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With the Iowa caucuses less than six months away, Donald Trump has taken a runaway lead among the GOP candidates.
While Trump has a commanding position in poll after poll, some news outlets are doing everything they can to downplay his candidacy. Whether by comparing Trump to Herman Cain in 2012, citing his inability to garner the grassroots support needed to win the presidential nomination, or by publishing headlines that a majority of Republican strategists and operatives doubt his capability of winning in either Iowa or New Hampshire, the media loves to hate on the New York-based developer.
But for all of the “Trump is the flavor of the month” mentality being broadcast, the data around his role in the Republican primary leads us to believe that he isn’t going anywhere soon. And while we aren’t saying Trump will take his breakaway from the pack all the way to the Cleveland finish line at the Republican National Convention, his staying power shouldn’t be discounted.
Whether this outlook is coming from right-leaning or left-leaning media sources, the stories making light of Trump’s candidacy appear to be overlooking three key factors. First, that Trump’s initial spike in the polls isn’t actually a spike. Rather, Trump’s numbers are lasting. Not only did his percentage of the vote share increase following the first debate, but as of Aug. 20, he’ll have been in the lead for a month.
Secondly, Republican voters really are feeling a connection with the billionaire, as Bloomberg’s focus group with Trump supporters shows. The group, conducted in New Hampshire, a state seen as a litmus test for presidential candidates, revealed how everyday Americans view his campaign.
Why do GOP voters like the man who seems to be followed by controversy? This Washington Post piece summed up the answer with one voter’s take: “He’s like one of us. He may be a millionaire … but beside the money issue he’s still in tune with what everyone is wanting.”
Regardless of whether Americans love him or love to hate him, Trump’s biggest selling point is that he isn’t a typical candidate. With many Americans generally sick and tired of career politicians (as we’re seeing in most candidate’s favorabilities being underwater), Trump’s outsider perspective and lack of self-censorship is clearly a boon.
Finally, the flavor-of-the-month notion about Trump misses the fact that his support is coming from all factions of the Republican Party, not just those who are less than enthralled with more establishment candidates. Our latest national poll found interesting data on Trump’s support at a deeper level than topline numbers tend to indicate.
After asking Americans to compare themselves ideologically to the two parties in Congress, we were able to separate out likely Republican primary voters into three groups. The first group, made up of voters who place themselves to the right of Republicans, support Trump with 23 percent of the vote, followed by Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz at 11 percent and 10 percent respectively. Meanwhile, GOP voters who place themselves in line with GOP ideology favor Trump at 23 percent as well, followed by Cruz at 15 percent and Rubio at 12 percent.
Finally, GOP primary voters, who place themselves to the left of the Republican Party give Trump his highest number yet — 25 percent support. What’s truly surprising in these numbers is that not only is Trump leading among all three factions of the GOP, but that Bush, who should be the more establishment-friendly candidate, is running a distant fourth among the Republicans who feel aligned with the party.
Undoubtedly, Trump’s lead among all three groups points to some of his staying power, and is evidence that this isn’t just a flavor-of-the-month scenario like we saw with numerous Republican candidates in 2012.
So will Mr. Trump be on top come the Iowa Caucus next February? Hard to say. But data points to the fact that he has longevity at the top of the pack — unless he finds a way to self-implode in the next couple months. But short of endorsing Hillary Clinton, it’s hard to imagine what more he could say to alienate Republican voters.
Stefan Hankin is founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based public opinion firm. Follow him on Twitter at @LPStrategies