It's Probably Safe to Start Paying Attention to the Polls Now

Trump is still winning but it's far from over.


Donald Trump
Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

For months I've been warning Reason readers not to put stock in the primary polling. Sure, Donald Trump is leading, but the evidence from Google Trends is that people don't really start paying attention to the race until January.

At this point in '07, the GOP frontrunner was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee close behind. On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Clinton was roundly expected to win. Four years later, in December '11, pizza mogul Herman Cain had just faded from the scene and former Speaker Newt Gingrich was leading the national polls. I probably don't need to remind you that none of the people I just mentioned eventually won either party's nomination in either of those years.

All that said, as we approach the first primaries and caucuses, the polling does begin to increase in its predictive power. A study from RealClearPolitics' David Byler found that the "r squared" of surveys in the 2008 and 2012 cycles rose from 0.6 after Thanksgiving to 0.9+ just before the votes were cast. This means that right around now is when it starts to become reasonable to look at the numbers and expect them to tell you something meaningful.

So what are the data saying?

Well, at the national level and in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Trump is still ahead. In fact, the RealClearPolitics polling averages for all three of those places have his lead in the double digits. And the longer that remains the case as time ticks forward, the more likely the polls are to be getting it right.

Moreover, a study just released by the Morning Consult suggests that traditional live-interviewer telephone polling might be understating Trump's support. Why? The Los Angeles Times has the likely explanation:

Some significant number of Trump supporters, especially those with college educations, are "less likely to say that they support him when they're talking to a live human" than when they are in the "anonymous environment" of an online survey, said the firm's polling director, Kyle Dropp. …

The most likely explanation for that education gap, Dropp and his colleagues believe, is a well-known problem known as social-desirability bias—the tendency of people to not want to confess unpopular views to a pollster. 

Blue-collar voters don't feel embarrassed about supporting Trump, who is very popular in their communities, the pollsters suggested. But many college-educated Republicans may hesitate to admit their attraction to Trump, the experiment indicates.

So it's possible that there are more Trump supporters out there than we fully realize, because many of them are reluctant to say they plan to vote for him when a real-life human calls them up. If you're interested in the nittgy gritty, my former boss, the pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, wrote a long post the week before last on all of that and more.

There is one early state where Trump isn't leading, however: Iowa, where in recent weeks Sen. Ted Cruz has rocketed into first place. Just the last two days have brought stories about the Texan locking up the support of both evangelical Christians and talk radio hosts. And he's now in second place nationally with 18 percent on average—up 11 points since Halloween.

I'm a big believer in not drawing too many conclusions from what's going on in Iowa—after all, the last two caucus winners were Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, neither of whom were able to go the distance. But as any pollster who's ever done a focus group in Des Moines knows, Iowans take their "first in the nation" position seriously and start paying close attention to an election far earlier than do voters in other places. So there's a chance Trump's slip in the Hawkeye State is a presage of things to come elsewhere.

It's also worth noting that the betting markets aren't breaking his way. As of now, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is still considered most likely to win the Republican nomination at 33 percent. Cruz is second at 28 percent, and Trump is back at third with 23 percent.

Another data point that should be making the Trump campaign sweat comes from the most recent national poll in the RealClearPolitics average, a 1,140-voter survey from Quinnipiac that puts him up by just 4 points. Not only is Cruz right on his heels, but the reality TV star's "favorables" are in the figurative gutter. The percentage of people who view him negatively is 26 points higher than the percentage who view him positively. As a comparison: Rubio is at +9 and Clinton is at –8 to Trump's –26. And fully half of Americans (including nearly as many political independents) say they'd be "embarrassed to have Donald Trump as president."

The Quinnipiac survey also asks a series of general election matchup questions. Although it's way too early to be making predictions about what'll happen next November, Trump fans who care at all about electability have reason to be nervous. Both Rubio and Cruz are tied with Clinton in a hypothetical race. But not only does the poll find Trump losing to the former secretary of state by 7 points if the election were held today, it also finds him losing to Democratic Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders by a double-digit margin. Ouch.

NEXT: Kurt Russell: I'm Not a Republican, I'm Worse. A Hardcore Libertarian

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. What about the squirrels?

  2. Blue-collar voters don’t feel embarrassed about supporting Trump, who is very popular in their communities, the pollsters suggested. But many college-educated Republicans may hesitate to admit their attraction to Trump, the experiment indicates.

    So are blue-collar workers perhaps embarrassed to admit it if they don’t support Trump?

    1. Emberrassment is for white collar pussies. Pull my finger.

      1. If blue collars are subject to embarrassment, why do they eat moon pies, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, and go to tractor pulls?


          1. No, hipsters do that shit but say it is “ironic.” Which doens’t excuse them, of course.

    2. You know what happens when you hesitate to admit attraction?

      You don’t get laid.

  3. Hillary can just taste it.

    1. The blood of her enemies?

      1. Pretty much

      2. That’s not the only blood she can smell.

        1. Why, is there blood coming out of her nose? Out of her …. ?

  4. “The most likely explanation for that education gap, Dropp and his colleagues believe, is a well-known problem known as social-desirability bias — the tendency of people to not want to confess unpopular views to a pollster”

    Exactly what Goldwater supporters believed in 1964…and were proven spectacularly wrong on Election Day.

    1. Exactly what some said in the UK this year — and they were right! Conservative outright victory.

      1. Radically different candidates.

  5. I think Cruz has a much better shot of winning the nomination if he wins Iowa than Huckabee or Santorum did. Those two were pretty much one trick social issues ponies. Cruz has better fiscal/economic conservative and anti-establishment credentials (in a very anti-establishment race) than either of them did, and as such I think he has more potential for broader appeal than either of them did. If Cruz wins Iowa and finishes higher than Trump in New Hampshire (regardless of whether or not he wins) I think Trump is finished and Cruz is in very good position going forward (if he wins NH in this scenario, I think he’s got it wrapped up, but I’m not sure if an evangelical southerner has a good chance of winning NH, so it would most likely come down to him vs. the winner of the NH primary).

    1. Excellent post. I’d like to add that Cruz has a very bold energy platform that calls for eliminating the EtOH subsidy. Him leading in Iowa with that risky plank speaks great volumes to his strength.

    2. The party establishment also went to work immediately to discredit Santorum’s victory in 2012. Many votes were never reported. Surprisingly this trend was strongest in counties where Romney had done poorly in 2008, but rigging the Iowa popular vote still wasn’t enough to hand Romney the win. Of course, that didn’t matter. After all, Iowa’s caucuses are just beauty contests before the state convention and … oh, look over there! Redo in New Hampshire!

    3. Cruz is an asshole and an opportunist, and shitty on many issues that libertarians care about, but he is infinitely preferable to Trump. Maybe that was the plan all along. To make swing voters grateful to have someone other then Trump (or Bush) to vote for.

      I still think Rubio is the likely nominee. Mostly because nobody knows who he is so he can easily be all things to all people.

      1. Cruz is easily the second choice for libertarians after Rand.

        1. A distant second.

          1. But a solid second. He says a lot of dumb shit but seriously if he gets the nom supporting him is a no-brainer for serious libertarians, as opposed to anarcho-children and hipster-poseurs.

            1. I can imagine myself holding my nose and voting for Cruz, whereas I would slit my own throat with a rusty razor before I would vote for Trump.

  6. I’m a big believer in not drawing too many conclusions from what’s going on in Iowa

    Fuck Iowa. Their republican voters should be ashamed for voting for greasy anus output and the Huckster. They have 3 electoral votes. [raspberry]

    When is there going to be an article on something serious national importance? Like, say, Star Wars VII, The Force Awakens and what is the background of Rey? Why was Finn such a pussy? What is Chewbacca going to do? THESE are important questions.

    1. Hey hey hey, we put up with the endless political ads so you don’t have to. Believeme, you don’t really want to see what goes on here.

  7. The betting markets tend to be far more predictive than polls, although that’s partly because they’re more binary in nature, whereas the polls try to break things down by voting percentages. On the other hand, it’s barely less depressing to think of Marco Rubio winning the nomination. Not that I’m planning to vote Big Two anyway.

    1. For what it’s worth, the bettors over on PredictIt don’t seem to be gung-ho on any of the candidates Right now for the market “Who will win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination?” Ted Cruz is trading at 35?, Marco Rubio at 33?, Donald Trump at 27? (down 3?), and Jeb Bush at 9?. Bringing up the rear is Ben Carson at 1? (down 1?).

      They’re even more wishy-washy when it comes to the Republican vice-presidential nomination, with Cruz leading the pack at 14? and Haley at 12?.

  8. Do the polls predict how much money Trump is raising from Republican donors or, in the absence of donors, whether he’ll be willing to spend his own money ahead of Super Tuesday?

    The correct answer is, “No, the polls can’t tell us that”.

    My bet is that Trump tries to stay in the headlines without spending his own money by saying the stupidest shit he can think of–at least through Super Tuesday. If he still has a respectable lead after that, then maybe he’ll get serious and dig into his wallet.

    The only candidate in recent memory who managed to stay in the headlines without spending money was Sarah Palin, and I’d expect Trump’s sell by date to come much sooner than her’s did.

    1. i agree with that. i think people are under the impression that trump is actually spending his money, and at least as of october, he had collected more in donations than he had spent. i think that was just his way of of convincing people he was serious, but he’s not going to spend wildly on a candidacy to get steve forbes results.

      i think he loses iowa, and then starts to fall from there. people are focusing too much on the national polls and not the state numbers, and definitely overlooking the weakness of his ground game, and if it’s as weak as some say, iowa might shock some people.

    2. OMG, can you imagine? Trump/Palin 2016!

  9. Meanwhile, a vote for Trump in the primaries is a vote for Hillary in the general election. If she’s running against Trump, she wins.

    She should hold a rally and encourage her supporters in closed primary states to register Republican and vote for Trump. Those of you who are voting for Trump, how’s it feel to be carrying water for the progressives?

    1. Considering that the rest of the Republican field isn’t worth a fuck anyway, why would I care?

      A libertarian appealing to the “throwing your vote away” argument – that’s gotta be the richest thing I’ve heard all day, Captain Kangaroo!

      1. There’s that delusion and deflection at work.

      2. “A libertarian appealing to the “throwing your vote away” argument – that’s gotta be the richest thing I’ve heard all day”

        I actually brought that up myself below.

        Why would the Republicans want their votes to become a mere protest vote?

        If the Libertarian Party were as big a the Republican Party is, I wouldn’t vote in the primaries based on some kind of protest vote. I’d be playing to win.

        There is no hope that the LP candidate will win the next Presidential election–and that’s why I treat voting for them as a protest vote.

        If the LP candidate had a legitimate shot at winning, I wouldn’t treat voting for them as a protest vote at all.

        Why would the Republican do so–and that’s what those who are planning to vote in the primaries for Trump are doing. They’re treating their vote–in the general election–as a protest vote because if Trump wins the nomination, Hillary will win the White House.

        1. “If the Libertarian Party were as big as the Republican Party is, I wouldn’t vote in the primaries based on some kind of protest vote”

          What if the only candidates in the LP primary that people thought had a chance at general election success were Chris Christie and Howard Dean?

          1. Then it wouldn’t be an LP primary. Funny, both of those are more electable than Trump.

          2. And the Libertarian Party was sitting on control of the House, the Senate, and 31 state legislatures?

            I’d vote for Chris Christie or Howard Dean.

            The answer to the question of how I would vote in the primaries is just different if it’s a question of foregoing control of the White House. Since the LP candidate has no chance of winning, I really don’t care who they nominate so long as he doesn’t embarrass us for being a racist or a crank or something.

            Those Republicans who vote for Trump in the primaries are voting to forego control of the White House whether they realize it or not.

    2. I continue to predict that Trump vs. Hillary results in President Bloomberg. Those two nominees practically beg an independent to throw in and play savior.

  10. Let’s put it this way…if Trump doesn’t get the nomination, he will be a record setter. It would be the first time in modern history that a GOP candidate leading by 20 points this late will have list.

    You Republican apologists getting nervous about the party you hung your hat on?

    1. *lost

      1. Just so you don’t feel lonely:


    2. The Democratic front-runners are a woman who should be 3 years into serving a life sentence at a maximum-security federal penitentiary and a man slightly to the right of Lenin.

      Do they have mirrors where you live?

    3. Smug, economically illiterate, Assholes like you JackAss cause a conservative backlash, and now I have to suffer through it while you call me a “Trump Supporter”.

      I hope you get everything that you deserve.

  11. “Not only is Cruz right on his heels, but the reality TV star’s “favorables” are in the figurative gutter. The percentage of people who view him negatively is 26 points higher than the percentage who view him positively. As a comparison: Rubio is at +9 and Clinton is at ?8 to Trump’s ?26.”

    This is why Trump will lose in the general–and if he loses in the Republican primaries, this will be why, too.

    If 30% of the American people support him, that means 56% despise him.

    If 30% of the American people support Hillary, then 38% despise her.

    If 30% of the American people support Rubio, then only 21% despise him–he has a much more potential for increased support from swing voters than either Trump or Hillary.

    I understand protest voting. I’ve voted Libertarian myself. But if you’re voting Republican in the general election and Trump is the candidate, you’ve effectively denigrating the Republican Party to protest vote status.

    1. not to mention that hillary becomes less despicable when compared to trump, and so the undecideds break more for her. i’m one of them if trump is the gop nominee. of course, trump voters largely actually believe that hispanics, etc are secretly supporting him, but the media is covering it up. trump is basically what was always inevitable…the right always throws a tantrum for a while, but usually gets convinced their guy can’t win and they back down. this time, many of them just don’t care. 65% of donald’s support is basically locked in, so he’ll finish in the top three in iowa at least, but if he’s third, i’m not sure he survives that, but second and a strong new hampshire, and we may see if the gop is as loyal to him as they demanded he be to them.

      1. Yeah, Clinton looks great when you gloss over the fact that she blatantly and willfully compromised national security and should be serving hard time in an orange jumpsuit.

        1. i don’t disagree, but since when did politics and reality learn to get along?

        2. And Trump is so awful people will STILL vote for her over him.

    2. Hillary is worse than Trump. Trump talks shit. Hillary is.

      I still think Cruz or Rubio will get the nomination though. Hopefully Cruz. He will actually be a pretty decent president. He’s about 65% reliable. Trump about 35%. Hillary about 0%. Sanders gets a negative score.

      1. But the choice isn’t really between having Hillary or Trump in the White House.

        If the Republicans choose to nominate Trump, Hillary wins.

        If the Republicans nominate Trump, then the Republicans choose to put Hillary in the White House.

        Why would they do that?

        The protest vote idea makes a certain amount of sense, but why would Republicans want to denigrate their ability to run a candidate with a legitimate shot at winning to mere protest vote status?

        I suspect many Republicans have built echo chambers of their own to rival the progressives’. They don’t realize how incredibly unpopular Donald Trump really is. They just keep hearing that he leads the plurality race–and they think that means he’s popular and he has a legitimate chance of winning. A plurality is actually a minority (30% of 40% of the American people is 12%), and Donald Trump does not have a legitimate chance of winning.

        Hillary Clinton could put a contract out on Monica Lewinsky, live on national television, and she’d still beat Donald Trump in a landslide.

        1. Because they sincerely think Trump can win, because they’re fucking in-bred retards.

          1. HazelMeade — Please tell me why Trump can’t win.

            Then tell me who you want to be our next president.

            Then sit back, relax and watch me destroy your ignorant arguments.

            You’re in for a good cry!

      2. Is Hillary suggesting databases for Muslims, mass deportation, and Smoot-Hawley 2.0? Does her party control Congress?

  12. Hyperion, where are you? This is your chance to read another Donald Trump article!!

  13. If Santorum tried as hard to run for President as he does to suppress his homosexuality, he’d have won.

    1. I never thought of it that way. Hmm…

  14. R^2 of 0.60 is not bad.

  15. Sometimes dude you jsut have to roll with the punches.


  16. Trump is a shoe-in. The dumbest people in the world are still weighing in on why he can’t win. They’re socially-signaling that they’re fucking morons. The only person who can take out Trump is Trump.

    1. They’re socially-signaling that they’re fucking morons.

      The irony….the lack of self-awareness.

      Trump is a shoe-in.

      Then Hillary is a lock for president.

      1. You and Karl Rove agree.

        1. Wow, singing comeback. Did that take an hour of thought to come up with?

          1. Cytotoxic — Please inform the readers why you don’t like Trump

            Then tell us who you want to be president.

            Then sit back and watch me make an ass out of you.

      2. She is unlikable and unelectable. America is not NY state. Don’t make the mistake of thinking she is Bill or Barack in a pantsuit. Those two have some basic charm that the looters like (“I feel like I can have a beer with him.”). She gives a majority of the country douche chills. Her campaign’s strategy is to keep her from talking too much because when she talks, people hate her. She is a repugnant, power-hungry, and amoral narcissist, with zero point zero charm. She so obviously covets the job that she would do anything to get it, and everyone can see it. Minorities will not show up in strength to vote for her, and that spells doom for her chances. White men will line up like nerds for star wars tickets to keep her from winning. The number of people who want anyone but Hillary is huge. Be honest, when you heard that Chelsea was pregnant, one of the first thoughts that went through your mind was that it was some sort of ploy orchestrated by Hillary and her team to gain some BS sympathy from the sheep. It doesn’t matter if it is true, people believe that she is that craven. If it comes down to her and getting Gonorrhea, I would bet on the STD. That’s right: people would rather get the clap than vote for Hillary.

        1. And she would still beat Trump.

          1. Only if the election was held in Canada.

            1. Try reading the posts from people with more brains than you like KS. It’s clear to the non-deluded that Trump has no chance in hell.

              1. Trump has no chance of winning anything. I’m still waiting to meet someone who really supports Trump but I can’t wait to find one so I can ask him why.

                1. Craig — You have just found “someone who really supports Trump.”

                  Please tell me who you want for president and then sit back while I shred him/her into a million pieces.

                  Then I will tell you all of the reasons why you should vote for Trump and you won’t be able to refute a single argument I make.

                  Are you feeling lucky punk? Well, are you?

                  1. I’ve been reading you EndGOP. Something you have failed to mention about Trump is how he has single-handedly destroyed political correctness in one felt swoop.

                    I’m surprised you have never mentioned this. You must be slipping.

                    1. Stopper ? No, no, no! Me, slipping? Never.

                      99% of the minds at Reason are like that of an infant’s mind. You can only feed them so much at a time and you have to do it very slow, otherwise they just can’t handle it and they spit it out.

                      I have already scared everybody away, which is a shame. The reason I came to this site is because I was looking for an intellectual challenge. Even the writers here can’t provide that for me.

                      Look at my last 3 posts on this thread in response to HazelMeade, Cytotoxic and Craig. All three of them were mouthing off looking for a fight a couple of days ago. I challenge them and they all disappeared without a peep. Mental midgets. That’s all they are.

                      Do you know of any sites I can go to where the average IQ is higher than that of a pet rock?

                      I do have to hand it to Reason’s editorial staff. I would have thought they would have banned me from this site long ago.

                      Do you want to challenge me Stopper? Please do.

            2. Try talking to someone who isn’t an inbred yokel.
              For all your bitching about proggy SJWs you seem to think they don’t vote. Or that there aren’t very many of them. Amazing. If there are so few of them out there that Trump is a shoe-in, what the fuck are you complaining about? I mean, shit, how did Obama even get elected ? Nobody you knew voted for him.

        2. So let’s run someone even more unlikeable and unelectable against her. It’s a sure bet.

    2. The other dumbest people in the world are going to vote for that dumb mutha.

  17. The GOP should honestly just cancel the primaries if Trump doesn’t flame out in 6 weeks to have a brokered convention. The People clearly aren’t behaving responsibly or seriously and have to be put in their place.

    1. “Listen people, the Canadian virgin doesn’t approve of you, cut it out!

      1. I don’t know who that is but ‘the people’ are morons.

    2. Not harsh enough! A child from each district should be selected to fight to the death.

      1. You! YOU are my dark vizier!

  18. The GOPe RINOS aren’t going to fall in line behind Cruz because they think he’s even worse. Predicition markets favor Rubio? Prediction markets are often totally wrong right up until the past-post bets come in.

  19. Holy shit. A Trump thread that only has 61 posts in it, 6 hours after the fact.
    What the fuck?

    I guess Trump really has jumped the shark after all.

    1. Let it be known that the beginning of his end was marked here, in orange.

    2. Sorry to burst your bubble but…..

      Keep wishin’!

  20. I am a current college student in MO. I am for sure voting for Trump, Clinton is a idiot that does nothing but lie about any of her positions. Anyone who’s to naive to see that has real issues

    1. I understand why you dislike Hillary, but why support a crony, real-TV host?

    2. At least she’s not a racist demagogue who hates free trade and loves big government.

      1. Actually she’s all of those things. President Hillary is far more dangerous to life, liberty and property than a President Trump.

  21. I think a good comparison is Howard Dean in 2004. He was in the lead in mid to late Dec 2003 – usually by double digits – for the Dem nomination but completely fell apart in the days leading up to Iowa.

    Trump’s current lead over his rivals is relatively bigger than Dean’s ever was but he, I believe, suffers from similar flaws: no real campaign infrastructure, an establishment deadset against him, and polls showing him getting crushed by the opposing party in the general election.

    I don’t think Trump will win the nomination. There’s far more to winning it than blustery speeches. It’ll likely be Cruz vs some establishment figure after South Carolina votes.

  22. Trigger warning for libertarians: Trump.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.