Donald Trump: Whose voters is he stealing?

Polling is a zero-sum game: The rise of Donald Trump means other folks have fallen. Then again, in the 2012 presidential election, several of Mitt Romney's rivals rose, then fell to earth.

Jim Cole/AP
Donald Trump waves as he attends an event in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

Right now, Donald Trump is like a black hole whose stupendous gravitational pull is attracting a lot of media attention and some of the voters associated with the Republican 2016 presidential race. Which of his rivals in particular is this hurting?

After all, Mr. Trump’s poll numbers have risen sharply since he said that this time, he’s actually, positively running. Polling is a zero-sum game: His rise means other folks have fallen. Let’s look at the numbers and see which of Trump’s fellow candidates they are.

First, two caveats: Our Trump track record is not good. We thought he’d move to Maine and raise beets before he’d run for president. We belittled reporters who implied otherwise. We were wrong.

Also, the polls we’re about to pick apart are early ones, so they’re far from definitive. At this point, they’re more of a general suggestion than a precise measurement. That goes even more so for the poll cross-tabs, which have a smaller sample size. Still, they could be hints of what’s to come.

OK, back to the main feature. As we said, Trump’s gotten a post-announcement bump in polling popularity. In the crucial early caucus state of Iowa, for instance, he’s risen to a tie for second place. He currently attracts 10 percent of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers, according to a Quinnipiac University survey. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also gets 10 percent. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leads the Iowa pack with 18 percent.

The bottom line? In a look further down the list, the contender who appears to be losing ground in Iowa is Mike Huckabee. He’s at only 5 percent in the new Quinnipiac poll, down from 11 percent in a comparable May survey. That sort of makes sense: Mr. Huckabee’s God, grits, and gravy populism isn’t that far off Trump’s anti-immigrant and bellicose positions.

But Governor Walker’s dropped a bit in this poll series as well. And if you move to New Hampshire, state of the first-in-the-nation primary, it appears that Trump’s entry into the race has pushed the Wisconsin governor down a Franconia-sized notch.  

In New Hampshire, Trump’s in second, according to a recent Suffolk University poll, with 11 percent. Jeb Bush leads in the Granite State with 14 percent. Walker trails with 8 percent – a substantial drop from March, when Suffolk had him at 14 percent of the GOP primary vote.

Nationally, Trump’s jump into the fray has affected Marco Rubio the most, according to a CNN/ORC poll. Senator Rubio now stands at 6 percent in CNN’s most recent numbers, down from 14 percent in May.

Walker’s also slipping nationally, according to CNN. He’s at 6 percent, down from 10 percent in May.

Trump? He’s in second place (again), with 12 percent of the vote, up from 3 percent in March, according to CNN’s numbers.

See the pattern here? There’s one top contender who’s largely unaffected by Trump’s escalator ride to candidacy – Mr. Bush. He remains the weak front-runner, but now he’s got Trump behind him like a screen. The Donald is holding his arms out and bellowing to keep others from catching up.

The question is whether Trump’s newfound numbers will hold up. In 2012, a series of Mitt Romney’s rivals rose and fell. They were discovered by voters, then received more intense press scrutiny (Herman Cain’s alleged sexual harassment problem comes to mind) and fell to earth.

As an actual candidate, Trump’s now getting a taste of what more-critical media are like. The uproar over his harsh remarks about Mexican illegal immigration may be just the start. His rambling announcement speech could provide fodder for more such flaps to come.

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