No matter that this conclusion was based on cold, hard, scientifically sound polling data. People didn't believe it. Some of the hostility seemed to stem, quite frankly, from a lack of understanding about the way that polls work. (Yes, we are looking at those of you who emailed us to say that could not be true because you 1) have a Ph.D. or 2) no one called and asked you which presidential candidate you support. Yes, other Fix readers, we really heard a lot from both categories.)
If those were your objections, we would strongly suggest that you read up a bit on polling and statistical methods. We will not be covering the fine details here. But what we can tell you is that public opinion researchers generally identify a representative sample of the American population, ask a series of questions and gather from each person polled basic demographic information such as whether they are male or female, their household income, education level, race or ethnicity, their religious affiliation, the frequency with which they attend worship services and so on. The combination allows researchers to gauge not just how people feel about different issues and events but which segments of the American population feel most strongly about a particular issue, candidate or policy. This, along with mathematical work to make sure that the group or people polled truly reflects the make-up the American public, is ultimately what makes polls useful.
When done right, polls tell us, with varying degrees of scientific certainty, what people think and which people think it. Now, if you would like more information about the way that polls work or can, sometimes, go wrong, please see the information here, here and here.
What follows is a fairly detailed description of the standing of the top five Republican presidential primary candidates based on a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. We cut off this list at five candidates because beyond this, the numbers are so small that the distinctions begin to have very little statistical meaning. That said, let's dive into the numbers and the truths they tell, shall we?
First a chart that will provide a helpful overview. Here's where each of the members of the top-five club (Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush) stand.
Now for those candidate breakdowns. Keep this information in mind as you watch Tuesday night's debate. It might help to make clear why a candidate answered a particular question the way that he did.
Donald Trump: Male, less formal education, lower-income
The New York real estate magnate remains the undisputed national leader in the Republican field. In the the Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday, 38 percent of Republican-leaning registered voters told researchers Trump is their candidate.
His support remains strongest among those who earn less than $50,000 a year, those who identified themselves as conservatives, and white non-evangelicals. But those who do not have a college degree — as mentioned above — still make up the fourth-biggest part of the Trump base. And you can note the size of the gap between Trump supporters with a college degree and those without below. It is, by the way, smaller than it was in June but still the largest of any of the top five Republican candidates.
Now, Trump's support with any group can't accurately be described as weak. But this is where he's strongest.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.): Women, evangelicals and older voters
As many a political reporter has noted in the past few days, Ted Cruz has managed a pretty substantial climb in the polls in recent weeks. He claimed 15 percent of Republican-leaning registered voters in the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. And as The Washington Post has reported, some combination of three things — a technology-enabled, rich understanding of Republican voters, a shrewd campaign strategy that includes efforts to avoid alienating as many Trump fans as possible, and the downward slide of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — help to explain the change.
Cruz is strongest with women, white evangelical Protestants, people over the age of 50 and those who identified themselves as conservatives.
Ben Carson: College-educated, evangelical
Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who appears to be building his second act in politics, has slipped from the second place position he held for much of the Fall into third. There may be a variety of reasons for this, but Carson's apparent — and this actually comes from folks working for his campaign — difficulty grasping and retaining information about global politics and political figures almost certainly has not helped.
This is information that surfaced about Carson as people around the world became more acutely aware of the terrorist threat in the wake of attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. Basically, Carson demonstrated some weakness in this area just as it became abundantly clear to most people how central these issues will be to the job of the next president.
Despite his fade, Carson continues to do well among college-educated voters and evangelicals.
Marco Rubio: Males, younger voters
The Florida senator and former Florida governor Jeb Bush in some ways are members of the same sub-club here. Both are experienced elected officials with what appear to be well-funded campaigns and connections to influential Republicans. Neither perhaps has garnered the kind of voter support predicted at the outset of the race, although Rubio has clearly outperformed Bush.
What that really means is that Rubio currently ranks fourth, and gained a pretty small share of voters in December. Right now, Rubio owns about 12 percent of the Republican-leaning registered voters. He performs strongest with those with a college degree and those who earn more than $50,000 a year. Rubio's numbers with white non-evangelical Protestants and Catholics, people between the ages of 18 and 49 and men are tied for third place. This list is noteworthy because it includes a lot of groups — including younger voters — where Republicans have traditionally not done well.
Jeb Bush: Moderates, women, Catholics
Bush currently occupies fifth place, after sliding downward slightly in recent weeks. A tiny 5 percent of Republican-leaning registered voters told pollsters that they support Bush at this time. And if you need some perspective, remember Donald Trump has 38 percent of these same voters. That's quite a difference and one that the cash-rich, voter-poor Bush campaign has assured Republican Party insiders that he can and will overcome. Bush told one group of donors last month that Trump's star would fade by, um, right about now. That clearly hasn't happened.
So, let's just say that going into Tuesday night's debate, Bush needs to make a lot of progress with a lot of groups. Bush cannot boast double-digit support with any single group of Republican-leaning registered voters. In fact, he performs best with those who described themselves as moderates or liberals. Even here, though, that figure is just 8 percent. That's followed by white non-evangelical Protestants and Catholics, then women.