Businessman Donald Trump’s support may be higher than the polls indicate but that does not mean he will necessarily win the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency next year.
Beyond the fact that polls have been showing some cracks in his armor–especially in Iowa where Trump trailed rival Ben Carson previously and where he currently trails Ted Cruz in two separate surveys–there are several reasons why Trump could still lose and how his support could either be overestimated or perilously shallow.
1) Trump’s Supporters Might Not Vote
Despite the fact that many of Donald Trump’s supporters are very firm in their positive opinion of him, that does not mean that they will go out and vote for him, especially in Iowa where the state’s weird caucus format of a large number of townhall meetings is much more time-consuming and arcane than simply showing up to vote in a primary election.
There are several indications that many of Trump’s supporters are new to politics and thus may not be familiar or motivated enough to leave the house for several hours in the middle of winter to argue with strangers on his behalf. In a survey conducted by Monmouth University, Trump trailed both Cruz and Marco Rubio among people who have frequently cast ballots (70 percent of the sample). He led among the much smaller percent of people (14 percent) who say they are not currently registered as Republicans but intend to attend a caucus.
This does not mean that Trump cannot bring along enough new voters to win Iowa, just that it will be difficult. But it has been done. Like Barack Obama in 2008, Trump is facing the challenge of remaking a party’s voting base. Obama was able to pull off an 8-point victory in Iowa despite the polls which showed him leading his competitors by less than 2 percent. One of them claimed Clinton would win by a margin of 9 percent even.
His campaign is clearly aware of the issue as it went out and hired the man who organized the dark horse victory of Rick Santorum in 2012 in the hopes he could repeat his achievement in 2016. Eight years ago, the former Pennsylvania senator was projected to receive only 16 percent of the votes but he finished with just over 24 and a half. Only time will tell if Trump has managed to change the game in Iowa.
2) Religious Right Elites Hate Him
It’s no secret that many, if not most, conservative Protestant leaders hate Donald Trump. They dislike him for a variety of reasons including his many years of working in the gambling business, his three marriages, and the fact that he appears not to be very devout. In July, Trump famously referred to Christian communion wafers as “my little cracker” and also said that he has never asked God for forgiveness of anything.
Despite Trump’s subsequent efforts to identify himself as an evangelical, the Religious Right, as one of their radio host members put it, thinks of Trump as “morally questionable.” This matters a great deal because in Iowa, white evangelicals comprise about 60 percent of the Republican electorate.
The anti-Trump efforts on the part of Christian conservatives have been mostly for naught as the New York businessman has enjoyed strong support from evangelicals throughout his campaign. This has made many Religious Right leaders reluctant to speak out strongly against Trump for fear of offending their followers. That’s why Iowa is so important for anti-Trump evangelicals since local leaders in the state can use endorsements which focus on the positives only can be used to boost a preferred candidate. With so many Christian Right candidates having been in the race however, the leadership has been divided but now seems to be coalescing around Cruz now that Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal dropped out and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee appears to be going nowhere. This may prove fateful for Donald Trump.
3) A Trump Loss in Iowa Could Be Devastating
As any person who’s been in America knows, winning is integral to the brand of Donald Trump. The bombastic billionaire summed up his ethos well in September when he told a crowd that “we will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning.”
If the Religious Right manages to bump off Trump in Iowa, however, that would hugely undercut his ability to state that he has a Midas touch for everything he attempts, including winning presidential races. As of now among Republicans, Trump leads all his competitors in terms of who they think will win the nomination and the presidency. Decades of academic political science research has shown that the candidate who voters think will win is helped significantly by this “bandwagon effect.” It’s almost certainly helping Trump’s numbers as well. But if he loses, the bloom will be off his gilded rose. What then? He still would have a good chance in New Hampshire where there are few evangelicals and the anti-Trump vote is split among many other candidates like governors Chris Christie and John Kasich, former governor Jeb Bush. But losing in Iowa and New Hampshire would be devastating to Trump’s aura of invincibility.
4) Many of Trump’s Supporters Are Less Educated
Donald Trump’s support is strongest among people who haven’t gone to college. That’s significant because less-educated people are not generally as interested in voting compared to those who’ve gone to college. Additionally, Trump supporters are more politically independent than the hardcore Republicans that are supporting the other candidates. That’s great for the general election but for primaries, the “bandwagon effect” mentioned above is more pronounced among those with fewer partisan loyalties. That’s what would make Iowa and New Hampshire losses even more devastating.
Is Donald Trump doomed then? Many political observers seem to think so but in light of the many advantages Trump still enjoys, that’s not quite the case. Much of what happens will depend on how well Trump and his rookie campaign manager Corey Lewandowski can perform in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Photo by Gage Skidmore
A writer, television producer, and cybersecurity consultant, Matthew Sheffield is a Bold contributor. He currently is a producer and reporter at The Hill's video division, Hill.TV.