- - Thursday, August 6, 2015

Even before he officially began his run for the presidency, real estate developer Donald Trump has provoked a lot of comparisons to Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who first ran for president in 1992.

It’s not hard to see why people would make such analogies: the two men have a lot of similarities: Both made lots of money utilizing government to their personal advantage, both raised complaints about America’s dealings with its Latin neighbors, both have long records of favoring abortion rights (although Trump now says he is pro-life), and both candidates have favored a populist demeanor and pox-on-all-your-houses speaking styles.

All of the above has fueled nearly endless speculation about whether Trump might consider running as a third-party candidate should he be unable to attain. He’s been asked about it repeatedly and officially has not ruled it out.

Beyond the hard-charging rhetoric and third-party buzz, though, there is another thing that Perot and Trump share in common: they may have the same people supporting them, disaffected white men who favor some liberal economic policies.

One of the most inaccurate conventional political beliefs is that Perot cost George H. W. Bush the 1992 election. Had Perot not run in the race, goes the theory, there was no way that Democrat Bill Clinton could have won.



George W. Bush is one such proponent of the theory, telling CBS in 2014 about his father’s loss that “I think he’d have won, and I just can’t prove it.”

“I mean, it’s just all conjecture, of course,” he admitted. “But I think he would have won, because I think ultimately there would have been a clear choice between a guy who had a very good first term and an untested governor.”

You to give Bush 43 points for family loyalty but he’s simply incorrect on the facts. And it’s not mere conjecture to say that either. Thanks to the fact that Perot dropped out of the race and then re-entered it again, we can actually look at the polling data to see what happened to the Bush and Clinton’s numbers before and after Perot resumed his campaign.

Writing at the American Spectator, GOP consultant Bill Pascoe lays the numbers out:

On September 30 — the last day before Perot re-entered the race — Clinton led Bush by an 11-point margin, at 49-38 percent, with Perot taking six percent.
One day later — the day Perot re-entered the race — Clinton’s lead shrank to nine points, 47-38 percent, with Perot nudging up a point to seven percent.
Thirty days later, on November 1 — the last day the survey was fielded — Clinton’s lead had shrunk further, to just four points, at 40-36 percent over Bush, with Perot polling at 19 percent.
So, during the course of Perot’s late-season charge, Clinton’s support dropped from 49 percent to 40 percent (a significant nine-point drop), while Bush’s support dropped from 38 percent to 36 percent (a mere two-point drop, inside the margin of error of the survey).

In other words, Perot took more votes away from Bill Clinton than he did from George Bush. And that makes sense when you think about it because many of the issues Perot raised were not exactly conservative-exclusive. Then as now, Perot’s signature opposition to reducing trade barriers had bi-partisan appeal. More recently, it was Democrats who overwhelmingly opposed giving President Obama so-called “trade promotion authority.”

A similar dynamic appears to be at work in the 2016 race. While Trump has made a splash talking about immigration, there’s nothing necessarily Republican or conservative about wanting much stricter immigration policies. According to a Wall Street Journal poll, 34 percent of Democrats think that immigration hurts America more than it helps.

Aside from immigration, Trump appears to have no actual policy positions. His website has no issues page and he has yet to give a speech on any political topic. For that reason, it is not implausible to suppose that Trump could have broad appeal to liberals and moderates, especially given some of his previous remarks in support of government-run universal health insurance.

When you dig deep into the internals of the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll of Republicans and people who lean Republican, you find that Trump’s greatest support does not come from those who describe themselves as “very conservative.” Among that group, here are the top 5 candidates:

Very Conservative Republicans

Rank

Candidate

Percentage

1

Scott Walker

25

2

Donald Trump

17

3

Mike Huckabee

15

4

Ben Carson

7

4

Rand Paul

7

4

Ted Cruz

7

7

Jeb Bush

6

Source: ABC/Washington Post poll July 16-19, 2015 of 1,002 adults. Margin of error: ±3.5

Somewhat Conservative Republicans

Rank

Candidate

Percentage

1

Donald Trump

24

2

Jeb Bush

16

3

Scott Walker

12

3

Marco Rubio

12

5

Ben Carson

9

6

Rick Perry

5

Source: ABC/Washington Post poll July 16-19, 2015 of 1,002 adults. Margin of error: ±3.5



Moderate/Liberal Republicans

Rank

Candidate

Percentage

1

Donald Trump

27

2

Jeb Bush

13

3

Mike Huckabee

8

3

Rand Paul

8

5

Scott Walker

6

6

Chris Christie

5

6

Marco Rubio

5

Source: ABC/Washington Post poll July 16-19, 2015 of 1,002 adults. Margin of error: ±3.5

This squares somewhat with a poll conducted July 30 through August 2 by Monmouth University which does put Trump in first place among the “very conservative” with 27%, ahead of Scott Walker who has 16%. Among “somewhat conservative” voters, Trump leads with 22% compared to Jeb Bush with 14% and Walker with 12%. Among “moderate to liberal” voters, Trump has his best showing with 28%, besting his closest rival, Jeb Bush by 8 percent. (Caveat: This poll of registered voters has a sample size of only 423 people and an error margin of 4.8%.)

In a report released by Gallup July 30 about the preferences of “very conservative” voters which my colleague Jennifer Harper covered here, Trump once again is not in the lead.

 
The method Gallup used was to combine the favorability rating of the various candidates with their familiarity to create what the polling company calls a “power ranking.” Here is the table from Gallup of self-described very conservative Republicans:

Tonight’s debate will almost certainly have an effect on the candidates’ support among conservatives. Will Walker and Rubio continue to do well or will Trump improve his standing?

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