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In fewer than 24 hours, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States three times: first in a written statement, then at a rally in South Carolina and finally during a phone interview with CNN.

Cue the condemnation from Democratic presidential hopefuls, disapproval from some fellow Republicans and hand-wringing by political pundits and prognosticators. Just about everyone is asking the same question: Why does Trump continue to lead the polls?

In our weekly look at polling, InsideGov digs through data from RealClearPolitics for a smart take on political news and trends. We found three factors that explain why Trump continues to lead the Republican field — and why he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

After his steady summertime climb, Trump has trampled his competition, polling above 22 percent since the beginning of August. He’s currently just shy of 30 percent nationally, leading his closest competitor (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz) by about 15 points.

Early-on assessments of Trump’s candidacy as a flashy facade that would fizzle once discussions moved toward substantive policy issues have been shoved to the side. This guy is for real, whether the media, Democrats or flailing GOP presidential candidates like it or not.


First of all, Trump appeals to voters on style — and substance. The main two issues Americans care about — the economy and terrorism — are areas where Trump dominates the Republican field. According to a recent nationwide CNN poll, 55 percent of Republican voters think Trump can best handle the economy and 46 percent think Trump can best handle ISIS. On both of those issues, voters are at least three times more confident in Trump than in his closest competitor: only 9 percent of voters think Cruz could best handle the economy and 15 percent think Cruz could best handle ISIS.

A new CNN poll specific to New Hampshire reveals similar findings. Fifty percent of Republican voters in the state with the first primary vote said national security was the most important issue, and 33 percent think that Trump can best handle ISIS.

Trump continues to lead in Iowa, too, although Cruz is narrowing the gap. While Cruz inches toward the longstanding frontrunner, a Thanksgiving week poll from Quinnipiac University revealed Hawkeye State voters still think Trump is best suited to tackle the economy and terrorism.

The Quinnipiac poll also showed that 81 percent of Iowan Republicans are opposed to allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. and 82 percent are opposed to allowing Syrian refugees into Iowa. And 88 percent of those polled are “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about a terrorist attack happening on U.S. soil.

Which leads us to our second point: Americans are scared, and Trump has succeeded in speaking to that fear. After the Paris terrorist attacks on Nov. 13, Trump suggested the U.S. create a database for Muslims and for Syrian refugees. After the shootings in San Bernardino, he made his recommendation that Muslims should be barred from entering the country.

Politicians and pundits on the left and right denounced both ideas, but Trump’s ramped-up rhetoric resonates with Republican voters. A nationwide Washington Post-ABC poll published in mid November found that 47 percent of GOP voters oppose accepting refugees from Syria and other conflict areas in the Middle East.

With his policy proposals, Trump delivers a three-part political punch that simultaneously validates people’s fear of future terrorism, points the finger at one group and offers an easily digestible solution.

As this map shows, governors of 31 states — including Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, and Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. — are opposed to admitting Syrian immigrants. While this isn’t a direct poll of voters’ opinions in each state, it does reflect a growing anti-Syrian-immigration sentiment throughout the country. Although Trump may not be influencing state-level policy directly, his rhetoric has changed the tenor of conversation throughout the country.

Lastly, Trump’s brash style and anti-establishment campaign continues to hit home with voters. With Congress’s approval ratings at a dismal 11 percent and distrust of government high among Republican and Democratic voters, it’s no wonder Trump’s no-holds-barred approach and promise to change Washington rings true for so many Americans.

As long as concerns about the economy, fear of terrorism and unease about the government run high, Trump’s message will continue to appeal to a large number of voters. Like it or not, Trump is sticking around.

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