Republican Party insiders are already starting to panic about the state of the race for their party’s presidential nomination. A new national Quinnipiac poll probably isn’t going to help.
1. Donald Trump: 27% (was 24% in a Quinnipiac poll a month ago)
2. Marco Rubio: 17% (14% last month)
3. Ted Cruz: 16% (13% last month)
3. Ben Carson: 16% (23% last month)
5. Jeb Bush: 5% (4% last month)
The remaining candidates were each at 3% or lower, including Carly Fiorina, who was at 12% in a Quinnipiac poll as recently as September, but who has since seen her support collapse.
Trump’s 27% is not only up from a month ago, it’s also the second strongest showing of any GOP candidate in any Quinnipiac poll this year, following a September poll showing Trump at 28%.
As for the impression that Carson’s support has peaked and is now in decline, this new data will reinforce doubts about the retired doctor’s long-term viability.
We’re also likely to see another round of headlines about Rubio “surging” into second place, though observers should note that compared to the results from a month ago, Rubio, Cruz, and Trump all made roughly identical gains.
So, where does that leave us?
For those waiting for Trump’s demise, keep waiting. For those who worried about the prospect of a President Carson, rest easy.
And what about critics who note the dubious value of national polling at this stage? It’s not an unreasonable point. In fact, the Washington Post created an entire Twitter feed devoted to highlighting previous frontrunners at this point in the race from the last few cycles – names like Howard Dean, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Wesley Clark, and others regularly pop up – as if to mock those who pay too much attention to the polls now.
But while the underlying point is fair – plenty of voters are not yet engaged, and many early-state voters make a final decision fairly late in the process – I think it’s a mistake to discount polls like these entirely. Those other candidates may have briefly led national polls in previous cycles, but none of them dominated in state and national polling, for months on end, the way Trump has this year. Indeed, looking back, candidates who tended to dominate consistently the year before the primaries – George W. Bush comes to mind – ended up doing quite well.
This is not to say Trump is a shoo-in for the Republican nomination. He’s not. The point, rather, is that it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison – Giuliani led nationally for a while, but it was obvious from state polling that he was doomed. Gingrich and Cain were briefly flavor-of-the-month frontrunners, but there were clear, structural hurdles that always made their nominations unlikely.
There’s time for the race to change dramatically, perhaps more than once, before the nominee comes into focus, but given the oddities of this cycle, don’t assume past is prologue.