- - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Former front-runner Donald Trump came in second in Iowa for many reasons, but the biggest one is that he is widely disliked by most Americans.

A national survey by the respected Gallup Poll, which was ignored by the news media, found that Mr. Trump is the most unlikeable presidential candidate in either party in decades.

Mr. Trump is know for many things — his wealth, his gigantic ego and braggadocio, and his nasty insults of people he does not like. But most Americans have known him as the presidential candidate who led in all the polls for the GOP presidential nomination. Not anymore.

That was laid to rest last week by Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor-in-chief, in an analysis he titled “Trump’s Negative Image.”

“Most political and media commentators have at this point installed Donald Trump as the GOP front-runner,” he wrote.

“But this narrative tends to obscure the fact that Trump is the most unpopular candidate of either party when the entire U.S. population is taken into account — and that he has a higher unfavorable rating than any nominated candidate from either of the two major parties going back to the 1992 election when we began to track favorability using the current format,” Mr. Newport said.

“At this point (two-week average through Jan 27), 33 percent of Americans view Trump favorably and 60 percent unfavorably.”

It the unfavorably that Mr. Newport focuses on, comparing it to the other presidential candidates in this election and past elections.

“Hillary Clinton currently has a 52 percent unfavorable rating among all Americans, while Jeb Bush is at 45 percent, Chris Christie 38 percent, Ted Cruz 37 percent, Marco Rubio 33 percent, Bernie Sanders 31 percent and Ben Carson 30 percent,” he wrote.

But Mr. Newport was curious to know how Mr. Trump’s dismally unfavorable ratings “played out in the context of previous elections.” So he went back compare them from 1992 to the current election.

“The bottom line is that Trump now has a higher unfavorable rating than any candidate at any time during all of these previous election cycles,” he said.

And this conclusion “takes into account the fact that unfavorable ratings tend to rise in the heat of a general election campaign as the barbs, negative ads and heightened partisanship are taken to their highest levels,” he added.

Bill Clinton’s highest unfavorable rating in 1992 was 49 percent in April and July of that year. President George H.W. Bush, his opponent, came closer to Mr. Trump’s rating in October 1992, with a 57 percent unfavorable from Gallup.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s unfavorable “never rose above 41 percent before the election” in November of 2000.

Barack Obama had a popular image throughout 2008, with an unfavorable rating no higher than 37 percent, while Sen. John McCain’s unfavorable score was at 44 percent.

When Mitt Romney was running against Mr. Obama in 2012, they both had negative 48 percent ratings.

So the question is, can a presidential candidate who is seen so unfavorably by a large majority of Americans — 60 percent of them — be nominated and elected by the majority of the Americans?

Right now, that seems in question in the GOP, with the narrow, come-from-behind win by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa, with this large caveat. Mr. Cruz, who has served in the Senate just a little more than three years, won Iowa’s caucuses as a result of his support from the state’s large, evangelical community. But that’s not going to be the case in a lot of other states.

Ask former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who have both won Iowa’s GOP presidential caucus before, but never went on to higher office after that.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s hopes were kept alive with his come-from-behind third-place showing, the result of his strong performance in last week’s Fox News debate.

Mr. Rubio dominated much of that event thanks to Mr. Trump’s petulant decision to snub the show because he didn’t want to subject himself to Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who has strongly questioned him about his disrespectful treatment of women over the years.

Mr. Trump maintained that skipping the Des Moines debate wouldn’t hurt him because he was the program’s biggest draw. Apparently, Iowa voters thought otherwise.

But there was something far more important to Iowa’s voters: their concern about the decline in religious values, according to entrance polls conducted at voting places.

The two top issues on which voters said they supported Mr. Cruz had to do with their beliefs as “born-again Christians” and that he was someone who “shares my values.”

A recent Pew Research Poll found that many religious voters said Mr. Trump was among “the least religious” of any of the candidates.

His supporters, on the other hand, said he appealed to them because he “tells it like it is” and that he is “from outside the political establishment.”

Recent polls have shown Mr. Trump with a lead in New Hampshire in the 27-percent range, followed by Mr. Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Mr. Rubio, all virtually tied at between 10 and 12 percent.

This means the Republican presidential campaign will likely last a while longer until one or more of the candidates can begin to show some broader strength in the key primaries to come.

After New Hampshire contest on Feb. 9 comes the Nevada caucuses, and then the pivotal South Carolina primary, followed by Super Tuesday on March 1, when a dozen caucuses and primaries are at stake.

By that time, we should know the answer to the question Gallup raises: Can Mr. Trump still win, even though 60 percent of Americans don’t like him?

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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