A new Fox News poll heralds both good and bad news for Donald Trump, mostly bad. But I will get to that in a second. First, the good. The poll finds Trump with a commanding lead in the GOP Presidential primary with 25 percent. Following in second is Ben Carson with 10 percent while Cruz and Bush are at 10 and 9 percent respectively. The Trump campaign has to herald this as yet another feather in their cap. After-all, it seems Trump’s weakness in the first debate was overlooked due to his squabble with Megan Kelly. His base of supporters, for all intents and purposes, has appeared to have held together.
But here is the bad news. Trump’s lead is built on a base of support that is anti-establishment and anti-DC. But expanding his coalition is virtually impossible. Among Republican primary voters, Trump is only the second choice of 11 percent of the other 75 percent. Bush is the second choice of 10 percent and Rubio is the second choice of 13 percent. On a sidenote, this is Rubio’s entire problem summed up in one poll. People like him as a fallback, but not as their first choice.
The Trump camp has argued it did fine in the debates because of the topline numbers of polls like this. But the poll finds only 38 percent of Republicans surveyed (keep in mind, a sub-sample of the total number of registered voters) watched the debate. Among the 38 percent of sampled Republicans who watched the debate 20 percent thought Trump performed the worst. So, Trump’s numbers not changing could be due to the fact few Republicans actually watched the debate.
Specific to expanding his coalition Trump is the least likable candidate among Republican voters by a lot! A whopping 37 percent say he is the least likable candidate in the field compared to only 16 percent who say he is the most likable. For comparison, Rand Paul is the next least liked Republican at 11 percent. It’s heard to expand your coalition with numbers like these. It’s virtually impossible when 56 percent of all voters and a plurality of Republicans think you are not qualified to be President, the highest number of any . Every other Republican candidate has far better numbers among partisans and the general electorate.
Among all voters Trump has atrocious ratings and it shows in his match-up with Hillary Clinton. Despite Clinton being bogged down by ethics issues and the Secretary of State email scandal she still manages to lead Trump 47 percent to 42 percent. Only Carly Fiorina is worse at 47-40. But Rubio and Bush lead Clinton, albeit by a narrow two percent margin.
Trump’s primary and general election numbers are particularly notable because he has almost universal name recognition. A Fiorina trailing Clinton at this stage might be understandable because she lacks solid name ID but what about Trump? It says quite a bit about your viability when you trail the Democratic nominee and garner only 42 percent of the vote while keeping this in mind; a solid 58 percent of all voters say Clinton lied about her email server and 54 percent say she endangered national security. Trump is losing 16 percent and 12 percent of those voters respectively.
Lastly, I’m a believer in analytics and past results allow analytics to be developed. On 538.com, Harry Enten has a piece that shows since 1980 few candidates who garner less than 33 percent of the primary vote in the summer before the election, go onto win the primary. Of the losers (Lieberman, Giuliani, Clinton, Cuomo, Hart), Trump shares their major problem; an inability to expand his political support. Lieberman never had a shot in 2004 due to his support of the Iraq War, ditto Clinton 2008. Cuomo was too liberal for a political party eager to push a fresh, new image of itself. Giuliani never was able to get past his support for abortion, gun control and gay marriage.
Some might argue that never has the field been this large so it’s little wonder why Trump leads with less than 30%. Technically true, but as Enten points out we have had big fields in the past, “The 1988 Democratic field, 2000 Republican field and 2008 Republican field each featured more than 10 candidates, for instance,” and “In 2000’s crowded GOP field, George W. Bush still managed to run up the margin.” Bush did this because he had strong conservative and establishment credentials. Honestly, Trump has neither.
Unless Trump can find a way to appeal to new voters he won’t be the GOP nominee.