Donald Trump may be in a better position to capture the Republican presidential nomination than most analysts have predicted.
In a new blog post on Tuesday, Princeton University professor and polling expert Samuel Wang argued that he and other major polling analysts have likely underestimated Trump’s strength as a candidate.
“If 2016 were to follow the pattern of past elections, he would be the most likely nominee,” wrote Wang, who gained notoriety for correctly predicting the number of electoral votes that President Barack Obama would garner during the 2012 election.
After Trump, the next-most likely nominee would be Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Wang wrote, followed by the “long shot” Sen. Marco Rubio.”
“Nobody else fits the pattern,” he said.
As proof, Wang cited the ranking of presidential candidates in national polls, as well as state polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two nominating states that often help define the early portions of presidential contests. The candidate’s rankings, Wang said, can offer an additional perspective that show Trump’s notably strong standing.
By this measure, Wang argued that Trump may actually be in strong of a position numerically as Hillary Clinton is on the Democratic side of the race in 2016. According to Wang, Trump’s current standing is also comparable to former Vice President Al Gore and former President George W. Bush at this point in the 2000 contest.
Trump currently leads in almost every major poll of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire, and places second in Iowa to Cruz.
Wang calculated that Trump has a roughly 20-point lead in major national polls. This is similar to Gore, who in 2000 also had a roughly 20-point point lead in an average of select national polls at this stage in 2000.
Wang is somewhat of an outlier among polling experts, many of whom have maintained that the national polls that Trump frequently touts are unreliable and not predictive of the eventual nominee. On the other hand, a study conducted last month posited that Trump’s support could actually be understated in some national surveys.
For his part, Wang has again taken a different tact than forecaster rival and FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver, who has remained sceptical of Trump’s rise.
“The risk of something unusual happening is higher than usual. Not as high as you would gather from the press — I would say the chance of Trump or Carson winning is probably 10% or lower,” Silver said at an event at Barnard University in New York in mid-November, referring to Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
He added: “But I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s impossible for them to win.”
Silver is currently publicly exploring many options for why he believes Trump’s support may be inflated.
A cursory look through Silver’s Twitter feed yielded almost 40 posts about the Republican front-runner in the last month, many of them sceptical about Trump’s chances or polls that predict Trump leading the field.
Probably wrong but plausible hypothesis: Trump constantly touting polls makes his supporters more likely to answer polls, thus biasing them.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) December 30, 2015
Though Silver remains one of the most notable sceptics of Trump’s nomination chances, many polling analysts have admitted that the early consensus on the weakness of Trump’s front-runner status has been proven wrong.
Many initially fixated on Trump’s low favorability ratings among many Republican voters, crediting his high name recognition among voters as a reason why so many Republicans claimed initial support for him.
“I would not construe Trump’s support as indicating that he is serious,” Wang told Business Insider just after Trump first took a lead in national polls this summer. “Perhaps more appropriate is to look at favourable/unfavorable-type numbers.”
Added University of Michigan polling analyst Michael Traugott in a July conversation: “You should pay attention to whether the respondents are asked to recall the names of announced Republican candidates from memory or asked to evaluate a list of names. Trump has greater name recognition than many of the others, especially the governors. But name recognition is not the same as support.”
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