Ben Carson takes the lead in the polls, but does it even matter?

Benjamin Carson speaks Monday in Anderson, S.C. (AP Photo / Rainier Ehrhardt)

Donald Trump no longer leads the GOP primary.

The Real Clear Politics average this morning shows Ben Carson has nosed into first place by 1 percentage point, pushing The Donald into second place for the first time since July 19. Individual polls still show a mixed bag, so we could see some back and forth in the coming days and weeks. But one of Trump’s main selling points — I’m winning! Vote for a winner!— has taken a big hit.

RCP GOP average 4 Nov 15

Looking at the trend lines over the past six months, a few other things jump out at me. One is the drop-off for both Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush, who have lost significant portions of their support over the past five weeks. Another is just how steady Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have been in both their levels of support and positions in the field. Both senators are more or less in the same spot today as they were six months ago, which may suggest their underlying bases of support are pretty steady. What’s more, both men have been on a consistent upward trajectory since the first debate on Aug. 6. There just may be something to the emerging conventional wisdom that Rubio and Cruz will be the last two Republicans standing.

Then again, the conventional wisdom has been pretty spectacularly wrong throughout this campaign. And in other campaigns, as well.

One of the big story lines from Tuesday’s elections is the surprise victory for Republican Matt Bevin in Kentucky’s gubernatorial election. Check out the highlighted section of this National Journal story in the following tweet:

That is indeed pretty incredible. Just five weeks ago, Bevin lost his super PAC support via the Republican Governors Association. The RGA got back into the race late, but that’s a pretty good indication that Bevin was seen as a highly unlikely winner.

Which makes him the latest in a string of unlikely winners, in races that opinion polls utterly failed to capture accurately. Recall last year’s primary upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia, who held overwhelming poll leads. Then there were the polls that suggested Georgia was going to get one if not two statewide runoffs for governor and senator, when the Republicans in each race in fact won with virtually the same margins as in statewide races four years earlier. It isn’t just in low-turnout, U.S. elections: The British and Israeli electorates are among those to defy the pollsters this year, in elections that saw high turnout.

The question is why the polls are getting it wrong, and how widespread a problem this is. Given that the surprise winners lately have come from the right, will pollsters correct (or over-correct) in that direction, leading to surprises from the left and center? Do the Trump and Carson poll successes suggest pollsters are getting more in tune with voters on the right, or are their performances overstated because pollsters still don’t know how to forecast the electorate? And will the relative scarcity of state-level races — where presidential nominees are decided, after all — mean we’re in for big surprises next winter and spring?

Beware anyone who offers definitive answers to those questions. We appear to be in uncharted territory.

Reader Comments 0

40 comments
FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Exit polling comes earlier these days.

This is a strange election season, to be sure. I've never seen an election that could compare.

Perhaps conservative voters are holding their cards close to their vest, while democrat voters can't get a seat at the table. The Washington insiders (DNC) are playing their hand for them. They're all in with Hillary, who faces an issue of trust with American voters.

dreema
dreema

@FIGMO2 I don't agree that Washington insiders are playing for Hillary, and I read the Washington Post daily. 

Dusty2
Dusty2

Ah, dear folks, do not worry!  JEB will come to the rescue with all his good sense and experience.  Americans realize his fine quality and good character.


Kyle won't even mention the name JEB Bush  but he will learn.  Our journalist  comes from a generation that was strongly influenced by their liberal professors.  Takes time for it to rub off.    

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

A previous poster mentioned the landline phone factor. The theory I've heard is that telephone polling is skewed because a disproportionate number of landline subscribers are older people. Don't know if it's true but it seems plausible.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@stogiefogey The problem with that theory is older voters tend to skew conservative, and the elections surprises are happening on the right. This would better explain a bunch of surprise victories by Democrats, no?

straker
straker

Go back to a year before the 2012 election and see who was leading in the polls.


They you'll realize how much media hype is poured upon us every day for ratings and profits.

lvg
lvg

No surprise here,  Cons always flock to the biggest liar in the pack:



               """""""Ben Carson got caught in a rather strange lie during the third republican debate when he claimed that he had no relationship with a supplement-scam company called Mannatech, despite video evidence showing him shilling for the product and claiming it magically cured his own cancer, and a financial connection to the company going back a decade. Not surprisingly, non-partisan fact checking outfit PolitiFact has rated his statement as “False.” But a deeper look at Carson’s record reveals that the site has concluded he hasn’t made a true substantive statement since his campaign began.

Ben Carson’s sixteen most notable factual statements have been analyzed by PolitiFact. None of them have been rated as “True” or “Mostly True.” Instead the best he’s done is three statements which qualified as “Half True” while the others were all rated as “False” or “Mostly False.” Two of his statements earned the rare “Pants on Fire” rating to denote a lie which is not only false, but egregiously false. So what is this guy doing leading the republican primary?

The short answer appears to be that Ben Carson, despite having no qualifications for the job and seemingly suffering from mental illness, is skilled at telling the kind of lies conservative voters want to hear – and telling them in a convincing manner. """""""""""


http://www.dailynewsbin.com/news/fact-checkers-confirm-ben-carson-hasnt-made-one-true-statement-since-his-campaign-began/22944/



LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@lvg

As best I can tell, Politifact has never done a check of Hillary's various statements and claims regarding her email server.  Strange how that works.

Shar1
Shar1

No, Carson's tiny lead over Trump does not matter at all.


Not one American has yet cast a real vote in the primaries, and we are a year out from Election Day.


A statistically insignificant change in polling data is irrelevant.  What is far more relevant is the Republican hope that still clings to Cruz and Rubio as being more 'serious' candidates than either Carson or Trump - or at least less risible.  Neither Cruz nor Rubio has been able to break 10% support among the most committed Republican voters, and both have major negatives among the general electorate.  Both are being forced to say things in the primary race that are anathema to the centrists they have to win, and Rubio's previous hope of leaving himself some wriggle room to get back to moderate positions is gone.


These are far more momentous issues than Carson's mirage of a lead over Trump.  Neither of those two is even faintly electable come next November.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

"We appear to be in uncharted territory."


Yep. People being polled are either 

a) not voting

b) changing their minds when they vote

c) are not representative of all voters


I'll choose "c" because there seem to be so many polls, reaching so few people on each poll, that the statistics are being skewed away from reality. Sure, the number of those being polled seems to say they represent a statistically significant portion of the electorate that it should at least be close. 


But recently, this is not holding true. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@dreema I doubt younger people who don't plan to vote take the time to respond to these polls.

bu2
bu2

@LogicalDude The polls are all over the place.  And with 15 candidates, most of them could be double their level of support and still be within the margin of error.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

The general theme of yesterday's elections and referenda results is that Real Americans have had enough of the left's perversions of common sense, whether it's their fear of technology (Airbnb), their support for boys thinking they're girls and vice versa, their open disdain for the rule of law, or their punishment of folks who work for a living and rewarding sloth (Kentucky governor's race and Medicaid expansion).

When progressives lose, Americans win.

dreema
dreema

@LilBarryBailout Check out Kansas' budget woes. There's plenty of conservative lack of common sense. I also call BS on "open disdain for the rule of law." Your sneering contempt for fellow Americans detracts from your ability to put forth a reasoned argument.

Claver
Claver

In Kentucky, it was an anti-establishment Republican vs. an establishment Democrat.  So, were the supporters of Bevin voting their views on "the establishment", their views on the parties, or both?  Maybe the polls need to better parse out party views from views on the establishment.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Its gonna be Bush or Trump in the end.


Bush if they want to go with someone who could actually win. Cruz if they don't want to win but want to go full on Tea Party cra cra


I'm betting on the latter

GMFA
GMFA

Kentucky, the home of Kim Davis!!!!!!!!!!

Caius
Caius

The two non-traditional (?) candidates on the Republican side have been securing about 1/2 of the numbers in the Republican polls for several weeks. The 2012 presidential election polls have proven to be the last correct polls.  I am not sure being at the top of the polls means anything except something to talk about and a useful tool as a fundraiser.

So, the question begs, are Carson and Trump the leading candidates or just a favorite flavor?

What will Republican voters do when they actually walk into a voting booth with a ballot in their hand?

Claver
Claver

@Caius It is fun to poke the establishment in the eye by saying that you will vote for a Trump or a Bernie Sanders.  But, as you suggest, that might not be what you do when it is actually time to vote.  Or, you might not even show up for the vote.

M H Smith
M H Smith

Ben Carson takes the lead in the polls, but does it even matter?

 NOPE!

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

The left is blaming the Trump phenomenon for Bevin's win, haha.  I think the truth of the matter is folks have lived through eight years of proggie overreach and are trying to say "these are not our values and priorities".  The GOP had a good day, taking over more and more of the government that is closest to the people.


The polls may be more of the continuing backlash against the establishment in the party and the media, many people are sick of all of them.  I know I got polled the other night and lied to the pollster, as I thought the questions were slanted to push an agenda. 


Some talking head said this morning that the polls indicate that the top tier was moving away from the field.  Trump, Carson, Rubio, and Cruz were noted as the top tier.  I was struck that all are vehemently for closing the borders and limited immigration.  Three are sincere, but I still question Rubio's intentions.  He has a career record of being pretty much an open borders and amnesty guy.  Rubio's top campaign donor is an open borders advocate, so what does he know.  Rubio is currently spouting what the voters want to hear now, but I'm not sure where he truly stands on the immigration issue.  If Rubio can't convince the voters of his intent to support immigration laws, he may fade as well, which is a shame, as he is one of the most articulate and thoughtful of the top tier.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RafeHollister Given what the polls (irony noted) tell us about GOP voters, there's definitely room in the top tier for someone less restrictionist/more open to a deal on immigration. And the key on immigration probably is getting it done with a Republican in the White House. Otherwise, it'll be like health care: Republicans aren't going to like what Democrats deliver, and it'll be their own fault they left it to Democrats to handle.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Kyle_Wingfield @RafeHollister They may go for Rubio if I am wrong about the sentiment on immigration.  I know it is not one of your big decision makers, but many out there think we need a break from the invasion.  Rubio was caught after the debate when he elaborated on how the H1B visa process could be fixed with some steps he elaborated.  Someone examined his H1B visa increase bill in the Senate and found none of these common sense restrictions he listed in the debate appeared in his bill.  That makes me think, he is not as interested in reform as he claims.  The Americans who have had to train their foreign replacements, e.g. Disney employees, may not be that big on Rubio.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RafeHollister "many out there think we need a break from the invasion"

I'm just saying there's plenty of evidence suggesting a lot, maybe most, of Republicans don't view it that way and could go for someone with a stance like Rubio's.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Kyle_Wingfield @RafeHollister Well one thought on immigration polls.  When Dave Brat was making hay on immigration, Cantor was citing polls that showed folks wanted Comprehensive immigration reform.  What Cantor didn't understand was that CIR is never defined, most uninformed voters think it means closing the borders and slowing down immigration.  I think who people are supporting for President, says more than undefined immigration polls, but that is just me.


I also don't get why more immigration is good, why importing more Democrats is going to help the country.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister @Kyle_Wingfield  I also don't get why more immigration is good, why importing more Democrats is going to help the country.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

But if you are a Democrat or Hispanic maybe not huh.

Caius
Caius

@RafeHollister @Kyle_Wingfield I would say the problem is not so much the "invasion", every bill approved by the Senate has a ton of secure the border provisions.  Thee bill doesn't make it through the House because of those illegals already here for years.  Handling that problem is the problem.

TBS
TBS

It could be telling us something or absolutely nothing

Using the same source of info (Real Clear Politics) and looking at the Republican race at this same time frame in 2011 and depending on the poll: Romney, Cain or Gingrich was leading.  Then going into 2012: Santorum, Romney and Gingrich came out on top in various polls.  Wasn't until the February and March time frame that Romney solidified his lead and of course the primaries were starting up.. We all know the results and they were not favorable to Cain, Gingrich or Santorum.  Personally I think it is too early to get giddy about the polls but time will tell us how accurate they were or were not.  And we have to keep in mind these polls (regardless of how accurate or inaccurate) are just a snap shot in time.... this current snap shot being 3 months out from when the real action commences. 


http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/us/republican_presidential_nomination-1452.html#polls

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TBS All true. Then again, one constant in those 2011-12 polls was Romney's being in the thick of the race. That may bode well for Cruz/Rubio.

TBS
TBS

@Kyle_Wingfield @TBS


Good point.  Personally I don't see both Carson and Trump  staying at the top once the primaries really get going.  One of them probably but not both however in full disclosure I will say that I didn't see Trump staying on top for as long as he has been. 

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

Marco, Marco, he's your man. If he can't do it, nobody can!

Penses
Penses

"The question is why the polls are getting it wrong, and how widespread a problem this is."

There have been a number of articles written about this, Kyle. Changing technology and a changing willingness to participate in polls are two big reasons. Polls decades ago relied on the existence and stability of landline phones (which most people no longer have). VOIP telephone accounts are anonymous, so their owners will never be polled. Voice mail , answering machines and Caller ID serve as effective "screens" from pollsters. And so forth and so on. Polling has been getting increasingly unrealiable the past decade or so. It may die a slow death.   

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Penses And yet, they sometimes get it right. While I agree some of those factors are important, they aren't leading to surprise results in every case.

Even if they did, then what? Polling serves a useful -- if sometimes overrated -- role in campaigns, pointing to what's working and what isn't. I seriously doubt campaigns are going to abandon polling, but they don't seem to know what's wrong with it, either.