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Eye On Candidates
December 8, 2015

Trump Likely to Persist

Businessman Donald Trump appears set to dominate the next few news cycles as his proposal to ban Muslim immigrants and visitors to the United States for an unspecified time period makes its way through the nomination dynamics. While many have predicted doom for Trump in the past after he made controversial statements, few seem to be doing so this time around. Sahil Kapur at Bloomberg Politics explains why Trump is unlikely to be hurt:

Despite Outcry, Muslim Ban Unlikely to Spell Quick Fall for Trump

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's proposal to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. won’t destroy his candidacy—but would severely threaten the party's chance at the White House in 2016 if he’s the nominee, GOP strategists and pundits said….

Trump's critics have become all too familiar with the pattern: The New York billionaire says something they consider offensive, sexist, or racist; prognosticators forecast his downfall; but he stays strong or even rises in GOP polls. The pattern held when Trump trashed migrants from Mexico, attacked Senator John McCain's war record, and insulted Fox News host Megyn Kelly.

Polling indicates Trump’s suspicion of Muslims will appeal to many Republican voters. A study by the Public Religion Research Institute released last month found 76 percent of Republicans say Islam is “at odds with American values and way of life,” compared to 43 percent of Democrats. A survey by the Pew Research Center last year found Republicans rate Muslims more negatively than any other religious group, giving them an average of 33 on a scale of 100, compared to 71 for evangelical Christians, 67 for Jews, and 66 for Catholics.

In a Bloomberg Politics national poll conducted last month, 32 percent of Republicans said Islamic is “an inherently violent religion” that leads its followers to violence.

A number of Republican strategists weighed in with their views for the article, and they uniformly don’t expect much downside for Trump:

“As much as anyone may disagree with his policies (and I do), Trump is not hurting himself with GOP voters with his negativity toward Muslims,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, on Twitter….

 “I think he will still pull about 25 to 30 percent (in the polls),” e-mailed Republican lobbyist and longtime strategist John Feehery. “There’s not a lot of love for Muslims right now,” he added, extending beyond news events including the San Bernardino and Paris attacks to pop culture. “You have the television series Homeland that portrays them all like a bunch of terrorists.”

“While he could lose a little support, the people that are supporting Trump will most likely agree with his viewpoints because they only see the violent actions committed by Islamic jihadists on cable news,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “These voters are angry at what’s happening in America and most agree with even some of the most outrageous comments he makes.”

But while his most recent comments may not prove his undoing, there is some question over whether Trump’s consistent lead in the polls will translate into actual voters showing up for him in the Iowa caucuses. The “Monkey Cage” data gurus at The Washington Post recently found Trump to be in fourth place in Iowa, behind neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and “undecided.”

Every other poll has shown Trump with a large lead, other than yesterday’s poll showing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz taking the lead for the first time. The reason for the anomalous results in the Post poll? The sample used in the poll reflected voters more likely to attend the caucuses:

We believe that the explanation has to do with our poll’s sample. Our sampling technique was different from all other polls of Iowans in this cycle, and it may provide an important insight into the Iowa caucus and other state primary elections.

To build a sample, we began with the list of registered voters in Iowa and stratified our sample by factors like age and sex….

However, what we did — but other have not — is stratify the sample based on another factor: Whether or not people had voted in at least one primary election since 2006.

This is what we think makes our poll different. We assume that voters who have voted in primaries are more likely to attend the caucuses. Of the 486 Republican voters in our poll, 78 percent had previously participated in the primaries, compared with only 48 percent of all registered voters.

One theory about Trump’s success is that he is energizing people who have traditionally avoided politics and political participation. If he succeeds, then our sample will understate his support. But if he doesn’t, and participation in the February caucus does depend on whether voters have voted in earlier primaries, then other polls to date have likely overstated Trump’s support.

The analysts at the Post concede they may be wrong, but then again they may be right. Candidates have tried in the past to bring new voters out to support them, and occasionally it has worked – Barack Obama managed the feat in the 2008 Democratic caucuses, and to a lesser degree Ron Paul is credited with bringing some new libertarian and anti-war-oriented people out in his two campaigns for the Republican nomination.

But our poll raises a valuable question nonetheless: how predictive are the current polls, most of which rely only on respondents to report whether they are likely to vote in a caucus or primary?

If our assumption is right — that is, past primary voters in Iowa are more likely to vote in the February caucus — then Trump is in worse shape than many believe. His supporters will be less likely to show up at the caucus.

If, however, Trump is able to get these voters to the caucus, then our assumption will be wrong.

Again, we are not arguing that our poll is more accurate or predictive than other polls. But we hope that our poll’s very different result, which was generated by a relatively minor change in our sampling procedure, informs the conversation about this year’s polls and what we can learn from Trump’s present dominance.

The status of “outsider” may help a candidate like Trump win support in the polls, but it may not be enough to translate that support into actual votes.

Whether Trump’s voters actually show up, particularly in caucus states, is one of the great unknowns of the 2016 election cycle. But more pollsters in the coming weeks are likely to start adding a variety of “screens” to their samples to determine who is likely to actually show up and vote, which could lead to a “decline” in Trump’s numbers that isn’t actually a fall in support, just a more (or less) accurate assessment of where he stands.