Sept. 28, 2015 — A new Bloomberg Politics poll conducted by Iowa-based Selzer & Company (Sept. 18-21; 1,001 adults) at least partially explains Donald Trump’s apparent sudden appeal. The poll asks pointed questions about how the respondents perceive various issues, and the results provide supporting data as to why Trump’s message is striking chords with many prospective voters.
In a previous update, we discussed the Bloomberg/Selzer Democratic primary ballot test (375 likely Democratic primary voters – a sample too small to adequately draw national conclusions). This new data reveals that a bare majority would now choose a Dem candidate other than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Additionally, their underlying issue questions provide us a relatively sound base from which to analyze potential voting patterns.
The key questions surround America’s greatness, a subject that has become the theme of Trump’s national campaign. From his slogan “let’s make America great again”, it becomes obvious that Trump no longer thinks the country is heading toward its apex. According to the Bloomberg/Selzer data, the majority of respondents share that opinion. Their question is reproduced below, with response percentages in adjoining parenthesis:
Do you think the United States today is:
• Greater than it has ever been (6%)
• Equally great as it has been in the past (20%)
• Falling behind (47%)
• Failing (25%)
• Not sure (2%)
Adding the categories, we see that almost three-quarters of the respondents, 72 percent, believe the country is either “falling behind” or “failing”. This is the sentiment that Trump is channeling.
Their follow-up question provides even more interesting information (asked of those who responded negatively to the previous query):
What do you think are the ONE or TWO biggest threats to American greatness? (Multiple responses accepted, so total may exceed 100%.)
• Moral decay (32%)
• Our own lagging work ethic (27%)
• The rise of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State (26%)
• The concentration of the nation’s wealth among very few individuals (25%)
• Competition from China and other countries (21%)
• People living in the country illegally (12%)
• Not sure (5%)
These responses tell us why Trump is doing so well with the substantial number of people who feel America has declined. Though their reasons are very evenly spread over a large and diverse issue field, the underlying feeling driving their response is captured in the sentiment that the country isn’t as good as our history dictates. Trump, seizing upon this sentiment with his theme of “making America great again” harnesses a feeling that virtually all of the people who are negative about politics possess, regardless if their driving issue is moral decay, ISIS, China, wealth re-distribution or immigration.
Another tenet of this campaign appears, particularly on the Republican side, as a desire to elect a person who has not previously held elective office. The fact that Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, together, consistently poll a sizable majority of Republican voters underscores this view.
The Bloomberg/Selzer survey provides us information to better gauge the electorate’s position, and the reasoning driving their decisions may be different from first surmised:
All other things being equal, which of the following is a more attractive candidate for president at this time:
• A government outsider who has been a leader in the field, handling complex issues and managing teams to get things done (37%)
• A governor who has been a government executive, has worked with a legislature, and who is responsible for balancing a budget (27%)
• A U.S. senator who has involvement with national security and international relations and diplomatic issues (27%)
• Not sure (9%)
Comparing the recent Republican polling results, one would have expected the outsider response to poll much stronger on the Bloomberg Politics survey. Surprisingly, combining the governor and senator question actually gives the insiders a clear majority. This tells us that the heavy pull against the particular candidates with elective experience may actually be directed against them individually as opposed to the political position(s) they hold or once held.