Ten days ago, we raised an important point. People referring to Donald Trump as the Republican front-runner ignored that his leads, where they existed, were within the margin of error. Meaning that he was among the leaders, but he wasn't the clear leader.
In this crazy election, ten days is a long time.
As our colleagues Dan Balz and Peyton Craighill report, Trump now leads the 2016 Republican field according to a new Washington Post/ABC News polling conducted last week. He gained 20 points since the last survey, completed at the end of May. Twenty points! On the graph below (which shows the preferences of registered voters), any candidate in the gray area dropped since the May poll. Everyone else did better -- and the further from the diagonal line, the better they did.
Trump gained 18 points among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents that identify as white evangelical Protestants. He gained 22 points among those earning $50,000 a year or less. He gained 23 points among those who have no college degree.
The guy still isn't a clear front-runner, in the sense that there's still a chance within the margin of error that someone else is preferred. If you include the margins of error for the May and July polls on the graph above -- in each case, 6.5 percent for the party subsample -- each candidate's support could really be anywhere within the square shown. Trump has almost separated from the pack. And matter what, he saw a big gain.
We pointed out last week that Trump was essentially guaranteed a spot in the first debate on August 6 in Ohio. With this new poll, he actually now has the highest average of any candidate in the last five national polls conducted, meaning that he'll also likely have a place front-and-center when the cameras go on.
(Note: Last week, Rick Santorum slipped into the top ten, thanks to one good poll number. With the new Post/ABC poll, he's back in 11th place, with the other Rick regaining his spot.)
As Balz and Craighill point out, there is some signs that the comments Trump made about Sen. John McCain started to affect his standing in the polls. If there is a real downward trend, it could mean that Trump's poll numbers will never look better than this, and that Trump's position on the debate stage may end up being a bit more on the fringe.
That's where most people see Trump. Asked if he represents the core values of the Republican party, 56 percent of respondents said no. But interestingly, Democrats were more likely to say no than Republicans or independents.
For the Republican establishment, that independents number may be about as good as this poll gets.