The Likelihood of an Unlikely Candidate

Donald Trump is still running hard in pursuit of the GOP nomination, and if you’re one to believe him and his advisers, that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Trump, depending on who you ask, is either the wily, straight-talking hardballer the GOP needs if it hopes to reclaim the White House or a soon-to-be addition to the list of electrifying but ultimately short-lived presidential hopefuls.

Regardless of which camp you’re in, Trump’s rise to political prominence has been mesmerizing. So what do the data and past elections tell us about Trump’s prospects of securing the GOP nomination? I took a look at some recent elections and polls to find out.

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Trump’s current poll numbers represent a rare paradox: a divisive and bombastic candidate occupying the top spots in the major polls, a position usually reserved for established politicians at this stage in the nominating process. In past presidential elections, especially in GOP primaries, the early poll leaders have more often than not gone on to secure the nomination.

In 2012, Mitt Romney, a moderate with a strong political pedigree, led a large majority of early primary preference polls. He did cede some ground in the fall of 2011 to the likes of Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, but had shored up widespread support within the party by the beginning of 2012. In 2008, John McCain, an early underdog to Rudy Giuliani, rallied to take a commanding lead in the polls, one he never relinquished save for a short time in late 2007 when Mike Huckabee briefly became the frontrunner.

In fact, dating back to 1976, early Republican frontrunners have rarely given way to challengers. Only incumbent President Gerald Ford, challenged in 1976 by Ronald Reagan, faced a viable threat to his candidacy after building a big lead in early polls.

This is all not to say that Trump will inevitably become the GOP candidate. Two serious impediments Trump may encounter are political experience and, oddly, cash.


Another obstacle Trump must hurdle is his political inexperience. This lack of experience in the public sector is currently a driving force behind Trump’s campaign, and many voters cite extensive political experience as a negative attribute for a candidate. But, as history shows, voters do not ultimately end up nominating such candidates. Never has a president been elected without either previous military or political experience, and not since Eisenhower has the United States elected a president who had never held elected office. Trump’s “outsider” approach may be working right now, but as more moderates begin to engage in the primary process, Trump’s inexperience will inevitably cost him some votes.


Trump is indeed one of the world’s richest men. But the 2016 election figures to be the most expensive ever, and Trump has thus far spent far less compared to his counterparts. Trump certainly has the money, but his willingness to spend it remains to be seen. As the primary nears, other GOP candidates will begin dumping hundreds of millions from their coffers into staff and advertising. Trump will have to follow suit if he wants to contend.

Final Thought

Trump is certainly not a traditional candidate, and his surge in the polls may prove to be a blip before a more traditional candidate seals up the nomination. But there is certainly precedent to believe that a GOP frontrunner at this stage in the election process has a good shot at becoming the nominee. While Trump may ultimately end up suspending his campaign for a variety of reasons, he is, at least for now, still in it to win it. And if past elections and polls are any indication of how the 2016 primary will unfold, Trump could be around for the long haul.

Blake Waycaster
Account Manager, National Data
[email protected]

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