Donald Trump is now neck and neck with Dr Ben Carson in polling data. Despite this, Mr Trump’s numbers have not fallen all that much.
How has this happened?
It’s simple, really. It’s also what usually happens in political races with lots of candidates. First, candidates drop out. That has been occurring in the Republican presidential marathon. As candidates drop out, voters who were backing them shift to other candidates. Over time, support begins to consolidate behind one candidate.
Donald Trump came out of the gate ahead of the pack. He led the field by a wide margin. But I noticed something interesting about his lead. The numbers held steady. What that meant is that he had a certain group of Republican voters behind him and they were solid in their support. But it looked as if that group was all he might get.
In short, he had a great starter set, but his ability to get over 50% seemed weak. I kind of expected that as candidates dropped out and the field began to consolidate, someone besides Mr Trump would pick up the gains. That is what has happened.
At the same time, Dr Carson’s success has fueled a drop in Mr Trump’s support. Dr Carson is not only managing to consolidate support that was previously going to candidate who have dropped out of the race, he is beginning to leach support away from Mr Trump.
Does that mean that Dr Carson is the likely nominee? Who knows.
In fact, the entire race is a huge ‘Who knows?’ right now, which is why I haven’t written about it before this. The coverage up until now has been a ratings game for those doing the covering. It has very little to do with who the next president will be. Ditto for the polls.
Despite the horse race analysis that I just gave you, all polls about the presidential race are based on fantasy responses. Voters tend to be cavalier in their statements of support when the election is far in the future. It doesn’t matter what they think at that point, and they know it. That’s why the numbers always — and I mean every single time — change so dramatically as the election draws closer.
When voting time gets close, people stop window shopping candidates and get down to the real business of picking their next leader. What Mr Trump’s numbers have shown so far is that his appeal is strong among a certain segment of Republican voters. If he is to secure the nomination, he must find ways to broaden that appeal by a large number of percentage points. Even that says nothing of actually winning the presidency in a head to head race with whoever the Ds nominate.
Dr Carson will run into the same chop as time moves forward. He has latched onto a big swath of the Republican base. His followers are somewhat discreet from Mr Trump’s, but there is enough overlap that he’s bleeding support from Mr Trump.
Will either one of them win the nomination? The depends entirely on two things. Can they pick up the support of other candidates as they drop out, and can they widen their appeal to Republican voters who are not interested in the race just now, but who will lock on when the primaries and actual voting comes around?
It’s a long, long way from 25% to 50%. In fact, those last few percentage points are paved in flame. The nominating process doesn’t require 50% plus one in each election as does a dead heat election. But it does require consistent ability to pull a significant lead in almost all primaries. As the field narrows, that will move over time into 50% plus one territory.
It will interesting to see how this shakes out going forward. After the first of the year, when the whole thing starts to get real, we’ll have our first true indicators of how those votes that are lying on the table will stack up.
**Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland**