Free Minds & Free Markets

Don't Be Fooled by Polls Showing GOP Interest in Challenging Trump

When voters see what the actual options are, their interest in political competition plummets.

||| ELIZABETH FRANTZ/REUTERS/NewscomELIZABETH FRANTZ/REUTERS/NewscomHey, check out this new CNN poll showing that 40 percent of registered Republicans in Iowa hope that President Donald Trump gets challenged for the GOP nomination! So you're saying there's a #NeverTrump chance, right?

That poll-softening, plus the potential Trump-weakening revelations from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, is the basic case for optimism among those agitating for a competitive primary. "Having large percentages of partisans say they wish their incumbent president would be challenged (or not seek reelection) is not something you normally see in the course of successful reelection campaigns," Bulwark Publisher Sarah Longwell wrote last month. "That doesn't mean that 40 percent of Republicans will abandon Trump in 2020 in favor of the Democratic nominee. But it surely means something."

Whatever that something is, it's currently a good deal less than two out of five Republicans actively considering a non-Trump primary vote. Why? Because whenever presented with actual, instead of theoretical, choices, competition-curious voters say "Ewwwww, I didn't mean that guy!"

The CNN poll of 400 Republican Iowans shows Trump with a net favorability of 67 percentage points (82 percent favorable, 15 percent unfavorable). What about CNN commentator and professional primary-Hamlet John Kasich? The former Ohio governor is at -1 percentage point net favorability (27 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable). That actually leads the #NeverTrump field: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is at -8, exploratory committee-haver Bill Weld is at -11, and the universally derided independent Howard Schultz lags the field at -18.

It gets worse for the challengers. A Monmouth University poll released yesterday of 339 Republicans nationwide showed Trump whacking Weld head-to-head, 54 percent to 8 percent, and also hammering Hogan, 55 percent to 6 percent.

"What's clear," concludes The Washington Post's Aaron Blake, "is that, at this early juncture, the math just doesn't add up."

Let's not skip over that "early juncture" bit; here's some important context about primary polls:

Still, the insight remains, and it's durable across election cycles: Voters in high numbers say they want choice, but when actually presented with that choice, they reject it. Even moreso during periods of high negative polarization.

Just look at this 21st century polling spread from Gallup. Why, a whopping 57 percent of Americans say we need a third party, compared to just 38 percent who say the two major parties are combining to do an adequate job!

||| GallupGallup

And yet a couple of weeks after that last poll was taken, third parties and independent candidates got skunked in the midterm elections. As Nick Gillespie observed 14 months ago in a typically subtle headline, "Post-Trump, Do We Really Want a Viable Third Party? Survey Says Yes, History Says GTFO." Or if you prefer Washington Post number-cruncher David Byler's more subdued formulation yesterday, "In theory, it might be possible to imagine someone uniting the less Trump-y factions of the GOP and putting together a solid challenge to Trump. But it's hard to do that in practice."

As the #NeverTrump crowd keeps waiting for a Mueller magic bullet that might not ever materialize, it will be interesting to see who, if anyone, will look at those long odds yet still decide to roll the dice.


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 or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Hugh Akston||

    This is gonna be Santorum's year, I can feel it.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Santorum 1. The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. 2. Senator Rick Santorum.

    That bastard deserves it.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    That is a harsh criticism of Sweater Vest.

  • ||

    601 DAYS TO GO:
    2008 Dem: Clinton led by 12.2 points.
    2008 GOP: Giuliani led by 15.3 points.
    2012 GOP: Romney led by 8.5 points.
    2016 Dem: Clinton led by 53.7 points.
    2016 GOP: Walker and Bush were tied.

    This is how we should elect leaders. We're moving towards early and absentee voting and the perpetual campaign cycle anyway. The candidate who consistently won the most electoral and/or popular votes over the course of the previous four years should be the winner of the next 4 year term. To more faithfully represent the idea of living with the terrible decision you (would've) made 4, 8, 12, etc. years ago.

  • creech||

    Makes sense, and let's not forget letting 16 year olds vote, and any tourist or international student or alien who happens to be in the country on early voting day. Maybe even allow those anywhere in the world who think they may visit the U.S. during the next four years, or ever, also vote by absentee ballot.

  • Rat on a train||

    US government actions affect the world so they should have a say.

  • Longtobefree||

    Really? Accept CNN as a source?
    Accept any poll these days?
    What fool would even bother taking polls these days? Nobody is going to tell the truth, and most aren't going to answer.
    Clickbait is all polls are now. Give it up.

  • Crusty Juggler - Lawbertarian||

    As a supporter of one of the two major parties, I would never vote for a third party because that vote would hurt the candidate of the major party I generally empathize with.

  • ||

    As a supporter of one of the two major parties, I would never vote for a third party because that vote would hurt the candidate of the major party I generally empathize with.

    As an opponent of the two major parties, I would never vote for a third party because that vote wouldn't hurt the candidate of the majority party I generally despise enough.

    Only sickos empathize with political party leaders.

  • Crusty Juggler - Lawbertarian||

    But the other guys are worse.

  • ||

    Which is why I oppose them both equally.

  • DarrenM||

    Which is the same as supporting them both equally.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    "Voters in high numbers say they want choice, but when actually presented with that choice, they reject it. "

    They're not rejecting having a choice, they're rejecting particular choices.

    Say I've got a bowl of butter pecan ice cream. You offer me a choice of ice cream flavors. I absolutely want a choice of flavor. The choices you present me with are butter pecan, mushroom, or broccoli ice cream. I pick butter pecan.

    Would it make any sense to say that I rejected having a choice, just because I stuck with the butter pecan?

    Come up with somebody better than Trump from the perspective of Republican voters, and they'll chose that somebody. The problem is that the neverTrump people are don't share the Republican voters' preferences, or else they wouldn't be neverTrump in the first place.

    They're never going to come up with an alternative to Trump the voters would like more, because they want what the voters have already rejected.

  • Ordinary Person||

    #NeverTrump should really be #NeverRepublican at this point.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I prefer #getridofallthedemocrats.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Never tired of winning!


  • JFree||

    These polls just prove that there's a bunch of chickens inside both the DeRp tents right now and none of them of boomer age or older will ever leave the tent or vote non-DeRp. They may cluck a lot but they are now at the age where they will never do anything EXCEPT cluck a lot.

    The only possibility for change is generational - Genx and younger. Dems are holding onto them a bit better for now but I guess 2020 will reveal whether the ones they are holding onto are just leftist oddballs or representative of the generation. R brand now is poison for that entire nextgen except among HS grads - and that group is massively disengaged.

  • Tony||

    Anyone who thinks Trump should be the most powerful human on earth is a fucking retard. If that's 35% of the United States, well congratulations on the biggest population of retards in history.

  • loveconstitution1789||


    Tony has a sad.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Six. Ore years of Trump, Tony.

    Learn to obey, or drink your fucking Drano. Fucking swishbuckler.

  • awildseaking||

    People don't want third parties. They just want their elected officials to stop being politicians and start being representatives.

  • JFree||

    'Elected' generally means they have to become party hacks first. Otherwise they don't get elected or re-elected. And all the structural elements of that (making issues 'national', giving party/committee leadership in Congress all the power, freezing size of House, gerrymandering at state level, etc) were put in place by the parties precisely so that 'what the people want' is as irrelevant as possible to far important issues.

  • JeffreyL||

    Anyone see another situation where a ross perot type candidate can develop, at least in the near future? i just don't see Howard Shultz fitting that mold.

  • integrity test||

    Yes, they may cluck a lot but they are now at the age where they will never do anything EXCEPT cluck a lot.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online