Hours before tonight’s critical presidential debate, the first poll measuring voter sentiment in the wake of the Trump tape scandal has just been released.
Following Friday’s release of Donald Trump’s 11-year-old lewd comments, Republican leaders led the bi-partisan effort to quickly condemn the GOP nominee. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus came out Friday evening, quickly followed by House Speaker Paul Ryan — and then a wave of additional Republicans. Some high-profile Republicans have even gone so far as to suggest the GOP nominee step aside and either give Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence the top of the ticket or even drop out of the race altogether.
Former GOP nominee Bob Dole was a notable exception, coming out to declare he would not withdraw his support for the candidate who won 40 percent of the vote in the primary. Dole also reminded us the video is 11 years old — and that “The Clintons aren’t pure either.” (You can say that again. Like 1,000 times.)
Of course, one notable difference between Bob Dole and most of those Republican leaders quick to condemn Trump is that many of those condemning the nominee are themselves on the ballot this November. Their very public distancing is almost certainly being driven, in large part, by a political calculation that continuing to stand by the tarnished nominee will damage their own prospects on election day.
However, the first new poll measuring voter sentiment in the fallout of the tape suggests this may be yet another miscalculation by the so-called Republican establishment. The new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted immediately after audio was released Friday suggests most Republican voters think the party should stand by Donald Trump; only 12 percent think he should end his campaign. Furthermore, less than a third of voters are willing to give greater consideration to a candidate who un-endorses Trump.Among independents, 44 percent said Trump should stay in the race, compared with only 35 percent who thought he should drop out. Overall, the GOP candidate’s support has dropped just one point in the wake of the video at this point.
As Politico reports:
Overall, fewer than 4-in-10 voters — 39 percent — think Trump should end his presidential campaign, while only slightly more voters, 45 percent, think he should not drop out.
But voters are largely viewing Trump’s comments through their own partisan lens: 70 percent of Democrats say Trump should end his campaign, but just 12 percent of Republicans — and 13 percent of female Republicans — agree.
As of now, GOP voters largely want the party to stand behind Trump. Nearly three-quarters of Republican voters, 74 percent, surveyed on Saturday said party officials should continue to support Trump. Only 13 percent think the party shouldn’t back him.
Still, Hillary Clinton leads Trump in the four-way race for the White House by 4 percentage points, 42 percent to 38 percent, with 8 percent supporting Gary Johnson, 3 percent supporting Jill Stein and 9 percent undecided. Clinton also leads by four in a two-way race, 45 percent to 41 percent.
Operatives in both parties say they believe it will take several days — and Sunday night’s debate at Washington University in St. Louis — to have the video bake into the public consciousness.
But not only do three-quarters of Republican voters want the party to stand behind Trump, there’s a potential warning in the data for GOP officeholders like Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who announced Saturday she wouldn’t vote for him: Less than a third of voters are willing to give greater consideration to a candidate who un-endorses Trump.
The poll was conducted entirely on Saturday, the day after the Trump video was revealed by The Washington Post. Morning Consult surveyed 1,549 registered voters, with 1,390 likely voters. The margin of error for all results is plus or minus 2 percentage points, and 3 percentage points for likely voters.
Still, even after viewing both videos [the 2005 video as well as Trump’s apology video] as part of the poll’s administration, more voters said Trump shouldn’t drop out of the race, 45 percent, than say he should, 39 percent. More than three-quarters of Republicans, 78 percent, said Trump shouldn’t end his campaign. And more independents, 44 percent, said Trump should stay in the race, compared with only 35 percent who thought he should drop out.
A number of high-profile, down-ballot Republican candidates distanced themselves from Trump on Saturday, but there’s little indication voters are preparing to punish continued support for Trump among other candidates. If a GOP candidate continued to support Trump, 39 percent of voters overall said it would make them somewhat or much less likely to vote for that candidate, compared with 23 percent who said it would make them more likely to vote for that candidate, and 31 percent who said it wouldn’t affect their vote.
But again, GOP voters reacted differently than voters overall. Some Republicans, like Ayotte and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, have for months balanced personal ambivalence toward Trump with efforts to avoid alienating pro-Trump voters in their battleground states. And even after watching the video, 41 percent of GOP voters said continued support for Trump would make them more likely to vote for the down-ballot candidate, while only 12 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for that candidate.
And GOP voters could be prepared to punish Republicans who bail on Trump: 28 percent said it would make them more likely to vote for a candidate who can’t support Trump, but 25 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for that candidate. A 41-percent plurality said it won’t affect their vote.
Still, the race on the eve of the debate remains both close and volatile. Clinton’s 4-point lead on the initial ballot test is slightly smaller than her 6-point edge on the four-way ballot in last week’s POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. And, even a month before Election Day, 20 percent of likely voters won’t commit to Clinton or Trump on the initial ballot, either choosing a third-party candidate or saying they are undecided.
We’ve already seen some anecdotal evidence of voter backlash against Republican establishment distancing themselves from Trump, such as the chants aimed at House Speaker Paul Ryan at yesterday’s Wisconsin rally — to which Ryan had disinvited Trump after the tape’s release Friday. We also saw Trump supporters come out to Trump Tower in New York City yesterday to show their support for the candidate under fire.
Impossible to predict how this will all play out in an election cycle where conventional wisdom just doesn’t seem to apply. But the new poll numbers would appear to suggest, once again, that the establishment media and party elites may just be woefully out of touch with the American voters.
[This article was written by Michelle Jesse, Associate Editor]