Part of being a good communicator is selecting messages that resonate with your intended audience. And part of understanding good messages is understanding how to read polls.
Most new polls out show Donald Trump as #1 or #2 nationwide among likely Republican voters, as well as in key primary states.
So does Trump have the winning message?
Not so fast.
You don’t need an advanced degree in statistics, but you do need the patience to simply read the rest of the polling data. In Trump’s case, the very same polls show that between 50 and 90% of Republican voters would never vote for Trump for President, under any circumstances. That’s right, Trump has the highest negative approval rating within his own party ever for a major presidential candidate, if you can call him that.
Simply put, you don’t get to be a major party nominee if the vast majority of party voters can’t stand you. At the moment, you or I or your neighbor down the street have a better chance of becoming the GOP nominee than does Donald Trump.
Back in 1997, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani soared above all others in the GOP polls. However, one again, if you took the time to read the fine print, the polls showed GOP voters would never support a candidate who had as many liberal views on social policy issues as Giuliani. And his campaign imploded once voters started looking at him more closely.
It’s not that “polls are meaningless this early.” Polls are normally very meaningful. George W. Bush polled well in 1999. Obama was often in 2nd place in polls in 2007. McCain did well in polls in 2007. Romney did well in polls in 2011.
But you have to look at the broader context, and look at such factors as, does this candidate have support from party officials? Is this person seen as a serious person? Has this person held elective office before? Does this person have views in sync with the party?
This is why you don’t see many of the other 2 dozen Republican candidates attacking Trump very forcefully–they know he won’t be the one keeping them from winning the GOP nomination in 2016.
Skilled communicators do read polls and study them carefully. But great communicators understand that the polling data in the headlines is often the least useful information in the poll.
TJ Walker is head of Media Training Worldwide 212.764.4955