Donald Trump has a registered voter gap

UMass released a poll of the Republican primary yesterday, in partnership with YouGov, showing Donald Trump leads the pack with 31 percent of likely voters, followed by Ben Carson at 22, Ted Cruz at 13 and Marco Rubio at 9. All of the rest of the candidates were under 5 percent. Jeb Bush was in seventh place, with three percent.

But YouGov did something with their sampling that the Trump campaign may want to make a note of. Their sample included 1,000 adults, which they screened down to 318 likely Republican primary voters and 381 likely Democratic primary voters. However, after they had identified their likely voters and polled them, they applied an additional screen for whether they could actually match voters back to the public voter files.

Normally, voter screens work the other way. You start with registered voters, and then screen for whether you think those voters will actually show up (in this case, YouGov simply asked respondents if they would definitely or probably vote in the upcoming election). But in this case, it appears that YouGov did the reverse: they polled self-described likely voters, and then checked to see whether their respondents were actually registered to vote.

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

With this registered voter screen applied, Donald Trump falls out of first place. His nine point lead over Ben Carson evaporates, and he trails the traveling book salesman 29-28. Even Ted Cruz gains some ground on him, jumping four points to 17 percent. In fact, Donald Trump is the only Republican with more than five percent of the likely vote share who loses ground when the registered voter screen is applied, so while he only falls three percentage points, the loss matters more relative to gains made in the rest of the field. Taken together, the effects of the registered voter screen suggest that the enthusiastic-but-not-registered voters are predominantly either undecided or pro-Trump.

(This effect was nonexistent in the Democratic primary, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders seeing nearly identical levels of support among both likely and confirmed registered voters.)

What’s more, Trump handily leads among likely voters on the question, “Which candidate do you think would have the best chance of winning the general election?” outpacing Carson and Rubio 40-24-12. But when the confirmed registered voter screen is applied, that lead shrinks to 35-30-16.

In short, it appears as though Donald Trump has a registered voter gap. He is the candidate most likely to have the support of Republicans who are excited to vote in the upcoming primary, but would be barred from actually casting ballots if the election were held today.

It’s important to note that the poll is a small sample, so it’d be great to see the effects of a registered voter screen in other polls in other states. However, from what we know about Donald Trump’s supporters, this drop-off among registered voters makes sense. Much of Trump’s support comes from people who are more engaged with The Apprentice than they are with politics. More importantly, over half of his supporters have a high school degree or less — a larger share of non-college voters than the GOP as a whole. These data points matter given that educational attainment is very much related to voter registration: only 60.4% of citizens with a high school degree or less were registered to vote as of 2012, while 78.6% of citizens with at least some college were registered.

Of course, none of this would matter if the United States had universal or automatic voter registration. Were it not for an anachronistic and unequally-applied barrier to entry in the voting market, the Republican primary would be an accurate reflection of the will of its electorate, as every self-identified enthusiastic Republican would be able to enter the political process and cast a ballot. And until (or unless) something fundamentally changes in the Republican primary, the will of the Republican electorate is to nominate Donald Trump. It isn’t even particularly close.

But given our current opt-in system of voter registration, a number of Republicans who want to vote in their primaries look like they’re going to get shut out, and that group of would-be voters disproportionately favors Trump. This leaves open the possibility that the Republican primaries produce a nominee other than Trump against the wishes of its electorate.

I guess the question, then, is whether Trump supports policy changes that will make it easier for those who support him to actually cast ballots for him when it’s time to vote.

Any reporters on Donald Trump’s beat want to ask him if he supports automatic voter registration?

Correction: UMass’s poll was national, not of Massachusetts voters.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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6 Responses to “Donald Trump has a registered voter gap”

  1. Indigo says:

    YouGov polls are interesting for what they exclude as much as what they include. I’m a regular on that circuit, often left with the impression that their up-to-the-minute entertainment questions, for example, were composed about a year and a half ago. Who even remembers some of those shows? While what’s hot now doesn’t make the cut into their lists. Interesting but the methodology sometimes leaves me scratching my head. Maybe that’s what makes for good polling. Then again, asking which TV shows cancelled more than a year ago you are watching regularly now leaves one with the impression that they’re not on top of their game. I suspect them of re-runs. Not the shows, their questions.

  2. Houndentenor says:

    The mainstream media is terrified of anyone to whom they don’t already have “access”. They like their little club and resent anyone else getting any attention. it’s why they hate bloggers and social media so much. They can’t stand that people like Dean or Sanders or a host of other “outsiders” have the audacity to call them out on their bullshit. (Note: I am not a Sanders supporter, at least not yet, but I do like that he says things that are important but other candidates are reluctant to address at all. If nothing else he’s forcing Democrats to talk about things the 99% care about.)

  3. MyrddinWilt says:

    Unfortunately, I suspect that the Paris bombings have made it impossible for any candidate to catch Trump up.

    Carson’s position is irrelevant. He got hit really hard in the past couple of weeks and showed a substantial decline in support. That was before the Paris attack demonstrated the stakes. Glowing life stories aren’t a substitute for appearing competent and decisive. Carson’s run almost exactly matches the run Cain made in the 2012 race.

    The attacks have killed all non-Syria related news until after New Year. Next week is Thanksgiving, the two weeks after we will be discussing the latest GOP shutdown idiocy over refugees. Then we will be celebrating that obscure Christian festival in which a Middle Eastern family are unable to find accommodation because of the mean spiritedness of strangers.

    There isn’t time left for a Rubio surge. And the situation doesn’t help him at all. If the same situation had occurred in the 2008 race, Hilary would have been the nominee on the basis that all things being equal, the country is going to choose experience over youth when under attack. At this point in 2008, Obama was running a strong second. Rubio is a weak fourth or fifth.

    Trump looks set to become the GOP nominee. Before Paris I would have said that is good for Bernie because people might be more willing to risk a vote for Bernie if the GOP candidate is a no-hoper. But Paris has exposed the stakes and I think the fear of a Trump presidency being as bad as Bush or worse is going to be very real.

    Paris counterintuitively helps Hilary on her Iraq vote. Yes, the rise of ISIS does show that to have been an even worse decision. But right now, being trigger happy is considered to be a good thing.

  4. nicho says:

    The corporatists and their media will manufacture the reality they need to achieve their goal — whatever that is. It only takes them about three weeks. In 2003-2004, Howard Dean went from “unbeatable front runner” to “unelectable” between the middle of December and the caucuses. Then, the media sabotaged him with the phony “Dean Scream,” which put a nail in the coffin of any political ambition he might have in the future.

  5. Jon Green says:

    1. The Iowa caucuses are in 75 days. That’s a while, but not an incredibly long while.
    2. The sheer horserace analysis in this post is part of larger points about a) who Trump’s voters are and b) voter registration more generally.

  6. nicho says:

    Talking about the GOP presidential candidate at this point is like trying to decide who will win next year’s world series. It’s all just bullshit.

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