Public Policy Polling — a Democratic firm — has a poll out today that shows Donald Trump leading among Republicans nationally. But after reading the questions I’m quite skeptical of the result.
The first four questions measure favorability ratings for Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney. The fifth question asks who respondents would vote for if the choices were Michele Bachmann, Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney. The sixth through eighth questions ask who they’ll choose among that field if Huckabee doesn’t run, if Palin doesn’t run, and if neither Huckabee nor Palin run. Then comes the ninth question:
Here’s one last scenario: what if Donald Trump ran for President and the candidates were Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump. Who would you vote for?
It’s well-established that poll results can be seriously skewed by question order and phrasing. The way this poll is written seems quite likely to prejudice respondents to think of Trump as a particularly interesting candidate. This is supposed to be a scientific assessment of Trump’s electoral strength?
The tenth question in the poll asks if respondents would “be willing or unwilling to support a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination who firmly stated they believed Barack Obama was born in the United States”; 23% of the sample says ‘unwilling,’ and PPP claims that this explains Trump’s high poll numbers. Please. Telling a pollster that you’re a birther is a fun way to signal how much you hate Barack Obama, but I don’t buy for a second that it’s a make-or-break issue for a fifth of the GOP primary electorate — as Ben Smith correctly notes on Twitter, “This is not how people vote.”
PPP took a sloppily-designed poll and is spinning it to make Republicans look as crazy as possible. This may be comforting to partisan Democrats (like, say, the people who work at PPP), but there’s no reason for the rest of us to take it seriously.