Friday, March 4, 2016

No, Trump Is Not Unusually Strong Among Democrats - But He IS Unusually Weak Among Republicans

From Mitt Romney's past dalliance with government healthcare and abortion, to John McCain's involvement with campaign finance and immigration reform, strict purity to conservative orthodoxy has never been a Republican prerequisite for the presidential nomination. But if Romney and McCain flirted with expanding the bounds of acceptable disobedience to GOP principles, Donald Trump has blown the lid off those bounds.

It started before he even officially entered the race last June, when Trump implored attendees at a Republican summit in April to resist reforming Social Security and Medicare. During the first GOP primary debate on August 6, 2015, Trump expressed admiration for Canada and Scotland's single-payer healthcare system. A few days later, Trump defended Planned Parenthood during an interview with Sean Hannity. Two weeks later, Trump suggested during a CNN interview that he would raise taxes on wealthy Americans, cleverly labeling it a hedge-fund tax. The following month, Trump signaled his disdain for free trade during a '60 Minutes' interview, telling Scott Pelley NAFTA has been a "disaster."  Believe it or not, the list goes on, but I digress.

Naturally, the historical nature of a Republican's brazen appeals to populist economic programs often identified with progressives led many political commentators to entertain an interesting theory: might Mr. Trump's overtures to the left pay dividends this November? Articles from Breitbart's Mike Flynn and The Washington Post's Philip Bump highlight Trump's support from a specific kind of Democrat - namely, ex-Democrats. The NY Times' hypothesis was a bit different, though not far off - a big chunk of Trump's support stems from self-identifying Republicans who, for whatever reason, are registered Democrats.

Regardless of the theory, beware of misleading headlines suggesting Trump could coast to victory in November on the backs of Democrats; because from the standpoint of general election polling, nothing appears nearly so out-of-the-ordinary. In fact, considering the eight national general election polls (with readily available crosstabs) conducted since the Iowa Caucus on February 1, Trump earns an average of just 9% from self-identified Democrats - essentially the same amount won by his GOP opponents Marco Rubio (9%) and Ted Cruz (8%). In fact, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush all polled better among Demo.crats than Trump during a similar period in their respective 2012, 2008, and 2004 (uncontested) primaries.

Not only that, but it's Marco Rubio - not Donald Trump - who holds Clinton to her lowest share of the Democratic vote. She wins, on average, 84% of Democrats in post-Iowa general election polling, while winning 85% and 86% against Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, respectively. See the table below:

As Donald Trump's so-called attractiveness to Democrats saturates the news media, one verifiable fact does not: Trump is performing worse among Republicans in the general election than current and past Republican candidates at this point in the campaign.

In national surveys conducted since the Iowa caucus, the GOP front-runner is averaging just 78% among Republicans, bottoming out at 65% in a post-Super Tuesday poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports.  Meanwhile, Rubio and Cruz average 86% and 85% among Republicans respectively. Looking back at history, Romney, McCain, and Bush averaged 86%, 83%, and 87% respectively at similar periods during their primary - in other words, better than Trump.

Trump also cedes slightly more Republican voters to Hillary Clinton than Cruz or Rubio.

As you can see, there is nothing exceptional, or even remotely indicative of a Democratic avalanche towards Donald Trump.

Not only is Trump unimpressive against Democrats, but whatever gains he may eventually make are more than offset by Hillary Clinton's gains among Republicans. In fact, in all eight national primary surveys conducted since the Iowa caucus, Clinton performs better with her base than Trump performs with his. She averaged a 76-point lead over Trump among Democrats, while Trump averages just a 68-pt lead over Clinton among Republicans.

The same cannot be said for Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, John McCain, or George W. Bush, all of whom's advantage among Republicans was/is greater than their Democratic opponent's advantage among Democrats.

So the next time you hear a story about the potential for Trump to cut into Clinton's Democratic base, remember these facts - 1. the numbers don't support such a theory, and 2. Trump's weakness with his own base could cancel out any strength among Democrats, were it to materialize.

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