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Donald Trump winning Florida? The ‘Say it isn’t so’ Salt Shaker Test

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On July 18, 2105 Donald Trump uttered the unthinkable. He not only violated Reagan’s 11th commandment, he did so with an exclamation point and refused to back down. The media – mainstream and otherwise – went into overdrive and his opponents piled on.

Pollsters, pundits, and politicos immediately began writing his epitaph. We assumed his polling numbers would crash. We assumed he was dead man walking.

We were wrong.

Both the Real Clear Politics and Huffington Post polling aggregators show virtually no change in Trump’s numbers as a result of his McCain comments. He was sitting in the high teens before he made them and he is still sitting at, for example, 18% in a recent CNN/ORC poll.

But that’s nationally.

How is Trump doing in Florida?

We are home to 21 military bases and a huge number of military retirees, most of whom are Republican. It would not be a stretch to suggest that those who served in our armed services should be even more upset with Trump’s comments than the average voter. And, of course we are in the backyard of both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, so we would naturally conclude that Florida is now out of play for Trump.

And, we would be wrong again. polled 1,902 likely voting Republican primary voters (music to our margin-of-error ears) over a 10-day period beginning on that fateful Saturday morning.

And that poll has Donald Trump doing quite well at a stunning 26 percent – even ahead of Jeb who comes it at 20 percent. Walker is a distant third at 12 percent and Rubio is sitting just under 10 percent, while the rest of the field is just trying to take in oxygen.

Let’s get out the saltshaker.

For starters, this poll was taken using a “web-based email polling system.” That alone can get you a half of a grain, as you automatically lose people who do not have a valid email address or chose not to share it with the state of Florida. Further, these kinds of polls tend to favor those who “want” to take a poll and want to be heard. As a result, it’s more likely to lean towards a candidate who is popular among social media junkies and/or heavy online users. (Recall how well Ron Paul used to do in these kinds of polls.)

The poll earns another half-grain for taking so long – especially for an email poll. The ten days itself is not a big problem when measuring attitudes or things that don’t change over time, but we simply must acknowledge that a lot has changed in this race from July 18th to last night. However, as we are seeing in national polls, the “I like people who weren’t captured” comment doesn’t appear to have moved the needle. Perhaps reconsideration is in order.

As for demographics, the poll is light on Hispanics, where both Rubio and Bush are doing quite well, and if the poll were adjusted to account for the anticipated Hispanic turnout – Trump still leads.

It is also heavy on men, and if we do a quick thumbnail adjustment it appears to make a difference of about a half point, at most. In short, while the raw numbers were off a bit and we are unsure of the weighting, overall, did a good job balancing the sample to look pretty much like it should. And when we adjusted their figures to match ours – Trump still leads.

The poll had a very large sample of nearly 2,000 (1,902) “likely Republican primary voters” and that is very good, but it also claims to have “included random samples of registered Republicans voters.” If they mixed in random GOP voters, that is bad. Primary polls should ONLY include likely voters.

So? Can it be so? Is Trump possibly in the lead?

For questions like this we consider what those guys wearing tweed jackets with elbow patches call “external validity,” which simply means, “How does this poll compare to others?”

As stated at the beginning, Trump seems to be holding strong in the GOP primary across the nation. A recent Mason-Dixon poll in Florida had Trump in fourth, but that poll was taken of a sample of all registered Republicans with (it appears) no consideration of likelihood of voting.

So, yes, it is likely that Trump is in the lead as this poll says. But, given some of the issues with it, we take these results with a few grains of salt.

Key for the Salt Shaker test:

  • No salt needed: Solid pollster, solid methodology, and the sample appears to be nicely balanced.
  • A grain of salt: The poll has one or two non-critical problems and should be taken with a grain of salt.
  • A few grains: There are several concerns with how the poll was conducted, but not enough to throw it out entirely.
  • A half shaker: There are enough problems with the methodology to warrant serious concerns, and the poll should not be taken seriously.
  • A full shaker: The poll has so many problems it should not only be completely disregarded but pollsters receiving multiple “full shakers” will no longer have their polls covered by Florida Politics/SaintPetersBlog.

Steven J. Vancore is the President of VancoreJones Communications and Clearview Research. With a Master’s degree in Marketing Communications from Florida State University, he has nearly 30 years experience conducting polls and focus groups throughout the state. He serves as an adjunct instructor in the Master’s of Applied American Policy and Politics program at FSU. He can be reached at

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