Should We Take Trump Seriously?

by Joshua Tucker on April 18, 2011 · 21 comments

in Blogs

Now that you’ve finished with your taxes and have some time to go back to the news, you may be about to discover that the media is all a twitter over Donald Trump’s presidential chances, especially due to some recent polls showing him near or at the front of the Republican pack.

In good Monkey Cage spirit, Mark Blumenthal at Huffington urges caution in over interpreting early stages of the horse race. He writes:

All three surveys involve relatively small subgroups of Republican identifiers: just 238 interviews for NBC/Wall Street Journal, 344 for Fox and 385 for CNN. Since smaller sample sizes make for larger margins of error, the numbers are going to bounce around.
With that in mind, these results should be treated with caution. The horse race numbers change often early in a campaign and, more important, Trump begins with a much larger unfavorable rating among Republicans than the other prospective candidates. Nevertheless, Trump’s increasingly strident political commentary has sparked a notable rise in his numbers with the Republican base.
The three most recent surveys are consistent, however, in showing that no single Republican candidate dominates the race, even through the prospective field includes four or five widely familiar names: Huckabee, Romney, Gingrich, Palin and now Trump. The small differences in expressed preference between the best known candidates mean little at this point, especially since the early primaries have the potential to significantly boost one of the lesser known candidates and completely transform the race. But the lack of a dominant national frontrunner is important. (emphasis added)

It does not strike me as that surprising that political scientists, who take a long term look at campaigns and thus tend to discount any sort of early horse race coverage, would discount anyone taking a surprising early lead, and especially someone like Trump. (The answers coming in to today’s Political Arena question on this topic seem to confirm this trend.) So my challenge to the readers of The Monkey Cage is, will anyone buck this trend? Can anyone make a compelling argument that we should be taking Trump’s candidacy seriously from a political science perspective?

My gut instinct is to go with the pack on this one, but on the other hand since I’m throwing out the question let me at least put one fact out there: celebrities do win elections in the United States. Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger were both elected governor of California. Fred Thompson and Al Franken were elected to the Senate. Sonny Bono served in the House. Clint Eastwood was a mayor. The idea that Americans could vote for a celebrity for an important political office can not just be dismissed out of hand as an impossibility. And of course, let’s not forget this former governor…:



As an aside, I was originally trying to come up with a list of inexperienced celebrities elected to high office outside of the US, but I kind of got stuck once I got past Michele `Sweet Mickey’ Martelly, the likely incoming Haitian president (and I wasn’t sure if we should count ex-Monarchy types like Simeon II of Bulgaria). Can readers help me beef up this list in the comments section?


Ben April 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Congress: Jim Bunning, Steve Largent, JC Watts, Bill Bradley, many others I’m sure

Kevin Johnson, Mayor Sacramento

Ben April 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm

meant to add these are all sports related folks that went into politics.

Rob April 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Hillary Clinton’s election as senator should probably qualify, since she lacked any governmental experience and was known only as a celebrity–the wife of the President. Somewhat less recently, John Glenn.

Trevor April 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Two fighters of international renown to win high-profile elections:

Manny Pacquiao – elected to Filipino House of Representatives in 2007;
Mirko Filipovic – elected to Croatian parliament in 2003

Trevor April 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I’m sorry, Pacquiao actually lost his election in 2007, but was victorious and assumed office in 2010.

Eronarn April 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm

No, we shouldn’t take Trump seriously.

Oh, wait, you meant his election chances! Well, that’s different.

I think he’s a bit too comical of a figure to stand a chance of winning. There’s his bankruptcy, his ex-wives, his toupee, etc. His ‘campaign’ so far seems to be based around ‘America is in decline’ but he himself comes off as pretty well past his prime.

I’ll take a different approach with regard to qualifications, though: some of these “celebrities” actually do bring experience to the table! Politicians are often criticized for being about show more than substance, but that means that show actually can become a relevant factor. Celebrities also have prior experience dealing with elites, large organizations, seeking funding, keeping separate their professional and private lives, and so on. I wouldn’t expect them to be any worse at actually governing than any other person without experience, but I’d expect them to be better at some other tasks we’ve come to expect of our politicians.

MH April 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Trump’s hair is stupider than anybody mentioned in the post or above, including whatever Ventura has on his head.

Sebastian April 18, 2011 at 1:04 pm

The best European example I can think of is the porn-star “La Cicciolina” who was elected as an Italian MP:

My understanding actors turning politicians is very common in the Philippines, the most famous example of course being former pres. Joseph Estrada:

Apparently a similar pattern is common in provincial elections in India.

In Germany, “The Left” nominated Peter Sodann, known mainly as an actor in the “Tatort” (roughly comparable to Law and Order) TV-series as a candidate for president, but he never stood a chance.

Rob April 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Of course Woodrow Wilson became governor of New Jersey after being a university president, a job akin in many ways to professional wrestling, especially when your faculty opponents gang up on you.

David Jandura April 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Aside from Pacquiao, many Filipino MCs are former actors or TV anchors. Iceland’s top comedian became the mayor of Reykjavik.

Naadir Jeewa April 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm

In Britain, it’s journalists, not TV & Film celebs who win elections:

BBC War Reporter Martin Bell became an MP after a sleaze scandal with the sitting MP at the time.

And one-time editor of the Spectator, Boris Johnson is now the Mayor of London. And he sports a Trumpish haircut.

James R April 18, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Sean Duffy was a Real World contestant who won a seat this last time around. Although I’m not sure he counts as famous (I only vaguely remembered the story and had to google it to get the name.)

Manoel Galdino April 18, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Soccer World Champion (1994), Romário, got elected to Brazilian low chamber last elections. We have plenty of examples here. But no president.

In our first electon after redemocratizaion, Silvio Santos, owner of a Television here and a popular television host, ran for a while and was a competitive candidate, but gave up before elections.

Ellie Powell April 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm

There’s actually been some academic research on this in the congressional context. If you’re interested, check out David Canon’s book “Actors, Athletes, and Astronauts: Political Amateurs in the United States Congress.”

Scott McClurg April 19, 2011 at 6:21 am

My favorites have always been Jim Grandy (Gopher from the Love Boat) and Ben Jones (Cooter from Dukes of Hazzard), both members of the House.

Scott April 19, 2011 at 10:07 am

Alan Autry a/k/a Captain Bubba Skinner on the tv series In the Heat of the Night was the mayor of Fresno, CA

Claire Haeg April 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm

What about Peter Garrett, lead singer of Midnight Oil, now MP and Shadow Minister for Climate Change.

Claire Haeg April 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Sorry – that’s in Australia, of course!

MH April 19, 2011 at 1:17 pm

It’s good that he has a portfolio of shadows. The western desert can get up to 45 degrees. While it can live and breath, he’d probably get too hot in the sun.

Nick Jorgensen April 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Movie star Fernando Poe Jr. (an Estrada crony/buddy)ran against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004 but lost. A follow-up run is unlikely since he is currently dead.

Anna Mikulska April 19, 2011 at 10:52 pm

In Poland, 1991 famous satirist (comedian) Janusz Rywinski not only was elected to the parliament but also established a party that entered the parliament – The Polish Beerlovers’ Party :)
2005 – a famous Polish film director Kazimierz Kutz run and won a legislatve seat as a representative of Civic Alliance (PO)

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: