Author: Stephen Rosenfeld
Presidential debates matter but follow-up polls tracing shifting fortunes can also miss the big picture.
That picture isn’t whether or not Donald Trump is still the Republican frontrunner for the 2016 nomination, or whether Carly Fiorina has surged, or whether Jeb Bush has stalled. It’s that a majority of Republican primary voters are supporting candidates who share many extreme right-wing views.
That evidence is not found in Trump’s numbers, which slipped from 26 percent in pre-debate national polls by Rasmussen Reports, which specializes in GOP campaigns, to 17 percent after the confrontation with Fox News’ moderators and his competitors. Rather, it comes from adding up the percentages of the candidates with 5 percent or more, and realizing that 70 percent of likely GOP primary voters favor right-wing extremists.
The polls’ fine-print tell one story—of shifting fortunes in a crowded field. Nationally, Trump now has 17 percent, followed by Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, each at 10 percent, according to Rasmussen. Then Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina each have 9 percent, followed by Ben Carson at 8 percent, and Ted Cruz at 7 percent. State polls find even more movement, such as Trump pulling ahead of Walker in Iowa and John Kasich climbing in New Hampshire.
But no matter who is out front now—or who might be leading as the fall campaign looms, when you add up the shares up of the GOP candidates pollings at 5 percent or more, fully 70 percent of Republicans want a candidate who is authoritarian and anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, anti-science, anti-tax, anti-government, anti-labor, and more.
This big-picture is largely lost in the campaign commentary and analysis, such as Nate Silver’s recent post at fivethirtyeight.com, entitled, “Donald Trump Is Winning The Polls – And Losing The Nomination.”
Silver’s points are all good—but he’s looking at the microcosm not the macrocosm. Yes, the Iowa caucuses are nearly 175 days away. And states do vote one at a time; there is no national primary. And of the 17 GOP contenders, some will drop out. And many states do not award delegates on a winner-take-all basis. And many poll respondents may not end up voting.
“This is why it’s exasperating that the mainstream media has become obsessed with how Trump is performing in the polls,” he wrote, then citing other historic and political factors why performance this early in a race is not a strong indication of who will win.
But what’s also exasperating is that the media’s fine print focus of post-debate polling is missing a very big point about the nature of the Republican field and the party’s current base: it’s filled with right-wing extremists, no matter how you parse it.
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).