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Opinion

Unique circumstances of 2024 GOP primary favor Trump

Mar 27, 2023

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Is the race for the Republican 2024 nomination over before it starts? Former President Donald Trump’s lead over his presumed main competitor — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)continues to grow, even as Trump faces possible indictment in New York.

But can polls be trusted this far out? Straight Arrow News contributor David Pakman says history suggests early primary polling is not a reliable indicator of who will win a party’s nomination, but the unique circumstances of the 2024 GOP primary certainly favor Trump.

The reality is, it is not uncommon that the leader at this point does not become the party nominee. And we have a number of examples of this even just looking recently. If you look at 2016 … in March of 2015, Donald Trump was not winning Republican nomination polls. But as we know, he eventually became the Republican nominee and the president. If you look at 2008 and the Democratic primary, at the equivalent point, meaning March of 2007, Barack Obama was not winning the Democratic primary polling, but he eventually became the nominee. And also looking at 2008, at this point…it would have been March of 2007, in the Republican primary, Rudy Giuliani was leading the Republican primary polling and as we know, John McCain became the eventual nominee.

Okay. So second part of the question, how often does polling in March of the year before tell us who becomes the nominee? And the answer is, it’s not always that reliable.

And then we get to the third part of this, which is: Is there something special or unique this time around? And the answer is, absolutely. We have a situation that I don’t know if we’ve ever had in the history of the United States, which is, in the Republican primary we have a former president who ran for re-election, lost, and is now running again in a contested Republican primary. I don’t think that that’s ever happened before. And if it has, it is extraordinarily rare. 

Those are very different circumstances, which if I had to take a guess, are in the pro-Trump column. And what I mean by that is, even though we can find many instances in history where the March of the year before leader did not become the nominee, the power of previous incumbency and of the bully pulpit — that is, being a former president — does give Donald Trump an advantage that many candidates do not have. 

So my position right now is that this really is Trump’s nomination to lose.

So many people have been writing to me, tweeting to me, contacting me saying, “David, I’m looking at these 2024 Republican primary polls, it mostly seems like Trump is winning them. Can those polls be trusted?” Now, what does it mean to trust the polls? If we want to take this seriously and think through it, there are really three parts to this question. 

The first part of the question is, what do the polls say today, March of … 2023, about a primary that won’t be decided until the summer of 2024? Okay, that’s the first question. Second part of the question is, in general, when we look at polls in March of the year before the election, do they predict with some certainty with some accuracy, who eventually becomes the nominee? So when we ask that question, we would want to look at other elections and say, How accurate, how representative, how predictive were the polls in March of the year before? And then the third part to the question would be, all of that aside, is there something special or unique about this particular primary that would make prior trends not representative of what we might expect to see this time? Great. 

We’ve established the three things we have to look at. So let’s first start with the polling. It is absolutely the case that today, Donald Trump is winning the Republican primary in the vast majority of highly rated polls. We’ll look at a few examples. In the latest Quinnipiac University poll. This is an A minus rated pollster. When it’s Trump versus DeSantis, Trump is up 11. And when you include more people in it, Nikki Haley and others, Trump is ahead of DeSantis by 14.  Very clear lead for Donald Trump. 

If you look at a B minus rated pollster, Morning Console, they have Trump up 24 against Ron DeSantis, in a multi-way race. And when you look at a C plus rated SSRS-CNN poll, they are an outlier. They have DeSantis plus two when it’s just Trump and DeSantis, and they have Trump plus four when it is a multi-way race. So big picture, Trump is winning most but not all of the high quality polls in March of the year before the Republican primary. Great. 

So we’ve answered the first part of the question, how do high quality pollsters have it as of today? Second part of this question is, does it really matter who’s winning in March of the year before the primary? Or do things frequently change in the intervening time? Fantastic question. In order to answer it, we look at history. 

The reality is, it is not uncommon that the leader at this point does not become the party nominee. And we have a number of examples of this even just looking recently. If you look at 2016 in March of 2015, Donald Trump was not winning Republican nomination polls. But as we know, he eventually became the Republican nominee and the president. If you look at 2008, and the Democratic primary at the equivalent point, meaning March of 2007, Barack Obama was not winning the Democratic primary polling, but he eventually became the nominee. And also looking at 2008. At this point … it would have been March of 2007, in the Republican primary, Jeb Bush, no, I’m sorry, Rudy Giuliani. was leading the Republican primary polling and as we know, John McCain became the eventual nominee. Okay. So second part of the question, how often does polling in March … of the year before tell us who becomes the nominee? 

And the answer is it’s not always that reliable? And then we get to the third part of this, which is, is there something special or unique this time around? And the answer is absolutely. We have a situation that I don’t know if we’ve ever had in the history of the United States, which is in the Republican primary. We have a former president, who ran for re-election last time and is now running again in a contested Republican primary. I don’t think that that’s ever happened before. And if it has, it is extraordinarily rare. 

Those are very different circumstances, which if I had to take a guess, are in the pro-Trump column. And what I mean by that is, even though we can find many instances in history, where the march of the year before leader did not become the nominee, the power of previous incumbency and of the bully pulpit — that is being a former president — does give Donald Trump an advantage that many candidates do not have. 

So my position right now is that this really is Trump’s nomination to lose. Could indictments get in the way? Maybe. What else could happen? Many things could happen. But this is certainly Trump’s nomination to lose as of right now. And the polls only support that conclusion.

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