These early presidential polls aren’t useful for much other than the occasional laugh or when TV news networks decide to take it upon themselves to cull one political party’s primary field, and since I’m not a TV news network I’m mainly in it for the laughs. Take the Republican field
Everybody else in the field has effectively been in a holding pattern waiting for Donald Trump to flame out. We’re told that it’s “inevitable” by former Bush 43 speechwriters, and according to Jack Mirkinson at Salon it’s already happened at least twice. Yet here’s today’s CNN poll, which has Trump 11 points ahead of JEB, who is five points ahead of anybody else in the field. But more interestingly, this poll asked Republican voters who their second choice candidate is. This is where you’d expect to see evidence of Trump’s pending flameout; you’d expect to see that his appeal doesn’t go beyond the ~25% of GOP voters who say he’s their first choice, so that when the other 75% eventually begins to coalesce, it will be around somebody other than Trump.
Here’s the thing, though: the poll finds that Trump is also leading as the second choice candidate, with 14% to JEB and Ben Carson at 10% each. We don’t know which candidate’s supporters were most inclined to say they’d switch to Trump if their guy/lady dropped out, but now you’re looking at Trump getting to somewhere near 40% of the vote without too much trouble. That’s enough to win just about any multiple candidate primary. He also got the highest marks in the field on handling specific issues, with numbers in the mid-40s on the economy and “illegal immigration,” which suggests that his overall numbers might actually have room to go up. Not only has Trump’s “inevitable” flameout not happened yet, it doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon. I mean, sure, he could always say or do something horrible and lose his support, but he’s already done that a few times now and it hasn’t seemed to matter.
Meanwhile, as it becomes clear to the other candidates in the field that Trump isn’t going away in the near future, they’re starting to jump up and down and scream to anybody listening that they can be crazy nutters just like Donald can. Specifically they seem to be doing that with respect to immigration, as Vox’s Dara Lind points out, and this, early polls be damned, is where some of them are beginning to say things that they might regret having said a year from now.
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