Donald Trump is broadly unpopular with national adults, more so than any other major candidate of either party. Over the past week (Feb. 26-March 3), Trump was seen favorably by 30% of the country, while twice as many U.S. adults saw the GOP front-runner unfavorably (63%). But none of the other major presidential candidates have very positive images either, although no one’s image is as negative as Trump’s. Ted Cruz holds a favorable/unfavorable rating of 29%/50%, Hillary Clinton is at 41%/53% and Marco Rubio is liked by almost as many Americans as dislike him (34%/38%).
Two other candidates, Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican John Kasich, enjoy positive images with the American public, but both are clearly behind the front-runners in their respective parties in terms of winning primary delegates.
Unsurprisingly, Trump is more popular with his Republican base than among U.S. adults in general. In the last week (Feb. 26-March 3), Trump was seen favorably by 54% of self-identified Republicans or independents who lean Republican. His unfavorable rating was 42%, meaning his “net favorable” tilts positively, by a +12-point margin.
Trump is more popular than the Republican candidate who currently holds the second-highest number of delegates won through the voting process — Cruz. Cruz has a favorable rating among Republicans of 48%, while his unfavorable rating is 41%, for a net favorable of +7. Cruz’s image among Republicans has been sharply more negative in the last few days; as recently as the seven-day average ending Feb. 24, he had a net favorable rating of +21.
Rubio, by contrast, is more popular among Republicans, with a 53% favorable rating and 31% unfavorable rating. Obviously, Rubio’s likability has not thus far translated into sweeping success at the ballot box.
The larger point is that none of these candidates is doing particularly well among their party base, and that Trump’s image is positive and better than his rival Cruz’s image.
Trump is, at this point, more unpopular than 2008 nominee John McCain was (a person, incidentally, whom Trump has attacked over the course of his campaign). In March 2008, when McCain had effectively already won the nomination, he had a favorable rating of 87% with Republicans compared with an 8% unfavorable rating. A month earlier, when the competition for the nomination was still heated, McCain was slightly less liked by Republicans — in February 2008, he had a favorable rating of 67% compared with a 27% unfavorable rating.
Still, McCain’s image among his party identifiers at this stage in the 2008 election cycle was obviously much better than Trump’s is now.
What about 2012 and Mitt Romney — the former candidate who Thursday lambasted Trump’s viability as the GOP nominee during a speech in Utah?
In February 2012, 59% of Republicans saw Romney favorably while 31% saw him unfavorably, for a net favorable of +28. This is clearly better than Trump’s image has been at any point in February or March so far. But if we go back to earlier in January, Trump’s net favorable rating among Republicans was actually at or slightly higher than the +28 level. Just to emphasize the point, Trump’s image among Republicans earlier in 2016 was very similar to Romney’s in the early months of 2012.
Trump’s image has suffered in recent weeks, perhaps reflecting the continuing — and heated — campaign. All of this could change if Trump were to move to the point where his nomination becomes a sure thing. In 2012, as was the case for McCain in 2008, Romney became nearly universally popular with Republicans after he had sewn up the nomination — in May 2012, he had a favorable rating of 82% and an unfavorable rating of 13%.
Using these past two elections as a guide, it’s possible that Trump could see an uptick in his image among Republicans should he win the party’s nomination.
This is not to say that a sizable portion of the Republican Party would prefer their party nominate another candidate than Trump, or that efforts to mobilize against Trump are doomed to fail (they are hampered, however, by the party’s inability to settle on which candidate anti-Trump Republicans should support). But the evidence from 2012, in particular, shows that Trump’s unpopularity among Republicans, at this point, is not necessarily a fatal flaw for his candidacy. Plus, Trump is not the most unpopular candidate in the GOP field currently — that distinction belongs to Cruz.
It is perhaps more important to note that Trump remains a disliked figure nationally, more so than, as an example, the likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. And it is important to note that Trump has a particularly bad image among Hispanics and blacks nationally (much worse than Cruz’s or Rubio’s), two potentially key voting groups in specific swing states this fall.
Republicans who want to see Donald Trump win their party’s nomination are most likely to say it is Trump’s status as a nonpolitician and an outsider that drives their support, followed by his experience as a businessman. A number of Trump supporters also prefer him because he is outspoken.
These findings are based on Gallup’s Feb. 26-28 poll in which Republicans and Republican-leaning independents were asked whether they would prefer to see Trump, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio win their party’s nomination, and then to indicate in their own words what lies behind their preference. Responses to the latter question were coded into major categories as displayed in the accompanying table.
According to Trump supporters, his unconventional résumé and style have helped attract their support for his candidacy, more so than his positions on issues or specific policies. In fact, other than his signature issue of immigration, mentioned by 8% of his supporters, no other issue is named by more than half that many — with between 2% and 4% mentioning his ability to deal with terrorists, his financial planning and budget expertise, and his handling of the economy and employment.
This is not to say Trump supporters don’t think he has strengths on specific issues. In the same poll, Trump gets substantially more credit than his major competitors for being able to handle the economy and the deficit, as well as immigration. But it is his nonpolitician background that comes to mind first, not his positions on issues, when supporters are asked to explain why they want him as their party’s nominee.
In addition to the perception that Trump is an outsider and a businessman, Republicans who support Trump also frequently mention that he would accomplish what he sets out to do, that his campaign has so far been self-funded, that he is honest and that his election as president would improve the stature of the U.S. around the world. (…)
If Trump wins the Republican nomination, his opponent in the general election — who right now is most probably Hillary Clinton — will likely seek to attack him for his idiosyncratic temperament and bombastic ways. Previewing this possible line of attack, a member of his own party, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, heavily criticized Trump on Thursday in a speech in Utah, using words like “bullying … showing off … absurd third-grade theatrics … ridiculous.”
The insight from the new poll — conducted before Trump engaged in additional nonconventional references and personal attacks in the March 3 GOP debate — is that rank-and-file Republicans may be willing to look beyond these qualities and, by extension, that general-election swing voters could do the same. Republicans who support Trump’s candidacy like him for being an anti-politician, and Trump’s willingness to say things that flout conventional norms governing political speech may only strengthen his authenticity as an outsider.
More generally, the responses given by Republicans who want to see Trump prevail show that Trump’s outsider message is clearly reaching its target through the free media on which he relies. His supporters’ discussion of his outsider status, his business background, that he says what he thinks, his position on immigration, that he would get things done, and his being self-funded are all centerpieces of Trump’s debate and numerous off-the-cuff comments.
FT Debate: who is Donald Trump most like? From Hitler to Huey Long, Perot to Putin, we seek comparisons for the phenomenon that is The Donald
Mr Trump shares traits with many historic figures — Huey Long, George Wallace, Charles Lindbergh, Ross Perot and Father Coughlin, to name a few. But it is impossible to imagine Mr Trump without Rupert Murdoch. Through Fox News, Mr Murdoch has abolished the limits of acceptable politics in the past 20 years. If it sells it is good, no matter what the consequences. That is all you need know about Mr Trump’s politics.
Last July Mr Murdoch tweeted: “When is Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends let alone the whole country?” Eight months later, he tweeted: “If he [Trump] becomes inevitable the party would be mad not to unify”. Mr Trump was once pro-immigration. Then he turned against it. Mr Murdoch was once anti-Trump. Now he appears to support him. They are peas in an amoral pod.
Donald Trump might, at best, be considered an American Silvio Berlusconi, albeit without the latter’s charm or business acumen. Mr Berlusconi, unlike Mr Trump, made his billions from scratch. He also never threatened to round up and expel millions of people. Mr Berlusconi promoted fantasies, too, but they were of his own innocence, and his rhetorical assaults were more on the judiciary that pursued him than on the weak and vulnerable.
He was a bad prime minister who failed to reform Italy but he lacked the brutality and aggression of Mr Trump, who is grossly unqualified for the world’s most important political office. Maybe Mr Trump is more like another politician he admires: Vladimir Putin, the Russian strong man. Mr Trump might see himself as America’s Putin.
Who is Trump like? Comparing anyone to Hitler is generally a bad idea — since it’s more a term of abuse than analysis. I don’t think Trump is Hitler but some of his political platform does carry echoes of fascist and Nazi rhetoric: the denigration of the democratic system as incurably corrupt, the promotion of conspiracy theories, the racism, the promise to reverse national decline and the way in which he is capitalising on themes already developed by an extremist press.
That said, I think it is probably more useful to look at parallels that are more contemporary or American. In the US he seems similar to George Wallace in the 1960s, Joe McCarthy in the 1950s or some of the fascist sympathisers of the 1930s, such as Lindbergh or Coughlin. In the contemporary world, he is similar to Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, a showman-tycoon who revels in his own virility and political incorrectness.
The election of Trump would also mean that the US had followed other large nations by opting for a nationalist strong man as its leader — the American equivalent of Xi in China, Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey and Modi in India.
Inveterate self-publicists; bombastic but addictively watchable speakers; declared enemies of politics as usual. Donald Trump’s closest UK equivalent is George Galloway, who twice ousted Labour MPs from safe seats by stoking local discontent with the political establishment.
Trump scornfully demolished his Republican rivals for being hopeless captives of the political system; Galloway did the same during a famous appearance in front of the US Senate in 2005. Both projecting a strong man image themselves, they also seem to have a soft spot for real-life autocrats like Vladimir Putin.
They are natural showmen, quick with the florid personal attack but thin-skinned when on the receiving end. Galloway is a sideshow; Trump the main act. But their shtick is remarkably similar.
We have yet to see a British Donald Trump but the nearest political figure is Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence party. Both are unashamedly populist, appealing to voters “left behind” by the established political parties. Their insurgencies have shaken up the traditional conservative movements in their respective countries.
The similarities are numerous. Messrs Trump and Farage have made controversial comments on Islamic issues — the latter that there are some Muslims who want to form a “fifth column and kill us” — as well as campaigning for tighter borders and greater sovereignty. Both also enjoy the unwavering support of Breitbart, the stridently rightwing website.
Mr Farage addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland last year, where he criticised the west’s military interventions, saying: “We’ve actually inflamed and stoked the fires of militant Islamism by doing what we have done.” Those words could have come straight out of Mr Trump’s mouth.