Donald Trump and the problem with polls

By Isaac Simon

Donald Trump speaks with the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board on June 29 in Chicago. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune)
Donald Trump speaks with the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board on June 29 in Chicago. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune)

Donald Trump has made it clear that he doesn’t care what we think. And yet, we still seem to care what he thinks.

Since announcing his candidacy in June, Trump has had no problem receiving attention for a laundry list of outlandish comments. Most notable among these were his comments regarding illegal immigrants coming from Mexico. Trump said, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

As his poll numbers continued to climb, his corporate sponsors began to decline, with businesses such as Macy’s, Univision, and NBCUniversal cutting ties with the celebrity real estate mogul. Trump’s somewhat racist generalization was followed up by a visit to the border roughly a month later. Trump touted his expertise on immigration while at the same time allowing for his snobbishness to get in the way. He was supposedly invited by the border agent’s union only to be disinvited a short while later.

In typical Trump fashion, he arrived in Laredo, Texas and, mistaking boos for cheers, displayed his arrogance by saying “You look at the crowds outside, the crowds are all screaming in favor of Trump. Everybody wants me.” Whether it was the US border patrol council canceling his invitation or signs held up by protesters reading, “John McCain is a hero, Trump is a chump” or “LULAC likes veterans not bigots” (LULAC stands for League of United Latin American Citizens), it is clear that the scene of Trump’s most talked about political issue is a place where he is unwanted.

2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the City Club of Chicago to a sold out crowd on June 29 in Chicago. Trump discussed everything from immigration, Miss Universe, and "The Apprentice" to business.  (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)
Donald Trump speaks at the City Club of Chicago to a sold out crowd on June 29 in Chicago. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

Trump has never held elected office and has no policy experience, but I don’t believe he should be faulted this. In fact, Trump is not alone in that regard among the crowded GOP field: neither Carly Fiorina nor Ben Carson have ever held elected office. But when asked to produce evidence “regarding Mexico sending its criminals across the border,” despite the fact that immigration in the region is at a net zero, Trump succeeded at ducking the question saying, “Yes I have.” When pressed for details he responded by saying, “We’ll be showing you the evidence.” Trump, however, never came forward with any “evidence.”

Indeed, this failure to satisfactorily respond to reporters and answer their questions will be Trump’s biggest problem going forward. That is, the fact that Trump is only capable of touting his business accomplishments and is virtually unable to back up any of his political claims will ultimately separate him from his fellow Republican candidates. Without the evidence to back up his positions Trump is only left with the kind of crazy rhetoric he employed at the press conference announcing his candidacy. Whether it be race-centered remarks or just ridiculous talk – like saying that John McCain is not a war hero – the more he talks, the less credible he becomes.

Undoubtedly, Trump has received so much media attention because of his high poll numbers. Viewers tune in to watch Trump because he is the biggest celebrity in the Republican field. Over 24 million people tuned in to watch the first Republican debate, more than any other presidential primary debate in history.

But there are a lot of problems with these polls. As Nate Silver of points out, Trump’s favorability in many of these national polls comes from “low information voters”– those who are often not up to speed with the day-to-day news cycle. Even though Trump’s poll numbers are high, there is a clear majority against him, with 75 percent of the Republican electorate preferring one of the other sixteen candidates.

Also, many have noted that although Trump is leading in the polls, there is a rapid downtrend in his favorability, with 30 percent holding a favorable view, while 60 percent hold an unfavorable view. Furthermore, one of the many problems with these polls is that they are occurring five months before the first primary election. Just because Trump is leading the current Iowa caucus poll does not mean that he is going to get a reasonable percentage of the vote.

During the 2012 race, Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll. That did not add to her credibility or make her anymore of a viable candidate. Some polls even showed former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty as a clear front runner until he came in last in the Iowa straw poll and subsequently dropped out of the race. With the Iowa caucuses a little under five months away, there still lies a wide open field for the Republicans. Given the fact that Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee won the 2012 and 2008 Iowa Caucus, there’s not even an indication that the winner of Iowa goes on to win the nomination.

Trump’s current popularity bares close resemblance to that of Herman Cain this time during 2012. He did not even make it to Iowa.

Some have said that Trump does not really want to seek the nomination. This much is true: Trump will most likely concede defeat long before the Republican national convention in Cleveland. However, Trump’s ultimate lack of viability does not prevent him from having an impact on the rest of the race. The criticism he levels at his opponents, Jeb Bush in particular, may help to undermine their candidacies.

Arguably, Trump’s biggest power moves can come in the way he portrays his opposition in the Republican field. But given the way he has portrayed himself, the Republican Party’s best Christmas present may come at the end of December when it will probably be looking at a Trump-less campaign.

Isaac Simon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]