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Sides and Silver Wreck Trump

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12/11/2015 2:06:26 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
Respected political analyst John Sides and Nate Silver (a highly influential statistician with a keen eye for politics) both noticed and presented alternative causes behind Trump's support other than a spiritual connection with a disenfranchised base against the establishment.

Silver discredits the use of polls almost entirely for a number of factors. He looks at the most common argument for the Trump train - the longevity of his poll support - and rebuts it. Trump rates somewhere between 25-30% on most polls. But Silver clarifies that these polls not only make up only up only 6-8% of the general electorate but that they are flawed even as a measurement of primary voters. First, the polls only cover Republican-leaning adults or registered voters, not likely voters. Trump would need to drive this 25-30% to the polls. The bigger problem, however, is that those numbers are not Trump's for the keeping.

Past nomination races have demonstrated that Americans have surprisingly little interest this far (a term I use loosely) from the primaries. Looking at the 2008 and 2012 presidential cycles, Silver points out the public interest doesn't even make any significant gains until a week or two before the primaries. The exit polls in Iowa and New Hampshire from 2004, 2008, and 2012 further reinforce this assertion. By the final week in Iowa in 2008, for example, only 40% of Republican voters and 27% of Democratic voters had made their final decision on who to support.

Interestingly, the reverse seems to happen with the general election, but that's another topic.

Silver, who's had a knack for proper predictions so far, places Trump's odds of victory at considerably less than 20%.

Sides, on the other hand, attributes a great deal of Trump's popularity, perhaps uncontroversially, to the media. He builds on the research of people like Lazarsfeld or Merton to examine the media's celebrity effect. Despite some assertions that the media is inept, foolish, or slow in their responses to Trump, Sides believes the media is a key factor in his popularity. He argues that dissatisfaction with the established order is insufficient to explain Trump's appeal.

In his masterful book, The Gamble, he and Vavreck observed the 2012 election from nomination to general. They noted a persistent trend among presidential nomination races known as discovery, scrutiny, decline. This obviously did not happen to people like Romney or Clinton. But that's not the point. The point, Sides says, is that it's impossible to go from step 1 to step 3 in that chain. This trend well accounts for the decline of other candidates like Bush or Carson. But Trump routinely creates the spectacle. He can remain in the discovery phase by remaining newsworthy. Trump is the most popular because he's talked about the most.

Sides strongly argues against the idea that the media has no agency in politics. The media could well play a part in bringing Trump down. Not by dismissing him, as so many started out doing, but by forcing Trump to linger in the aforementioned 2nd phase or by discovering a new contender.

For those interested: