Media thumps Trump, but polls show he’s winning big

Greg Nash

Rumors of Donald Trump’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated. 

Ever since rival Carly Fiorina was widely perceived to have bested Trump at the second GOP debate in California on Sept. 16, media outlets have been lining up to suggest that the front-runner is waning.  

Trump has hit back with characteristic vigor. But he has a point, independent observers say. 

“The reality is that he does have a hold on some people and he doesn’t appear to be surrendering it,” said Mark Mellman, a veteran Democratic pollster who is also a columnist for The Hill. 

Much of the negative media attention has been built around a single poll in the immediate aftermath of the debate, by CNN/ORC. 

The survey showed the businessman’s support among Republican voters nationwide had declined by 8 percentage points since the last survey from the same source, less than two weeks before. 

That was a sizable decline, to be sure — even though Trump still led his closest rival by 9 percentage points. But no other reputable poll since the debate has shown Trump falling by anything like that margin.

A survey from Fox News released earlier this week showed the businessman at 26 percent support nationally, an increase of 1 point since Fox’s last survey in mid-August. A Bloomberg poll gave him 21 percent — good enough for a 5-point lead over the field and an unchanged rating since the last poll from the financial news outlet at the beginning of August.  

The picture is not substantially different in the crucial early states — and, in some cases, it is even better for Trump. 

The Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) released a new survey from Iowa this week in which Trump polled at 24 percent — a 5-point rise over his showing in PPP’s previous poll of the Hawkeye State in the immediate aftermath of the first GOP debate on Aug. 6. 

Trump’s support could collapse eventually — as is the case with any other candidate — but there is precious little evidence that his supporters are deserting him.

“The national polling that has come out this week has been mixed,” said PPP director Tom Jensen. “But it’s not something where I would buy into a narrative of Trump declining, unless that was the narrative I wanted. I think, in some quarters, the media people are getting bored [with Trump’s strength] and are ready to write a different story.”

The candidate shares that view quite emphatically. In TV interviews and on his Twitter account throughout this week, he has inveighed against media coverage that he believes is unfair in general and, in particular, is highlighting the most negative polls for him and ignoring the rest. 

 Four days earlier, he had a tense exchange with Savannah Guthrie, one of the anchors of NBC’s “Today” show. Trump complained that Guthrie was highlighting the CNN poll that showed the big decline  rather than NBC’s own online survey in which he had risen 7 points from the previous month.

“You put up the CNN poll, you didn’t put up NBC poll and you’re the ones that are paying for the NBC poll,” he told Guthrie. “So I don’t get it, other than that the NBC poll is a very good poll for Trump.” 

Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, underlined the point in a phone interview with The Hill. 

Complaining about “dishonesty in the mainstream media,” Lewandowski noted that, while the results of any individual poll are open to debate, “there has been a clear consistency that indicates Mr. Trump is the definitive front-runner for the Republican nomination.” 

As of late Friday, the RealClearPolitics (RCP) average had Trump leading the GOP field by 7.7 points nationally; by exactly 6 points in Iowa; by 15.6 points in New Hampshire, and by 15.3 points in South Carolina. 

“If his name wasn’t Trump, the pundits would be saying this race is over,” Lewandowski said. “If the name was Bush — and Jeb is in about sixth place, by the way — and he was getting 28 and 32 percent, it would be all over.” 

(Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is in fourth place in the RCP national average, though he was sixth in the most recent major national survey, from Fox News.) 

Whether the negative media attention truly harms Trump is a complicated question, however. 

“The problem with the media is that the voters who support Trump hold the media in contempt. So for the media to try to pound The Donald just reinforces the idea that Trump is correct, and is the hero for a lot of people who are dissatisfied,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communications.  

Berkovitz and other independent observers are careful to note that they are not predicting that Trump will triumph in the battle for the GOP nomination.  

Berkovitz suggested that serious investigations into Trump’s business dealings could throw up damaging information. 

Jensen of PPP suggested that “eventually voters are going to get tired of his act.” Mellman, the Democratic pollster, noted that “the fact that he has some staying power doesn’t mean the staying power is permanent.” 

Still, the virtually-unanimous view is that, regardless of the latest headlines, the Trump phenomenon is not over, by a long shot. 

“You can think of all kinds of reasons why Trump might not get the nomination,” said Stephen Craig, a University of Florida political science professor and an expert on public opinion. “But the poll results we are seeing now? Those shifts aren’t enough to hang anything on.”


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