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Should We Take Trump Seriously?

- April 18, 2011

Now that you’ve “finished with your taxes”:https://themonkeycage.org/2011/04/happy_tax_day.html and have some time to go back to the news, you may be about to discover that the media is all a twitter over “Donald Trump’s presidential chances”:http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0411/53344.html, especially due to some “recent polls”:http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/12/cnn-poll-trump-tied-for-first-in-gop-horserace/ showing him near or at the front of the Republican pack.

In good “Monkey Cage spirit”:https://themonkeycage.org/2011/04/jonathan_chait_and_i_agree_abo.html, Mark Blumenthal at Huffington Pollster.com “urges caution in over interpreting early stages of the horse race”:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/12/trumps-polls-reality-check_n_848043.html. He writes:

bq. All three surveys involve relatively small subgroups of Republican identifiers: just 238 interviews for NBC/Wall Street Journal, 344 for Fox and 385 for CNN. Since smaller sample sizes make for larger margins of error, the numbers are going to bounce around.

bq. With that in mind, these results should be treated with caution. The horse race numbers change often early in a campaign and, more important, Trump begins with a much larger unfavorable rating among Republicans than the other prospective candidates. Nevertheless, Trump’s increasingly strident political commentary has sparked a notable rise in his numbers with the Republican base.

bq. The three most recent surveys are consistent, however, in showing that no single Republican candidate dominates the race, even through the prospective field includes four or five widely familiar names: Huckabee, Romney, Gingrich, Palin and now Trump. _The small differences in expressed preference between the best known candidates mean little at this point_, especially since the early primaries have the potential to significantly boost one of the lesser known candidates and completely transform the race. But the lack of a dominant national frontrunner is important. (emphasis added)

It does not strike me as that surprising that political scientists, who take a long term look at campaigns and thus tend to discount any sort of early horse race coverage, would discount anyone taking a surprising early lead, and especially someone like Trump. (The answers coming in to today’s “Political Arena question”:http://www.politico.com/arena/ on this topic seem to confirm this trend.) So my challenge to the readers of The Monkey Cage is, will anyone buck this trend? Can anyone make a compelling argument that we _should_ be taking Trump’s candidacy seriously from a political science perspective?

My gut instinct is to go with the pack on this one, but on the other hand since I’m throwing out the question let me at least put one fact out there: celebrities do win elections in the United States. Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger were both elected governor of California. Fred Thompson and Al Franken were elected to the Senate. Sonny Bono served in the House. Clint Eastwood was a mayor. The idea that Americans could vote for a celebrity for an important political office can not just be dismissed out of hand as an impossibility. And of course, let’s not forget “this former governor…”:http://www.jesseventura.com/:

jesse-ventura-american-conspiracies-diamonds-wedding-rings.jpg

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As an aside, I was originally trying to come up with a list of inexperienced celebrities elected to high office outside of the US, but I kind of got stuck once I got past “Michele `Sweet Mickey’ Martelly”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Martelly, the likely incoming Haitian president (and I wasn’t sure if we should count ex-Monarchy types like “Simeon II”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of Bulgaria). Can readers help me beef up this list in the comments section?