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The mystery isn’t why support for Donald Trump is so high. It’s why it’s so low.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty

According to the latest CNN/ORC poll, 39 percent of Republican voters favor Donald Trump — that's up from 27 percent in October, 24 percent in August, and 12 percent in June. But it's not the most interesting part of the poll.

There's a persistent argument that Trump's support is pure celebrity. Republicans like him because they know him, or are fascinated by him, or keep seeing him on the news. In this telling, Trump's distinctive positions on immigration and economics and national security — positions that often put him at odds with both the Democratic and Republican parties — barely figure into the equation.

But what if the opposite is true? What if Trump's positions are driving his appeal, and Trump's personal antics are actually limiting his support?

Matt Yglesias has made this argument before, and the CNN/ORC poll provides some support for it. Though only (only!) 39 percent of Republicans support Trump, 57 percent believe he'd do the best job on the economy, 55 percent believe he'd do the best job on illegal immigration, and 47 percent believe he'd do the best job on ISIS.

In other words, the percentage of Republicans who think Trump would do the best job on the core issues driving the Republican primary is larger than the percentage of Republicans who actually support Trump!

The question, then, may not be why is support for Donald Trump so high, but why is it so low?

As Yglesias wrote back in August, if you just look at how much more popular Trump's positions are than the other Republicans, "the striking thing is that Trump is punching well below his potential weight. Perhaps all the apparently clownish, seemingly off-putting stuff that he does is, in fact, counterproductive, and he would do even better if he combined his ideas with a more mainstream presentation."

That said, the Republican affection for Donald Trump's positions is not shared by the rest of the country. While 63 percent of Republicans say Trump shares their values, that number falls to 37 percent when you poll all voters.


Correction: This post originally said Trump's favorable/unfavorable among Republicans was 39 to 57 percent. I misread the poll — that's his favorability among all Americans. His favorable/unfavorable among Republicans is 71 to 28 percent.