Donald Trump continues to dominate the Republican presidential field, with polling numbers putting him well ahead of any other GOP presidential candidate. Yet, despite his apparent strength in the polls, he remains the least liked candidate in either major party who is currently running for president.
That Trump is a polarizing figure should come as no surprise. However, the juxtaposition of him widening his lead in the GOP primary, at the same time that most American voters have an unfavorable opinion of him, may seem paradoxical.
A recent YouGuv poll finds that Trump has surged to a double digit lead in the Republican field with 28 percent support, to 14 percent support for his nearest competitor, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Trump enjoys this commanding lead in the Republican primaries, even though along with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, he is one of the most disliked candidates with Republican voters. A full 42 percent of GOP voters have a negative opinion of Trump, compared to 53 percent who view him positively.
While those numbers aren’t terrible, they are quite a bit less favorable than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s 57-18 favorable spread or Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s 63-17 favorable rating. Trump isn’t as well-liked by GOP voters as those men, but he is still beating them soundly in the Republican field.
Trump may be benefiting from deep support even though he lacks depth of support. Not many voters like him, but the voters that do like him seem to like him better than anybody else in the race. That sort of deep support is powerful in a multi-candidate field where a candidate who can secure as little as 20-30 percent of the vote can win. However, it creates problems in a two-way race, where victory requires amassing support from half the electorate.
Trump’s current success in the crowded Republican race masks his weakness in a two-way contest. His commanding lead is largely a function of the size of the GOP field, rather than a testament to his political strength.
A Gallup Poll released Friday July 24, 2015, found that 56 percent of American adults had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, compared to just 32 percent who viewed him favorably. Those kind of numbers are politically fatal in a two-way general election match-up. As long as Trump continues to hold a lead in the GOP field, he will create the illusion of being a formidable political candidate. However, despite his early success in a multi-candidate race, he lacks the breadth of support to win a general election.
Donald Trump’s ”fifteen minutes of fame” may go into overtime, if they haven’t already, but ultimately he doesn’t have the numbers needed to win a presidential election. The question isn’t “if” his campaign will eventually flame out, but rather “when” it will.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.