So Donald Trump skipped the first Republican debate. The decision probably had to do with the fact that he holds a lead of about 40% over his closest opponent in almost every poll out there.
I nevertheless think it’s a big mistake. One can play defense and sit on an early lead if the election is just around the corner. But that isn’t the case here. In fact, the campaign is just starting. Voters in Iowa and Hew Hampshire take this very seriously. Many attend events with candidates repeatedly and candidates are even expected to show up for retail politics.
I’d therefore recommend to take the current surveys not with a grain of salt, but with lots of salt. Surveys that are taken months before an election mostly reflect the awareness levels of the candidates. They are never a prediction of the outcome. And yes, in that sense, Trump is certainly the most known and most familiar candidate to Republican primary voters.
I always tell my clients that an early lead can be like a sweet poison that puts campaigns to sleep and makes them overconfident. It may prevent them from taking painful decisions or bold moves such as for example carrying out the right inoculation strategy to reduce negative ratings. The support for the leading candidates may be based mostly on the fact that voters don’t know (yet) any of the alternatives.
In that sense, the way I read the current primary polls is that 50% of the Republican primary voters do not vote for Trump. His current standing is his ceiling, not his bottom. And if the candidates who stood on the debate stage last week have one thing in common, it’s that they all think that they can beat Trump.