The polls and Donald Trump, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Mixed Up Republicans

I keep hearing that Donald Trump is sweeping America. A lot of Democrats are freaking out. There’s no reason to. You just need to remember that while Trump is leading the Republican candidates with–by far–the most support, that support is still just a minority of Republican voters. Let’s look at some numbers:

There are about 170 million registered voters in the United States. About 55 million of them are registered as Republicans, 72 million as Democrats and 42 million as independents. The latter don’t count right now, because they are not included in the polling during the primaries. Well, they do count in those theoretical match ups (Trump v Hillary, Carson v Sanders, Stassen v McCarthy) but those are so hypothetical, and there is so much time before November of 2016, that they are pretty meaningless. The only polls that have any significance now–and even that is pretty weak–are polls showing the percentage of party member who say they will vote for a certain candidate. And there are two types of those. There are the polls of registered voters by party nationwide, and polls of registered voters by state. The national polls give a general idea of how a candidate is doing, the state polls give an idea of how a state’s primary or caucus vote would break down were the primary election or caucus held today. Caucuses, though, are so obscure and complex and unrepresentative that accurate polling of their results is almost worthless. You can poll Iowa and get an idea of which candidate people prefer, but that does not mean that is how the caucus results will turn out. Any of the polls you see on Iowa may or may not have any relation to the outcome on caucus night. Iowa caucuses are notoriously surprising. (Personally, I think Bernie Sanders will win. No clue on the Republican side.) Polls in New Hampshire and South Carolina will be more accurate, but still, you have to see a series of polls to see if they compare. If they trend one way or the other, you’ll get an idea of how the primary results might well turn out.

As election days come closer (first in Iowa, then New Hampshire, then South Carolina, and then a week of so later the 13 state primary night known as Super Tuesday) there will be much more focus on those state polls. But right now, when the election is months away and little of this means anything in terms of delegates (which is what this campaign and every other nomination race before it has been all about), we can all have fun playing with these national polls. Trump certainly is having fun, and a lot of people are starting to worry. But they shouldn’t be, if you’re a Democrat anyway, because Donald Trump is not supported by far, far more people than say they’ll vote for the guy, both inside and certainly outside the Republican party.

Here’s the math: Trump is getting the support of not quite a third of those 55 million Republicans, so lets say (generously) 17 million registered Republicans say they will vote for him. And yes, that is a lot of Republicans who think, somehow, that Donald Trump is the answer. But what you don’t hear that often is that 38 million Republicans have said they will not vote for him, and some that are undecided. Trump may be in the lead, with far more support than any other Republican candidate, but he does not have that Reagan like popularity across the GOP. People might tell you otherwise, but it’s hard to get around the math. Trump, right now, does not have the numbers to win the nomination. Unfortunately, no one else has yet come out as the answer to Trump. But it’s early. Is it possible that he could be nominated? Sure it’s possible. Is it likely? No, it’s not.

Bernie Sanders is also getting around 30% of his party’s support, but thirty per cent of Democrats comes to 22 million voters. Bernie has five million more voters right now than Donald Trump. Hillary has 30 million voters. Even Biden, not even in the race, gets around 15 million, nearly as many as Trump. So right now you have 72 million Democrats and at least 30 million Republicans who do not like Donald Trump. And we haven’t even factored in the independents. It’s unlikely they all like Donald Trump. So were the general election to happen right now, Donald Trump would not win. You have to really play with the math to get him a winning scenario in November 2016. He has to get all the Republicans, even those who loathe him, most of the Independents, and even some of the Democrats. Basically he has to be Ronald Reagan. But he is not Ronald Reagan, and this is not 1980. Conservatism was on the rise then, with under 40 voters leaning Republican. They are no longer leaning Republican.

This far ahead of the election year it is all about media, not genuine numbers, because if you look at the actual numbers, Trump is a lot less scary. But he makes for great news, and is a walking sound bite. He is a loudmouthed jerk, and the public right now just can’t get enough of loudmouth jerks. But do they vote for them? Not really. Otherwise Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich or Pat Buchanan would be president. Just keep an eye on his numbers. If he gets to 60% or 70% of Republicans, 50% of independents, and 20% of Democrats, we might have a problem. But I don’t see that. He’ll be making Republicans miserable, though, for some time. He’s manna from heaven for Democrats, a Republican strategist said. Trump is a nightmare for them. No wonder that crazed conspiracy theory that Donald Trump is a plant by the Clintons is making its way through Tea Party circles. Or was, before they realized they loved him.

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