2016 elections, Ben Carson, Democrats, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Im-Politic, Immigration, Investors Business Daily, Monmouth University Poll, offshoring, Open Borders, Reagan Democrats, Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, Trade
OK, despite my best intentions, it’s back to writing on The Donald. Not that it’s all my fault. First of all, Trump totally dominated today’s news once again with his press conference announcing his agreement to report the eventual Republican presidential nominee. And the uproar his candidacy has triggered revolves around many of the major policy challenges facing the nation.
Even more interesting and revealing, though, have been two new polls that speak volumes about Trump’s electoral appeal and impact on presidential politics during this electoral cycle.
The first appeared in Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) and examined the crucial question of whether Trump can attract among working- and middle-class Americans the kind of support enjoyed by former President Ronald Reagan so consistently. In fact, this question is so important that the fact that’s it’s even being asked matters more at this early stage in the campaign than any data that can be found to answer it.
Mr. Reagan drove liberals and Democrats absolutely bonkers in the 1980s by winning huge numbers of such voters – including union members – even though his economic program of lower taxes, less regulation, and reduced non-defense spending supposedly served only the interests of that era’s One Percent. Explanations ranged from claims that these Main Street Americans were simply beguiled by the former president’s personality and communications skills; to gripes that they were (not so) closet racists and jingos; to more astute observations that their more traditional attitudes on social and national security issues were increasingly out of synch with a Democratic party that had moved considerably leftward.
That last point is especially important today, especially if you add in the growing economic insecurity and anxieties of this huge voting bloc, and its outrage at the offshoring-friendly trade policies and Open Borders-friendly immigration measures that it feels deserve much blame. So it’s easy to see why at least in principle such voters would be attracted to Trump. But is this true in fact? The IBD poll is hardly conclusive evidence, but it’s awfully suggestive.
According to IBS and its survey partner, the TIPP unit of the market research firm TechnoMetrica, Trump out-polled Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton among the strong majorities of Americans unhappy with the state of the economy and the federal government’s responses. Clinton, whose party has historically claimed to champion “the common man,” did much better with respondents who were satisfied with the state of the nation.
Just to focus on one set of results, 46 percent of IBD-TIPP respondents believe the country remains in recession, 52 percent see no improvement in the economy, and 62 percent consider Washington’s economic policies as ineffective. Among Trump supporters, the above totals were 64 percent, 79 percent, and 90 percent. The precise numbers for the Clinton supporters aren’t provided, but the chart accompanying the IBD write-up makes clear that their views of the economy and related federal policies are much sunnier.
I’m not sure I’d go quite as far as this IBD author’s interpretation: “Democrats constantly claim to be the champions of struggling, middle-class families. But as the presidential campaigns get underway, it appears as though real-estate mogul turned reality TV star Donald Trump is the one capturing their hearts and minds.” But these signs of apparent political role reversal are highly suggestive.
The second poll was more of a standard horse-race survey, and showed that Trump has extended his lead among Republican voters over most of their party’s field in the last few weeks. That’s in-line with other polls’ recent results. But several findings of this Monmouth (NJ) University sounding really jumped out at me. The first two involved surgeon Ben Carson. It’s clear that Trump’s companion on the fringe of conventional politics has dramatically boosted his standing. But the Monmouth poll shows that it stunningly zoomed up from five percent in August to 18 percent this month so far. Trump’s backing increased from 26 percent to 30 percent. The other fascinating Carson-related takeaway is that he’s the only Republican contender who beat Trump head-to-head – by a convincing 55 percent to 36 percent. No other GOP hopeful even came close.
But the Monmouth poll also underscores how completely Trump has dominated news coverage of the Republican race. The evidence? When asked how favorably or unfavorably they viewed the field (a question that differs significantly from one asking about voting intentions), 42 percent of respondents said they had no opinion whatever of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (considered at one point a highly promising candidate), 43 percent chose this answer for businesswoman Carly Fiorina (widely thought to have been the winner of the “second-tier” Republican debate held last month), 59 percent had no opinion of Ohio Governor John Kasich, and 26 percent said the same about Carson. It seems reasonable to suppose that “no opinion” is another way of saying “haven’t heard much” – even though the race is being heavily covered in the national media.
Only 12 percent were this noncommittal when it came to Trump. The second-best performance on this score (20 percent) was turned in by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who until recently had been regarded as the single likeliest winner of the Republican presidential nomination.
It’s entirely possible that, at some point, one of Trump’s rivals will become the Next Big Thing in American politics, though time is running short for all with the possible exception of Carson. It seems much less possible that any Republicans currently in the real mix (except for Carson, again, and conceivably Kasich) can claim the bipartisan, crossover potential that Trump has so far displayed.