PJ25

@HeadleyLamar @Dusty2 So does Obama so what's you point?  Don't think for a second people aren't being tortured around the world under his watch. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Hedley_Lammar @Dusty2 Well one lady testified yesterday to the Senate about her son being tortured by an illegal.  Since Obama turns a blind eye to illegal criminals and sanctuary cities, can we put that torture on him?

lvg
lvg

Trump is a monster created by the GOP hate laboratory who has now rum amuck and is destroying the fake GOP facade hiding all the bigots, fascists, neocons, ultraconservatives and mysoginists.  Even Sheldon and the Koch boys will not get this clown under control with their money. Hope he picks Michelle Bachmann as his running mate then we will have a real circus performance. Cheney for secretary of State and Roy Moore for Attorney General would be great picks by Trump. Then we get a real freak show.

bu2
bu2

@lvg 

Trump used to be a Democrat and his favorite president is Bill Clinton.

PJ25
PJ25

@lvg You really need to get out of the house more.