The US has a way with populists. You don’t get to be President unless you are popular, but the Iowa Caucuses as the first test in every Primary year has proven too tough for the Media favourite and populist par excellance Donald Trump.
Going in it was thought that a big turnout would favour the Trump. But the peculiar process of getting people to deliberate before making their decision county by county seems to have clipped his wings, allowing one hispanic candidate to edge ahead of him and almost be caught by another.
It doesn’t mean the end of his candidacy, but it may: 1, take an edge off his boastfulness; and 2, allow the voters the time and (more importantly) the media space to get a look at the other candidates for the Republican nomination.
Nat Silver had already written Trump off as a 2% chance(r) before the turn of the year with a great blog called Donald Trump’s Six Stages Of Doom. Number one is what happens when the media simply stop listening to Trump and start listening to the other candidates.
In the process he describes fairly accurately one of the new tricks of the digital light in journalism:
…it’s absurd to focus on how Trump’s polling is changing from day to day. When Trump made his idiotic comments about John McCain’s military service a few weeks ago, there were a few news outlets like the New York Post who suggested it might bring about his immediate demise. We were skeptical of that conclusion at FiveThirtyEight. For a variety of reasons, Trump isn’t affected much by negative media coverage — it may even help him. But a lack of media coverage might be a different story.
If, like most Americans, you’ve been paying only passing attention to the GOP campaign, then pretty much the only candidate you’ll have been hearing about is Trump. According to data compiled by the Media Research Center, Trump has received more network news coverage than Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio combined. So if a pollster calls you and rattles off 17 names, and there are six or seven candidates you like well enough, which name might you mention when asked for your first choice? Possibly Trump, since his name will be top-of-mind. There’s a near-perfect correlation, in fact1 between how much news coverage a candidate has received and where they rank in recent national polls.
FiveThirtyEight reckons we’re just getting to Stage Two just now:
Voters, especially in the early voting states, will be doing less “window shopping” and instead will be thinking about who they might cast a ballot for. The polls will change too, starting to home in on what they deem to be “likely voters.” There’s some evidence that Trump is over-performing among “low-information voters.” By November, their ranks will decrease: They’ll either have become more informed, or they’ll be screened out by pollsters because they aren’t likely to vote.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty