How the Republican contenders for the 2024 presidential nomination are faring is not the most important thing in the world. There is war and a heat wave and enduring poverty and an obliterated submarine out there; how Donald Trump’s poll numbers look seven months before Iowans get together for their quadrennial barn dance is low on the list.

And yet here we are. Because this decision is important, however distant, and because this is a tangible measure, if an imprecise one, of where the country may be heading. Poll numbers offer the sensation of having a loose grip on the future, like a compass whose needle is still gyrating more than is useful. But it still provides some sense of north and, therefore, the direction you’re heading.

So let us consider two snapshots of the Republican race in an effort to divine any progress: CNN’s poll this week, conducted by SSRS, and its poll from back in March.

I came into this idea by thinking it would be useful to see how Trump’s support compared to that of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) among different demographic groups. In considering the most recent CNN numbers, though, it became apparent that there wasn’t much use. Trump has a good lead over DeSantis pretty much across the board. And since the two of them have consistently scooped up three-quarters of the available support for months, that would seem to tell us what we know.

Then I thought it might be useful to visualize the distinction. So I made radar graphs, showing the support for each candidate along an axis radiating from a central point. The result looked like this, comparing Trump, DeSantis and the aggregate of every other named candidate. The further up an axis the blob extends, the more support that candidate/group of candidates received.

What stands out, obviously, is those college-educated voters, located at around 7 o’clock on our dial. It is only this group where Trump is not in the lead; with every other demographic, Trump is a healthy swatch of red away from whoever’s in a distant second.

You also can see how less hard-right Republican voters are more likely to opt for a third option. Independents and moderates still prefer Trump but the “some other person” field is beating DeSantis, at least collectively.

Now, prepare yourself for how the same poll looked in March.

These are very different pictures! All we’re capturing here, really, is that DeSantis’s support slipped. But it did so almost universally.

Back in March, DeSantis was running even with Trump among men and conservatives. He was leading among potential voters over the age of 49 and with those who have a college degree. The “other people” pool was still strong in the same places, but DeSantis was almost always outpacing them. I mean, look at the shift with independents!

Or, more usefully, look at the shift in general. Here’s March (in gray) and June (in blue). The DeSantis contraction.

Trump, meanwhile, ballooned. With every group except those under 50, Trump pushed his support upward by about the same amount.

The pattern for the collective others is about the same: an expansion pretty much across the board.

That’s explained in part by the number of new candidates who announced their bids for the nomination over that period, including former vice president Mike Pence (who is doing not terribly in CNN’s most recent poll). But you know who else joined the race since March? Ron DeSantis.

These are two snapshots of polls that have understood uncertainty in their results. Maybe these particular snapshots show a pattern that is overstated or that has already started to change.

Or maybe the needle of the compass (in my lamentably jumbled set of metaphors) is starting to settle down and point where things are headed.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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