Another day, another poll that seems to suggest Donald Trump might wind up winning the Republican presidential nomination. The most recent is a CNN/WMUR survey of New Hampshire, a key early voting state, released Tuesday night. It showed that if the election were held today 32 percent of voters would back Trump. That’s more than two and a half times the 14 percent who say they would back his closest rival, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Tuesday was a hard day for the GOP in general. Trump’s call on Monday night to bar all Muslims from entering the United States forced most of the major figures in the party, however reluctantly, to make public statements distancing themselves from The Donald and, by extension, his supporters.
The New Hampshire poll’s headline number can’t have helped, especially coming on top of a USA Today/Suffolk University poll showing that more than two-thirds of Trump voters would break from the GOP if their man decided — as he has often threatened — to run as a third party candidate. Trump tweeted out the poll number without comment, but the implications for the GOP were clear.
On the other hand, despondent members of the party establishment didn’t have to dig too deeply into the results to unearth at least a sliver of hope that, with a long way to go in the race, Trump’s lead is far from safe. The University of New Hampshire researchers who wrote up the survey results, Andrew E. Smith and Zachary S. Azem, led their analysis not by reporting whom respondents would vote for if they were forced to choose today, but with how many voters have actually made up their minds this far in advance.
“New Hampshire primary voters usually decide who they will vote for in the last weeks, or days of the campaign and it is no surprise that few likely Republican primary voters have made up their minds about who they will support in 2016,” they wrote.
Only 18 percent of likely GOP primary voters say they’ve made up their minds, while 26 percent favor a specific candidate and 56 percent are still deciding.
Asked whom they would vote for if they were forced to choose now, 32 percent chose Trump, and that’s not nothing. It may even suggest that there is some further, underlying support among those still undecided.
But nobody is actually being forced to cast a vote at all, and those who choose to do so won’t even have the opportunity until Feb. 9. So it’s also possible that the group of undecided voters includes a lot of people who are looking for an alternative to the current frontrunner.
With the majority of GOP candidates clustered in the sub-10 percent range in the poll, it’s likely that between now and February there will be a consolidation of voters behind one or two candidates that will make Trump’s current domination of the field look less intimidating.