Why Donald Trump Won’t Fold: Polls and People Speak


New York Times Online

Aug. 22, 2015

In the command centers of Republican presidential campaigns, aides have drawn comfort from the belief that Donald J. Trump’s dominance in the polls is a political summer fling, like Herman Cain in 2011 — an unsustainable boomlet dependent on megawatt celebrity, narrow appeal and unreliable surveys of Americans with a spotty record of actually voting in primaries.

A growing body of evidence suggests that may be wishful thinking.

A review of public polling, extensive interviews with a host of his supporters in two states and a new private survey that tracks voting records all point to the conclusion that Mr. Trump has built a broad, demographically and ideologically diverse coalition, constructed around personality, not substance, that bridges demographic and political divides. In doing so, he has effectively insulated himself from the consequences of startling statements that might instantly doom rival candidates.

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In poll after poll of Republicans, Mr. Trump leads among women, despite having used terms like “fat pigs” and “disgusting animals” to denigrate some of them. He leads among evangelical Christians, despite saying he had never had a reason to ask God for forgiveness. He leads among moderates and college-educated voters, despite a populist and anti-immigrant message thought to resonate most with conservatives and less-affluent voters. He leads among the most frequent, likely voters, even though his appeal is greatest among those with little history of voting.


The Keys to Trump’s Appeal

From: The unusual character of Mr. Trump’s coalition by no means guarantees his campaign will survive until next year’s primaries, let alone beyond. The diversity of his coalition could even be its undoing, if his previous support for liberal policies and donations to Democrats, for example, undermine his support among conservatives. And in the end, the polling suggests, Mr. Trump will run into a wall: Most Republicans do not support his candidacy and seem unlikely ever to do so. Even now, more say they definitely would not vote for him than say they support him.

But the breadth of Mr. Trump’s coalition is surprising at a time of religious, ideological and geographic divisions in the Republican Party. It suggests he has the potential to outdo the flash-in-the-pan candidacies that roiled the last few Republican nominating contests. And it hints at the problem facing his competitors and the growing pressure on them to confront him, as several, like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, are starting to do.

His support is not tethered to a single issue or sentiment: immigration, economic anxiety or an anti-establishment mood. Those factors may have created conditions for his candidacy to thrive, but his personality, celebrity and boldness, not merely his populism and policy stances, have let him take advantage of them.

Tellingly, when asked to explain support for Mr. Trump in their own words, voters of varying backgrounds used much the same language, calling him “ballsy” and saying they admired that he “tells it like it is” and relished how he “isn’t politically correct.”

Trumpism, the data and interviews suggest, is an attitude, not an ideology.

For voters like Jan Mannarino, a 65-year-old retired teacher who drove an hour from her home in Green Oak Township, Mich., to see Mr. Trump this month, his defiance of political norms is his single greatest virtue.

“Even if he doesn’t win, he’s teaching other politicians to stop being politicians,” Ms. Mannarino said. “He comes on strong. He could say it gently. But I think no one would listen.”

When people talk about the qualities Mr. Trump would bring to the White House, they describe the raging, merciless executive who fired people for sport on television. Some mention trips to his golf courses, which they admiringly note are impeccably run. A common refrain: “He’s a person who gets things done.”

Carl Tomanelli of Londonderry, N.H., said Mr. Trump was “echoing what a lot of people feel and say.” Credit Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times

“We don’t need a politician for president; we need a businessman,” said Tom Krzyminski, 66, a hairstylist from Bay City, Mich. “That’s what we need to get us out of the mess we’re in.”

A New York Times review of nine nonpartisan national polls and more public surveys in the early nominating states shows that, thus far, Mr. Trump is outperforming his Republican rivals with constituencies they were widely expected to dominate.

For example, he leads Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a hero to fiscal conservatives, among Tea Party supporters, 26 percent to 13 percent, according to averages of the last nine national polls. He leads former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a former preacher, among evangelicals, 21 percent to 12 percent. And he is ahead of Mr. Bush, the former Florida governor and a favorite of mainstream donors, among moderate Republicans, 22 percent to 16 percent.

National polls, and both public and partisan pollsters, have struggled to unravel the precise sources of Mr. Trump’s support, leaving many to ascribe it to anger and angst in the Republican electorate. But interviews with voters highlight the degree to which his popularity hinges on personality — and offer an answer to an enduring mystery: Why haven’t Mr. Trump’s outrageous statements, his lack of loyalty to the Republican Party and his caustic attacks on rivals hurt his standing?

His most offensive utterances have, for many Republicans, confirmed his status as a unique outsider willing to challenge conventions, and satisfied a craving for plain-spoken directness.

Many say they support Mr. Trump because of his unusual statements, not in spite of them.

“As inappropriate as some of his comments are, I think it’s stuff that a lot of people are thinking but afraid to say,” she said. “And I’m a woman.”

Asked if they think his brashness would make it more difficult for him to work effectively as president, many voters argue the opposite.

“I want people who are negotiating with him to believe my president when he says he’s going to do something,” said Lori Szostkiewicz, 54, an educator from Hampstead, N.H. “I want to negotiate from a position of strength, not weakness.”

In interviews with voters in Michigan and New Hampshire over the past two weeks, after events hosted by Mr. Trump, none cited his policies as chief motivation for backing him. Many pointed, instead, to his wealth, saying they believed it set him apart from career politicians and freed him of the demands of donors.

“He doesn’t need anybody’s money,” said Maureen Colcord, 60, a clinical dietitian from Derry.

The Civis poll also hinted at a potential problem for Mr. Trump: states that allow only registered Republicans to participate in nominating contests, including Iowa and Nevada. He was at 14 percent among registered Republicans in the states with party registration, compared to 18 percent of the voters who were unaffiliated with a party.

As expected, Mr. Trump performed best among less-frequent voters. He had the support of 22 percent of Republican-leaning adults who did not vote in the 2012 general election. But he still held an edge, with 15 percent, among registered Republicans who had voted in a primary since 2008.

“Whether the person voted in two or eight or 12 elections, Trump leads,” Mr. Aida said.

His falloff in support when infrequent voters were sifted out was not unique: Support for some of Mr. Trump’s rivals, including Mr. Bush and Mr. Carson, declined by similar amounts, or even more, among the most frequent voters, Civis found.

Mr. Trump’s strength among less-frequent voters is a challenge for his campaign, which may lack the organizing experience and infrastructure to motivate them and turn them out in large numbers for a primary or caucus.

“Right now I don’t have a second choice,” Mr. Kas-mikha said. “They all blend in to me. It’s Donald Trump — and everyone else.”

“My second choice,” he added, “might be staying at home.”

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