Is Trump Actually Leading The Pack Of GOP Presidential Contenders?

Photo: Erik Pendzich/REX USA.
Over the past weekend, Donald Trump said one of the most tone-deaf, offensive things about military veterans possibly ever by a politician. Then early this week, headlines started popping up that he's leading the GOP field with 24% support from Republican voters, per an ABC News/Washington Post poll. Does that mean that everyone in America thought that making fun of a POW was awesome? Is Donald Trump a serious contender for president now?

No. That is very much not the case. Trump's candidacy remains a long shot and his comments are still way too over-the-top to make him electable. Polls are just kind of stupid.

"Polls today have almost no predictive power over the outcome of the general election and little predictive power over the outcome of the primary election," says Marc Meredith, Ph.D., a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who focuses on U.S. elections. "Keep in mind that, along with Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann were the front-runners for the Republican nomination in the summer of 2011." But where Romney went on to secure the nomination, Bachmann and Perry "placed fifth and sixth in the Iowa caucus, respectively," he says.

A comparable ABC News/Washington Post poll from summer 2011 (a year and a bit before the last campaign) found 12% support for Bachmann and 8% support for Rick Perry among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (Sarah Palin held 18% and was not a candidate). Several months later, Rick Santorum, who trailed Romney by 22%, according to that poll, beat him in the Iowa caucus by 0.03%. Essentially, in July, still more than a year before the 2016 presidential elections, voters should not stress out over the polls, which are more indicative of who Americans don't want to win than who will be the next president.

The field is also massive (16 and counting), and Trump appeals to a very specific, staunchly conservative voter whose voice usually projects louder early on than it will in a real national election. Because Trump contends with 15 other Republican candidates, the 76% of voters who do not support him are neatly divided, making Trump's constituency look larger than it is. In fact, the poll found that 56% of those who lean Republicans do not believe that Donald Trump's views "reflect the core values of the Republican Party" and 62% "definitely would not" vote for him were he to win the Republican nomination.

"It’s very unlikely that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States or even the Republican nominee. We are a long way — roughly six months — from the start of the actual voting process, and a great deal will happen between now and then," Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of the website Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told Refinery29. "At the end of the day, electability does play a role in the decision-making process for many voters – and Trump lacks that quality in spades. His controversial, at times offensive, comments will catch up to him on this front."

On Saturday, Trump made headlines for belittling former presidential nominee Sen. John McCain's military career. Most of the ABC poll was conducted before Trump made the remarks that secured his position as the most generally hated and most zealot-beloved player in the game.

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