Trump and Emerson College Polling, Sitting in a Tree

I’m going to show you some post-midterms 2024 Republican nomination polling from Real Clear Politics. As you look over it, I want you to look for former President Donald Trump’s best numbers. Then, check which pollster found those results.

You found that since the 2022 midterms, only three times has Trump polled over 51%. All three of these times he hit 55, and all three of these times was with Emerson College Polling. Weird, right?

And it’s not just national polls. Checking in on New Hampshire‘s first in the nation primary, we see that the University of New Hampshire, across four polls from July to January, found Ron DeSantis improving each time, and in the only UNH survey conduced since the midterms, DeSantis’s lead was up to 12. But what did Emerson find? Something very different:

Trump by 41!

Heck, even in Florida we see it. It may be both candidates’ home state, but let’s be real: DeSantis is its popular Governor who just won re-election by 20 points, and Trump is merely the state’s most famous interloper. It should be a DeSantis state, and an early March poll from the University of North Florida indeed has DeSantis walloping Trump 52-27.

But then about a week later Emerson went in there and did a poll of its own, and look what it found:

A 28-point swing from UNF’s survey put Trump on top.

What gives? Is it because Emerson is one of those shady polling firms, like the ones that disrupted 2022 polling by saturating the averages with bad data (I’m looking at you, Trafalgar and Insider Advantage)? Is Emerson in the tank for Trump? I mean, it is pretty weird that Trump clocked in at exactly 55 in each of Emerson’s last few polls. Is that the work of predetermined results?

I don’t think so. The data-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight acquit Emerson of any such charges. The site gives it an excellent A- pollster rating, and in the 2022 midterms it had only a 1.3-point average bias toward Republicans, a tremendously accurate result. In fact, of the 506 pollsters rated by FiveThirtyEight, Emerson ranks very close to the top — 14th place.

In other words, Emerson is a great pollster. Its reputation is something it cares about far too much to start cranking out bad polls. In fact, I like the three consecutive 55s. A lesser pollster may have nudged those numbers just to avoid accusations of impropriety. The fact that Emerson, with its strong history, stuck by its strange results gives me more confidence in them, not less.

So here we have this excellent pollster finding Trump doing much better than any other pollster. It seems to be an outlier, but it’s not because it’s a shoddy or biased polling outfit. So what else could it be?

I looked into some of the top pollsters’ polling samples, but they were pretty comparable, so then I considered question wording. In its most recent national poll, Emerson asked, “Among these candidates, who would you be most likely to vote for in the Republican primary in 2024?,” and then it listed nine candidates. That’s pretty straightforward. But I wonder, what if we compare that question with that of the only other A-rated pollster from the Real Clear Politics average — Monmouth University Polling. Its most recent poll found Trump up only 8 on DeSantis, as opposed to Emerson’s most recent poll, who had Trump up 30. Those results are so different, I have to wonder: were the questions different too?

Ah, this might be teach us something. Monmouth only asked voters to pick between four candidates: Trump, DeSantis, former Mike Pence, and Nikki Haley. Across the two polls, Pence (8 and 7 points) and Haley (5 and 6) combined for 13 points, an agreement that testifies to the polls’ potential accuracy. The key difference was how Trump and DeSantis performed. In the Monmouth survey, which gave respondents fewer choices, DeSantis seems to consolidate supporters from the five candidates not listed, driving him up to 36 points in the poll. In the Emerson poll’s nine-person survey, however, DeSantis sat at just 25.

These results certainly gibe with my instincts for the race. Trump has a sizable and loyal group of supporters, the MAGAholics, who have stuck with him. The polls suggest that’s 40% to 55% of the party. Beyond that there’s a small contingent of Never Trumpers, and then Republicans who are open to Trump but would really rather someone else be the nominee. Those latter two groups are divided behind multiple candidates, however; DeSantis is chief among them, but he’s got competition.

The question is, can the field stay small enough for DeSantis to absorb enough of those other voters and be competitive with Trump’s large faction? Remember, that was a central question to my Scenarios for the 2024 Republican Primary column:

Ultimately, as we continue to see scattered polling results for the Republican co-favorites, we’ll want to check just how many options the survey gave to respondents.

Whoa, am I under 900 words? I’m getting better!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.