Since the last poll it conducted, CNN/ORC found that Donald Trump had jumped five points among Republicans. Since the first presidential debate fell in between those two polls, it's tempting to suggest that Trump's lead continues to grow. But the story here isn't about a surge for Donald Trump. It's about Donald Trump solidifying his position in the Republican field.
The problem with claims that Trump saw a gain in the polls is what's being compared. CNN/ORC's two most recent polls were completed on July 25 and August 16 respectively. By comparison, the two most recent Fox News polls that we compared on Sunday ended on August 2 and August 13, offering a smaller window for comparison.
That can be visualized! We've connected the poll numbers from each company's surveys.
We've also added the Real Clear Politics polling trend for Trump. You can see that Trump's numbers continued to rise after the first CNN poll was completed. That's likely where most of the net rise captured in CNN's second poll came from. Notice that his standing at this point is in line with Fox's survey, and the polling average. This is likely not an actual Trump increase, post-debate.
Here you can also see the gains for Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson that we discussed previously -- and declines for Scott Walker and Jeb Bush. Interestingly, CNN saw Ted Cruz fall where Fox saw him gain. Always worth remembering: Margins of error add some clouds to every picture.
So we know that Trump didn't really move forward much in the polls. But he did make giant, remarkable gains in one place: favorability.
If you compare Trump's favorability among groups in the two CNN polls, you can see two big changes. His net favorability (those who view him favorably minus those who don't) surged with Republicans, and dipped among independents. (The graphs below use registered voter responses.) For all of the discussion about Trump potentially losing ground among women -- there wasn't much ground to lose.
What's stunning, though, is how this compares to Jeb Bush. Donald Trump's net favorability among all voters is higher than Jeb Bush's. Margins of error, etc., but for Pete's sake. Tell someone in March that Donald Trump would be leading the Republican field by double digits and they'd roll their eyes. Tell them that Trump would be viewed as or more favorably than Bush and they'd have had you committed.
A big reason why: Bush is now viewed less favorably by everyone, across the board. His decline among independents was even larger than Trump's.
But wait, the TV pitchman said, there's more! If you look at who Republicans see as best able to deal with key issues, Donald Trump has seen huge gains since the last time CNN asked the question, in June.
This mirrors CNN/ORC's Iowa poll that came out last week. Trump is considered the best bet to deal with the economy and immigration and ISIS (not shown) and social issues. Bush is in second on these points still, but trails badly.
There is one very, very big question that remains about Donald Trump: Is he at the upper level of support he'll see? We apply this question to him somewhat unfairly; after all, most other candidates didn't even get this level of support. Once people start dropping out, does support consolidate around someone instead of Trump? Ask me a month ago, and I would have said, sure. Now, with Trump's Republican favorability rising, with him being the number one second choice of voters (with 14 percent putting him in that position), and with 38 percent of Republicans saying he's their best bet for winning the White House?
He may have room to grow.