HUFFPOLLSTER: Donald Trump’s Nomination Isn’t Shocking According To The Polls

Trump led the pack for nearly a year. Why are we surprised he won?
Spencer Platt via Getty Images

There was a lot of ink spilled on doubting primary polls -- some of it justified, but some probably due to Trump disbelief. State general election polls show Clinton leading over Trump, although some of the margins are small. And support for increased defense spending has reached its highest levels in over a decade. This is HuffPollster for Thursday, May 5, 2016.

A TRUMP NOMINATION SHOULDN’T BE A SURPRISE BASED ON POLLS - With Donald Trump the last man standing in the Republican nomination race, a retrospective look at polls from the last year results in one major conclusion: Trump was a stronger candidate than anyone wanted to admit. He skyrocketed to the top of an incredibly crowded pack soon after announcing he was running. Every time there seemed to be a ceiling for his support, he cracked it and broke through. Countless articles (including from HuffPollster) reminded us that primary polls weren't predictive, they could be wrong and that Trump’s numbers were driven by his celebrity and name recognition. Turns out celebrity status and name recognition don’t go away when people are voting. With the exception of Iowa, time and time again the Republican primary polls were right. Early primary polls aren’t always predictive of outcomes -- in 2008, Hillary Clinton, after leading solidly for more than a year, saw Barack Obama soar past her once voting started. But in this case, they were.

Trump’s lead was actually much more stable than Romney’s in 2012 - Trump’s lead was remarkably consistent in the national primary polls. Unlike 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who lost his lead four times to four different candidates, including once after voting started in early 2012, Trump never faced substantive opposition. He was buoyed by an overwhelming advantage in airtime and the party establishment's inability to coalesce around one of his rivals. Trump succeeded despite his low favorable ratings and slower-than-usual delegate accumulation. But the polling consistency for Trump raises the question: Was the intense polling criticism in late 2015 as much about Trump’s lead as it was about the polls themselves? It’s easy to see how disbelief that Trump was leading, and strong dislike for Trump’s politics, could have colored polling coverage this year.

A lesson: The seemingly impossible can happen - Nate Cohn, discussing why pundits missed on Trump: “We were just overconfident. There haven’t been very many presidential elections in the modern era of primaries. There certainly haven’t been enough to rule out the possibility that a true outsider could win the nomination, even if it seemed very incongruent with what had happened in the post-reform era. That’s a lesson to keep in mind heading into the general election.” [NYTimes]

A LOOK AT STATE-LEVEL GENERAL ELECTION POLLING - Although the general election is just getting underway, pollsters have been asking about hypothetical state match-ups for months. As it stands, Hillary Clinton leads Trump in each of the 10 states where HuffPost Pollster has enough data to calculate an average, by margins ranging from 2 to 21 points. Things will change in the next six months, but an early assessment gives Clinton the advantage.

Huffington Post

Early state-level handicapping also favors Clinton - An early state forecast by election handicapper Charlie Cook estimates that 304 electoral votes will go to the Democratic nominee, and 190 will go to the Republican nominee; 44 votes are rated as a toss-up. Notably, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia, all of which were tossup states in 2012, are in the “lean Democrat” column. [Cook Political Report]

Prediction markets: Trump has a 30 percent chance of winning - David Rothschild: "Trump is trailing models of where the generic Republican should be at the start of the election. He is going to start out at about 30 percent likelihood to win the election. The generic Republican versus the generic Democrat should be have about a 47 percent chance (or you could say Clinton is going to start out at about a 70 percent chance to win the election where the generic Democrat versus the generic Republican should be about 53 percent). Of course, Trump is not the generic Republican and Clinton is not the generic Democrat. The 70 percent/30 percent data comes from aggregating prediction market data. This time in 2008 and 2012 the Democratic nominee’s chances were about 60 percent, so 70 percent is a pretty strong opening number. But, it is certainly not insurmountable. The reason is pretty simple, there just are not that many swing states and Trump could, probably will not, but could win them." [HuffPost]

SUPPORT FOR DEFENSE SPENDING REACHES HIGHEST LEVEL SINCE POST 9-11 - Pew Research: "With the United States facing an array of global threats, public support for increased defense spending has climbed to its highest level since a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when 50% favored more defense spending. Currently, 35% say the U.S. should increase spending on national defense, 24% say it should be cut back and 40% say it should be kept about the same as today. The share favoring more defense spending has increased 12 percentage points (from 23%) since 2013. Most of the increase has come among Republicans. Fully 61% of Republicans favor higher defense spending, up 24 percentage points from 2013. Support for more defense spending has increased much more modestly among other partisan groups. And the gap in support for higher military spending between Republicans and Democrats, which was 25 percentage points three years ago, now stands at 41 points." [Pew]

Sharp rise in support for increased defense spending

MOST TRUMP SUPPORTERS BELIEVE IN CLIMATE CHANGE - Mollie Reilly: "[Fifty-six] percent of people supporting Trump in the 2016 race think global warming is real. Among John Kasich voters, that percentage jumps to 71, while only 36 percent of Ted Cruz’s supporters believe in man-made climate change. (Kasich and Cruz both left the presidential race after Indiana’s primary.) Trump voters were also more likely to back a presidential candidate if he or she strongly supported addressing global warming. Meanwhile, nearly all Democratic voters — 93 percent of Bernie Sanders backers and 92 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters — believe in global warming. But while most Trump voters acknowledge that climate change is happening, just 35 percent said they were worried about it. In contrast, 83 percent of Clinton supporters and 80 percent of Sanders supporters are concerned by current warming trends." [HuffPost]

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THURSDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-John Sides says Donald Trump is shifting the odds against Republicans. [WashPost]

-Jonathan Bernstein argues that Democrats don't necessarily have the election locked up. [Bloomberg]

-Philip Wallach offers three reasons why Donald Trump could beat Hillary Clinton. [WashPost]

-One in two Republican voters believe Trump will build a wall and ban Muslims if he becomes president. [Morning Consult]

-Karlyn Bowman (R) takes a look at the polling history of the estate tax. [Forbes]

-Optimism about the homebuying market has fallen to the lowest level since 2008. [Gallup]

-Democracy Corps (D) finds rising support for a progressive economic message. [Democracy Corps]

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