An interesting data point from a new poll Wednesday suggests that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign arc is now more closely mirroring that of a traditional front-runner, rather than that of an insurgent fad.
The ABC/Washington Post poll found that a plurality of likely Republican primary voters now believe Trump will be their party’s nominee.
According to the poll, 43% of registered GOP voters nationally believe that Trump has the greatest chance of winning the nomination. His closest competitors in the poll are retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who was the choice of 16% of GOP voters, and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, who had 12%.
When the Post/ABC survey last asked the question, in March, Trump did not register. Bush received 35% of the vote then, 25 points ahead of his next-closest competitor, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
The shift could be significant. A 2012 study, pointed to by The New York Times’ David Leonhardt, found that measuring who voters think will win is actually a much better indicator of the eventual winner of an election than gauging who has the most voter support.
Most polling experts and political pundits have written off Trump’s consistently large leads among Republicans in every major poll for more than three months.
Analysts have cited historical precedents that show that unconventional presidential candidates like Trump, who lacks the backing of the party establishment and experience running in national political contests, struggle to win even if they experience a groundswell of support in the early stages of the nomination process.
Some of the consistent warning signs pointed to by these analysts remain. Trump still loses in most head-to-head matchups with other major candidates, according to a recent Economist/YouGov poll. And 100 days still remain until the first caucuses in Iowa and the first primary in New Hampshire, where many voters are still undecided.
Princeton University polling expert Sam Wang suggested that Trump’s still-high unfavorable rating among GOP voters may prevent him from rising beyond the fervent base of support he has built within the party.
“It can be hard to tell from polls alone who has staying power,” Wang told Business Insider last week. “As a speculation, I think he might persist in the 20-30% range for some time, and that another candidate could pull ahead of that objectively low number.”
But there are still growing signs that even if Republicans don’t support Trump, they still think he is a legitimate candidate who is the best to handle certain issues.
A CNN poll released last week found that Trump was by far the most popular candidate among Republican primary voters in two key states – Nevada and South Carolina – on numerous issues. That CNN poll showed Republicans trusted Trump over any other candidate to handle the economy, foreign policy, dealing with the militant group ISIS, “changing” Washington, and illegal immigration.
The CNN poll also revealed that 47% of Republican voters in those states believed Trump had the best chance of winning a general election in November, almost three times the level of the next-closest candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
And an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released this week also showed Trump’s remarkable rise in another area. Almost 60% support of likely Republican voters nationally said they could see themselves supporting Trump, putting him behind only Carson and Rubio in that field. In June, only 32% of Republican voters said they could see themselves supporting Trump.