Has Trump broken through his voter ceiling?

Donald Trump’s share of the Republican electorate has been fairly stable since July. Two new polls show that may have changed.

John Locher/AP/File
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Las Vegas Dec. 14.

Has Donald Trump broken through his voter ceiling? If he has, that means his chances of winning the GOP presidential nomination may have gone up – a lot.

The background here is that Donald Trump’s share of the Republican electorate has been fairly stable for months. He’s oscillated back and forth between 20 and 30 percent in the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major surveys since late July.

His floor, or core of committed supporters, has ensured that he’s been the frontrunner for almost all of that time. But anti-Trump forces – meaning the party establishment – have taken comfort in the limiting factor of his apparent ceiling. As long as The Donald doesn’t bust up into the higher 30 percents or beyond his prospects remain limited. The 70 percent or so of non-Trump voters will eventually coalesce behind another candidate. (Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz?) The Seasons of Trump will fade into memory.

That’s the theory. The reality is that the two most recent national polls have shown Mr. Trump smashing through the acoustical tiles. An ABC/Washington Post survey released Tuesday shows him as the choice of 38 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters. Senator Cruz is a distant second at 15 percent.

And a Monmouth University poll released Monday has Trump with 41 percent, and Cruz with 14.

At those levels, it becomes possible to envision Trump breaking past 50 percent of the vote and garnering a theoretically nomination-winning majority of GOP support. As other candidates drop out, the majority of their supporters may go elsewhere. But some slice, however, small, could fall in Trump’s lap. He would not need that much more support.

Some caveats are in order. It’s early, for one. At this point in the 2004 presidential election cycle Howard Dean had led Democratic polls for months, followed by Richard Gephardt. Eventual nominee John Kerry was fourth, at about 18 percent. And these are just two polls. There are margins of error to consider. It’s possible they’re outliers.

Even if Trump breaks 50 percent in polls, that’s not a sure ticket to the general election. He’s got to win state by state, momentum and party rules matter, yada yada, so forth and so on.

That said it looks as if terrorism, and the fear it engenders, may have given Trump a real boost among GOP voters. It will be interesting to see if that persists, or even grows.

You can see that by looking at the details of the recent polls to see where Trump’s support has risen. He’s gained 8 points in the category of which candidate Republicans most trust to handle terrorism, according to the ABC/Washington Post data. He’s up 7 points in the category of “strongest leader.” He’s got a majority in that latter category of 54 percent.

And it’s men who seem to be driving this. Trump’s overall gain in the ABC/WaPo poll matches his gains among males. His gender gap is extraordinary. He’s supported by 47 percent of GOP men in this survey, but only wins 28 percent of women.

The Monmouth University survey shows a smaller gender disparity with Trump voters, at 44 percent among men and 37 percent among women. Monmouth pollsters note that Trump’s core supporters continue to be lower-educated voters – he commands 54 percent of Republicans with only a high-school education, in their data. But the billionaire developer draws “significant segments of every voting bloc,” according to Monmouth polling director Patrick Murray.

And terrorism and national security is overwhelmingly the No. 1 one issue facing America, according to the Monmouth poll of GOP voters. In that context Trump’s call to ban non-citizen Muslims from entering the US could only help him.

“It has become abundantly clear that Trump is giving his supporters exactly what they want, even if what he says causes the GOP leadership and many Republican voters to cringe,” says Patrick Murray in a statement on Monmouth’s new numbers.

One final point: Democrats don’t rate terrorism as the top US problem. They pick the economy first, followed by health care. Terrorism is third, according to ABC/Washington Post numbers.

Thus Trump’s edge on this issue would be less important in a general election. If that’s what it comes to.

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