Unscientific polls rocket Trump to way top spot.

Trump went into the GOP debate last night with a roughly 20% poll standing. Everyone will tell you to ignore polls early in this race, they never predict the outcome of a primary or a general election. That, however, is a non sequitur. We do not look at early polls to predict the distant future. We look at them to help understand the present, and to get a handle on what might happen over the next few weeks. The meaning of the polls shifts quite a bit before the first primaries, then they meaning of the polls has to be re-evaluated after every primary. At some point the re-evaluations start to return an end result like "Candidates A and B are in a horserace" or "Candidate A is the clear leader." After that, you can get caught on a boat with your mistress, or you can be killed, and that can change things, but not much else does. Democrats believe in the Dark Horse but no one has ever captured one to my knowledge. But up until that point, polls are useful, and meaningful, if done scientifically, but no, the fact that they don't predict an outcome over a year in advance is not a surprise and does not mean they don't have interest or utility.

But what about unscientific polls?

Well, they are not scientific and thus not worthy. However, over the last few hours, several non-scientific polls, and in this case I mean internet polls where anybody who happens on a site can vote, have come out asking who won last night's GOP primary.

If a bunch of unscientific polls that all return the same result become scientific, or at least, believable? That is a hypothesis I'd like to test with the current polling. It seems to me that if informal web based polls from across a spectrum of political orientation (of the site, not the poll clickers ... we don't know who the poll clickers are) all show similar results, then they might mean something. So, here is the hypothesis. If several informal polls show a very similar result, we expect to see that result reflected in the first scientific polls that come out.

I got poll results from the following sources (shown in order from left to right on the charts):

Slate
Right Scoop
Fox 5
Drudge
Palm Beach Post
News OK

Sadly MNSNBC had a poll but it was fairly useless in the way it was conducted. Also, HT Politics had a poll with similar results as those above, but I found it after I'd made the graphs.

Trump was a clear winner in these polls.

GOP_Debate_On_Line_Poll_Results

Trump's numbers ranged over several points, but are always higher than everyone else, and approached or met 50%. One hypothesis predicts that formal, scientific polls should have Trump as the front runner. Another hypothesis predicts that Trump's numbers in a scientific poll should be between about 40% and 50%, give or take a few points.

The gaggle of low numbers is difficult to even see on this graph, so I made a second graph with everybody but Trump:

GOP_Debate_On_Line_Poll_Results_Not_Trupm

Here we see what looks to me like two tiers. Walker, Christie, Bush, Huckabere and Paul are all really low, while Cruz, Kasich, Carson and Rubio are all relatively high. Note how variable Cruz's numbers are. But aside from Cruz, just as is the case with Trump, the results are fairly similar across the polls.

One hypothesis would then be that Walker will be shown as dead last in upcoming proper post debate polls. One could produce a number of other hypotheses as well, but it could get messy. Let's try this hypothesis. Upcoming proper post debate polls will have a rank order statistically like this:

Trump
Rubio
Carson
Kasich
Cruz
Paul
Huckabee
Bush
Christie
Walker

An additional hypothesis should probably be made, that the rank order for all the non-Trump candidates will be as shown. (This avoids the problem of having such a large magnitude of difference between the first and second rank).

There is one poll that I know of that was conducted by pollsters. It is by One America News Network, a conservative news agency that bills itself as "credible" (which is funny, why would you have to say that if you were that?)

If we take this poll by itself, most of the above suggested hypotheses are smashed. Here is the result of the poll questions "who won the debate" and "who lost the debate."

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 2.02.20 PM

This poll asked questions of "Republican poll participants." It shows Ben Carson beating Trump, and a lot less spread between leader and others than the on line polls indicated. Also, very few people thought Scott Walker, who was a big looser in the on line polls, had lost the debate. Generally, the rank order between this poll and the on line polls is different.

Reading the reporting of this poll, it looks a lot like a shill for Ben Carson. Details of the methodology are as follows:

Gravis Marketing, a nonpartisan research firm, conducted a random survey of 904 registered Republican voters across the U.S. Questions included in the poll were focused only on the top ten GOP candidates that participated in the 9 PM ET debate. The poll has an overall margin of error of +/- 3%. The polls were conducted on August 6, immediately following the GOP debate using interactive voice response, IVR, technology. The poll was conducted exclusively for One America News Network.

I should add that the agency reporting the poll is owned by the company that commissioned the poll. Gravis, the pollsters, are used at Real Clear Politics. So I'm on the fence about the legitimacy of this poll and eagerly await other results.

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A critical point is what level of support does Trump actually have among registered Republicans who will vote in the primaries.

It's possible that much of Trump's supposed support is coming from Democrats and pranksters inside and outside the U.S.

Perhaps. But if that was the case I would expect a sample of non-scientific on line polls to have more variation than they clearly do.

It would be interesting to know how many votes had have been cast at the different sites, and how many distinct (votes from different people) each received, but that information is beyond gathering for the polls you list.

When you look at what the rest of these clowns have said over the years, and recently, the fact that Trump is the early "leader" becomes less important: nobody in that group has the intellect or integrity to be trusted with the presidency.

ISTM that the Gravis poll is asking a different question from the on-line polls. The latter seem to be asking which candidate the subject would vote for if the primary were today. The Gravis poll is asking specifically who won and who lost the debate. The perceived winner of the debate won't necessarily be the candidate the subject plans to vote for; e.g., in the 2012 general election most people thought that Romney won the first debate, but Obama never trailed in preference polling. Same thing here: Carson may have done best in the opinion of a plurality of subjects polled, but that doesn't mean those people will vote for Carson.

With a multilateral debate like this, picking a single loser is an ill-posed question. Maybe Trump did badly (I don't know; I didn't watch the debate), but did he really do worse than the others (except for Paul), or are subjects picking on him because he is the current frontrunner, rather than a candidate like Walker who wasn't doing all that well to begin with and therefore couldn't underwhelm to the same extent? I'd like to think that they all lost, but as I said, I didn't watch the debate.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 07 Aug 2015 #permalink

No, every one of these polls is asking who won the debate.

I agree that asking for a single loser is a bit off. Asking for a winner could be to. But I was struck by the fact that when that question is asked, the answer was always very similar (same candidate, approximately same percentage, way above the second place candidate).

I watched much of the debate. The main thing that happened is that almost everything was about Trump, good or bad.

I should also mention that most of the talking head commentary I've read does not have Trump winning at all. But, it is also common for the talking heads to talk down the winner and talk up the loser, for various reasons.

They did, in fact, all lose, as you point out!

Or, Trump could have hired 100 lackeys to sit there and click on his name all day.

At least the Drudge poll allows you to vote more than once. I can see Trump (and his minions) furiously tapping away on numerous devices to record votes for him.

In truth Trump’s argument that politicians do little more than talk while he gets things done is probably resonating on the right and the left. He’s not the right person for that message (or any message really) so it would be refreshing to have an articulate, intelligent individual come forward with that as one aspect of their campaign (on the right or left). The question for Trump will be whether he takes his ball and goes home once he loses the nomination or whether he continues on as an independent. I don’t think he will run as an independent but then I have no idea why he is running in the first place.

By Mike Pollard (not verified) on 07 Aug 2015 #permalink

I am a Republican. I will vote for Donald Trump.
I was not sure who until last night. I think Meg Kelly was not asking Trump questions that were relevant to the debate. She was on her own bias and was showing her opinion. I appreciate how much he had to keep his temperament. He showed great poise and character to take direct mean attacks on him. I would have liked if the moderators would have asked him about issues I wanted to know about. They were awful moderators and I love FOX News. I will no longer watch or support Meg Kelly after her performance last night. I am now backing Donald Trump and will vote for him.

I am a registered voter and a Republican. I will vote for Donald Trump. I was not sure who I would vote for until last night. I think Meg Kelly was not asking Trump questions that were relevant to the debate. She was on her own bias and was showing her opinion. I appreciate how much he had to keep his temperament. He showed great poise and character to take direct mean attacks on him. I would have liked if the moderators would have asked him about issues I wanted to know about. They were awful moderators and I love FOX News. I will no longer watch or support Meg Kelly after her performance last night. I am now backing Donald Trump and will vote for him. Oh by the way in case you haven't guessed, I am a female. Meg, I am very disappointed and am no longer a fan.

"At least the Drudge poll allows you to vote more than once."

So does the Slate poll: that's the only one I checked.

I reject the notion that anyone "won" the "debate."

By Desertphile (not verified) on 07 Aug 2015 #permalink

In the intermission during our Canadian debates last night the analysts conducted polls using Facebook data. Pretty sure that wasn't even close to scientific. btw, The New York Times gave the Canadian debate considerable praise in A Debate with Substance (it was actually good although our PM told some whoppers and bald-faced lies--which he was quickly called out on by the other party leaders).

By Dan Andrews (not verified) on 07 Aug 2015 #permalink

Dan @#13

I wish I had seen it , I didn't even know it was on. I did hear good reviews on like the one you mentioned. I'd love to see Mulcair have a go at being PM, I don't trust Trudeau and am loathe to have political dynasties. needless to say I despise Harper and his ilk.

By Doug Alder (not verified) on 08 Aug 2015 #permalink

Desertphile - it is horrendous what Harper has done to science reporting in Canada. If anyone is interested see http://www.truenorthsmartandfree.ca/

"Strong Science, Strong Democracy
Canada’s commitment to making decisions based on evidence, not politics, helped to build our prosperity and make Canada one of the safest, healthiest and best educated countries in the world. However, in recent years, our federal government has turned away from science, putting all of this progress at risk.

Here you will find story after story showing how science makes our country strong and examples of how that strength is being undermined by politics.

Browse the stories and judge for yourself. If you agree we can do better, join us in standing up for science and smart decision-making.

You can restore the science needed for a strong democracy by taking our pledge and committing to vote for candidates who will choose evidence over politics to uphold the security, health and prosperity of all Canadians."

By Doug Alder (not verified) on 08 Aug 2015 #permalink

"You can restore the science needed for a strong democracy by taking our pledge and committing to vote for candidates who will choose evidence over politics to uphold the security, health and prosperity of all Canadians."

"... if you are given that option," the article failed to add. The FOX network dictates the person who is voted for and the person who is voted against.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 08 Aug 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Doug Alder (not verified)

@Desertphile note where I'm from and the article's focus. It's Canada not the US - Fox means nothing up here :)

By Doug Alder (not verified) on 08 Aug 2015 #permalink