As the primary elections continue, so do Trump’s claims that the system is ‘rigged’ — but is he actually right about that? Either way, that claim is helping Trump at the polls and with his media coverage. Nate Silver explains why…
Donald Trump has had a good run of numbers lately. While his victory in New York this week was expected, he got 60 percent of the vote, more than the roughly 55 percent projected by the polls. He appears headed for victories in Maryland and Pennsylvania, which vote on Tuesday. He’s gained ground in California and is narrowly ahead of Ted Cruz in the first public polls of Indiana. He’s added about 2 percentage points over the past two weeks in our national polling average.
You could push back against some of these details. Some of the California polls come from pollsters1 that have had a Trump-leaning house effect or that used an unorthodox methodology. The Indiana polls have Trump leading, but with only about 39 percent of the vote, which might not be enough if the rest of the vote consolidates behind Cruz. The national poll gains are small and may just be statistical noise.
But with Trump’s path to 1,237 delegates on such a knife’s edge, every percentage point matters. And it’s possible that Trump has moved a few voters into his column with a series of process arguments that he’s been pressing recently. The more restrained version, as you can see in a recent op-ed published under Trump’s name in The Wall Street Journal, is that the candidate who gets the most votes should be the Republican nominee — that delegates shouldn’t upend the people’s verdict. In public speeches, Trump has taken the argument a step further, describing the GOP’s nomination process as “rigged” and “crooked.”
Polling suggests that a majority of Republicans agree with at least the milder version of Trump’s argument, although the framing of the question matters. Last week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 62 percent of Republicans thought the “candidate with the most votes in the primaries” should become the nominee in the event that no candidate wins a majority of delegates, compared with 33 percent who said Republicans should choose the “candidate who the delegates think would be the best nominee.” Only 40 percent of Republicans had Trump as their first choice in the same poll, which implies that there’s a group of Republicans who personally don’t prefer Trump but wouldn’t want to deny him the nomination if he finished with the plurality of delegates and votes, as he is almost certain to do. We might call this group the #TolerateTrump faction of the GOP, as opposed to pro-Trump and #NeverTrump blocs.
But if the framing of the question matters, Trump has a big advantage: The media is mostly echoing and validating his side of the argument. That’s partly because Trump continues to dominate news coverage of the Republican race and therefore has a lot more opportunities to get his message out.4
Read more: Five Thirty Eight