Trump and the polls

Jamelle Bouie argues that when it comes to the polls, Trump is only going down:

More than half of Republicans want someone else to lead their party in the fall,according to a new Fox News survey of the electorate, with the greatest anti-Trump sentiment among Republican women and Republicans with college degrees. Overall, as Phillip Bump shows for the Washington Post, using data from HuffPost Pollster, Trump wins an average of around 80 percent of Republicans, down from May when his support among co-partisans reached the mid-80s. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, wins close to 86 percent of Democrats. Likewise, according to a new survey of swing states by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling firm, Clinton has consolidated 89 percent of Democrats while Trump holds only 80 percent of Republicans. In a national election, a difference in party unity of five or six percentage points can be dispositive, especially if one candidate is winning a higher-than-normal number of voters on the other side. And that’s where Clinton stands: She pulls around 8 percent of Republicans, while Trump wins around 5 percent of Democrats.

Once again, however, it’s only July. The conventions—where nominees are buffed and shined and celebrated in primetime—haven’t happened yet. Republicans could remember that they’re Republicans and return to Trump’s column in a spasm of post-convention partisan loyalty. And indeed, this is what we would see if Trump were more like a typical candidate. The problem for his campaign, and for the GOP writ large, is that he’s extremely atypical. In addition to his erratic behavior and offensive, often demagogic rhetoric (the attacks on federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel are exhibit A here), Trump rejects the Republican consensus on economic policy, and is silent on issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. He’s made little effort to assuage or appeal to party donors and faces a backlash from skittish party elites. Some delegates want to derail Trump at the convention, while dozens of prominent Republicans, from senators and governors to ex-presidents and former nominees, just aren’t attending.Mitt Romney is loudly anti-Trump, as are other GOP heavyweights. John Kasich is still governor of Ohio and he’s not attending the convention, which Republicans are holding in Cleveland. Far from a coronation of Trump, there’s every indication that this convention will be a bonanza of chaos and confusion.

This matters. If a normal convention boosts party unity by activating and celebrating partisan identity, a chaotic one corrodes it by highlighting anger and division in the ranks. Most nominees receive a boost after they officially claim the nomination: It stabilizes the race and sets the stage for the fall. In fact, it’s the August after the convention when polls reach their most stable and reliable state. Donald Trump, however, might be the exception.

Without a weeklong endorsement from Republican stars and luminaries—and with wide coverage of any division and disruption—there’s a strong chance that Trump gains nothing from his convention. It might even hurt him. [emphasis mine]

I’m a little more open-minded about how the Republican convention will go, but let’s just say it would not be at all surprising if Trump fails to get a convention bounce.  Meanwhile, I suspect Clinton will get a modest, but real, convention bounce.

Anyway, I’ve got a theory about how Trump may do in the election that is very much related to his strength in the polls.  I think that if come September of October Trump is polling as a very likely loser, he is going to have a substantial downward spiral of support.  I think there’s a lot of college-educated Republicans who are supporting Trump because he’s the Republican nominee, but are basically embarrassed to being supporting a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, know-nothing, buffoon.  It’s one thing to support the guy in a close election– there’s a lot at state.  Supreme Court, anyone?  But if it looks pretty clear that Trump is going to lose, there’s really not much point in holding your nose and apologizing to your kids years from now that you embarrassingly voted for this guy.  You might as well just abstain from the presidential election or vote for Gary Johnson.

So, short version, I think if Trump can keep the gap at, oh, five points or less, and have at least some polls showing him within the margin of error, he hangs onto pretty much all his support.  But if Trump is pretty consistently trailing by >5 in all the polls and there’s a clear media narrative that he’s going to lose I think this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and many Republicans that were supporting him despite themselves just stop doing so and he hemorrhages support.  I think it may actually be more likely for him to lose by 10% than to lose by 6-7%.

For now, it’s just speculation.  In another month, after the conventions, I think we’ll have a very clear idea where this election is heading.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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