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“First In The South” Polling: Looking Beyond Donald Trump’s Big Lead




There’s a huge buzz in political circles regarding “microtargeting,” or the use of data to identify, persuade and (hopefully) turn out voters on election day.  Does it work?  Yes.  Television commercials are now targeted to specific households – and email and direct mail solicitations crafted to individuals subscribing to very precise issues subsets (or combinations of subsets).

Campaigns no longer craft broad messages hoping to appeal generically to “conservatives” or “liberals.”  Nor do they rely exclusively on the voter lists provided by political parties or election agencies to disseminate their messages.  Instead, they pinpoint tailored communications to specific subsets of the voting age population – hoping to either expand (or suppress) the electorate via these “microtargeted” communications.

Sound scientific?  It is.  Very much so.  In fact the most important question asked of a modern political campaign isn’t “who is running your race?” or “who is handling your advertising?”  It’s “who is doing your data?”

Of course the incredible advances we’ve seen in voter science in recent years would be meaningless were it not for practitioners who knew which questions to ask – and knew which theories to plug into the “Big Data.”

One such practitioner?  Erin Norman – whose work we’ve featured previously on this site.  Norman has a new study published by Market Research Foundation – a group whose work was recently featured by nationally syndicated columnist George Will.

Last month, Norman conducted a poll for Market Research Foundation in early-voting South Carolina seeking to glean additional information on disenfranchised conservative “leaners.”  The poll looked at two groups: Voters who were modeled to be Republicans – yet didn’t vote in either the 2008 or 2012 presidential primary election – and voters of any ideological persuasion who cast ballots in either the 2008 or 2012 GOP presidential primary (but not in both races).

The first group obviously represents “solid gold real estate” in the upcoming 2016 presidential primary election in South Carolina – while the second group represents untapped potential.

“Campaigns best able to target the first universe – while identifying common themes running across both universes – stand the best chance of not only winning this important primary bellwether, but also of turning out similarly modeled voters in crucial swing states in the 2016 general election,” a Market Research Foundation analysis of the polling noted.

So … which candidate is doing that?  Donald Trump.

“Among both segments identified for this research, Trump is the clear GOP presidential primary frontrunner,” Norman said.  “His support intensifies when the audience is narrowed to likely primary voters and those who say they intensely support their chosen candidate.”

Among the two groups Norman and MRF researched, Trump received the support of 34 percent of respondents – well ahead of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (13 percent), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (12 percent), former Florida governor Jeb Bush (10 percent) and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (6 percent).

That’s consistent with mainstream media polling of all “likely GOP primary voters” – but in light of the specific audiences polled in this survey, it shows Trump could actually expand his lead by outperforming his rivals among a broadened electoral universe.

In other words, “The Donald” could be enjoying an even bigger lead than the mainstream media polls would suggest.

Buttressing this contention are positive perceptions of Trump which cut across other candidates’ networks of support.

For example, 62 percent of Rubio supporters and 55 percent of Carson supporters said they believe Trump is “willing to speak the truth other politicians avoid.”  Only a majority of Jeb Bush supporters said they felt differently – with 60 percent of them describing Trump as a “loose cannon and not a serious contender.”

The perception of Trump as an unapologetic truth-teller could wind up being a major driver of turnout, too, as these two universes listed it as the item “most likely” to make them “go out on Election Day and support a candidate.”

“Having candidates who are willing to speaking in a direct, forthright manner is the best way to drive turnout at the polls,” Norman concluded.  “Sharing views with candidates on foreign policy is also important – and sharing views on immigration is especially important to Trump supporters.”

Very interesting …

We’ll keep an eye on future MRF polling in South Carolina as they’ve had done some very interesting, very insightful Palmetto State surveys in recent years.