Donald Trump is starting to drop hints about a world in which he is not a presidential candidate. In an interview on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Trump said that he'd quit the race if his poll number started to drop. Talking to the Times, he bemoaned what a Trump-less race would look like: boring. "There’d be a major collapse of the race, and there’d be a major collapse of television ratings," he told the Times's Michael Barbaro. "It would become a depression in television." He's probably not wrong.
Polling released in concert with that "Meet the Press" interview shows that Trump's recent national decline is also mirrored in two key early primary states. At the end of August, NBC (working with Marist College) had Trump at 29 percent in Iowa and 28 in New Hampshire. The new survey (working with the Wall Street Journal) has him at 24 and 21, respectively. Putting those in the context of other recent polls, you can see the dip.
Trump is a polling optimist (or, less generously, cherry-picker), who tends to highlight polls that show him doing better. These are not such polls, but they're probably not see-you-later-Donald polls, either.
What's interesting, though, is how the early states compare to the national polling. NBC and the Journal polled on the Democrats, too. There was less fluctuation on the Democratic side, in part because there are fewer candidates. Again, here are the new polls in the context of the longer trend.
We added Marco Rubio here to make a point. Trump's polling has generally been similar in early states and nationally. Rubio's, Bernie Sanders's and Hillary Clinton's have been more varied.
Let's start with the Democrats. Since June 1, Clinton and Biden have consistently done worse in Iowa and New Hampshire than they have nationally -- and substantially worse in New Hampshire.
We'll again note that Sanders tends to do better with white Democrats, who make up nearly all of the Democratic voters in these two states. And New Hampshire is unique for Sanders, of course, given that he's from next door.
On the Republican side, proximity plays a role, too. Notice that Chris Christie has consistently done better there than he has nationally. It's not all geography. Ben Carson has consistently done worse in New Hampshire...
...but better in Iowa, as has Ted Cruz.
Jeb Bush has always performed worse in Iowa -- but is polling about as well in New Hampshire as he does nationally (which is not what he wants to see).
You can read a lot into this, if you want. Carson is one type of candidate; Bush, another. But don't read too much into it. These two states also reflect a greater investment of time, money and energy from the candidates, and have demographics that the rest of the country doesn't share. Do they reflect a more accurate picture of the race, or not? It's hard to say.
If you're looking for a reason to dismiss a decline in poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, in other words, there are plenty of arguments that you can make. If, for example, you had a red baseball cap that you enjoyed wearing and weren't ready to retire just yet.