Trump and his Voters Aren’t Going Away Anytime Soon

For months pundits have been waiting for Donald Trump take the precipitous tumble in the polls they have all been expecting since they began calling it the “Summer of Trump.” Now that the Summer of Trump is starting to extend itself into autumn, there’s finally some evidence that Trumpmania is fading somewhat:

In New Hampshire, Trump now holds a five-point advantage over Carly Fiorina among GOP primary voters, 21 percent to 16 percent – followed by Jeb Bush in third at 11 percent, and Marco Rubio and Ben Carson tied at 10 percent each. But a month ago, Trump’s lead over the nearest competition in the Granite State (John Kasich) was 16 points, 28 percent to 12 percent.

And in Iowa, Trump is ahead of Carson by five points among potential GOP caucus-goers, 24 percent to 19 percent – with Fiorina in third at 8 percent, Bush at 7 percent, and Ted Cruz, Rubio and Bobby Jindal tied at 6 percent. A month ago, Trump’s lead over Carson in Iowa was seven points in the same poll, 29 percent to 22 percent.

That’s slippage to be sure–but not nearly as big as some would like to think. It’s been a common theme for the last several weeks to watch Trump’s decline, and the sighs of relief among the journalists and pundits doing so are palpable.

This is understandable. If you’re a liberal with a sense of empathy, Trump’s rise is scary because it presents a non-zero possibility that a person with truly fascist tendencies could take the oval office. If you’re an establishment Republican you worry that your party will be irrecovably damaged by insulting Hispanic voters, and possibly by a Republican unafraid to tax hedge fund managers and celebrate Canadian healthcare. And if you’re a “Very Serious Centrist”, you understand at a deep level that if Trump takes the GOP nomination, it will be impossible to continue pretending that both sides of American politics are equally extreme and all we need is more cocktail parties to reignite the spirit of bipartisanship. So motivation exists on all sides to see Trump fall, and quickly.

But the celebration of Trump’s polling decline is also premature. First of all, Trump’s supporters appear to have mostly shifted not to traditional establishment candidates but rather to other, almost equally crazy outsiders like Fiorina and Carson.

Secondly, Trump’s decline, while real, has not been that substantial. Trumps still leads in most polls, and there is no particular reason to believe that supporters won’t return to him after flirting with other outsider candidates. Nor is there reason to believe that Trump doesn’t have a substantial floor of support below which he will not fall–perhaps 15% or 20% at worst. In which case he will remain a gigantic influence on the conversation within the Republican Party, and perhaps a dealmaker at the GOP convention.

Most American political commentators would like to see Trump’s bubble burst. But don’t pop the champagne just yet. The angry middle class is very real and not going away. The Republican Party really is that extreme. Trump is just the manifestation of all that. To a lesser extent, so are Carson and Fiorina. They’re not going away anytime soon.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.