2015 Was the Year of Trump in the GOP Presidential Horse Race Polls

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Donald Trump gestures during a media event on the sand dunes of the Menie estate, the site for a proposed Trump golf resort, near Aberdeen, Scotland, on May 27, 2010. This year, Trump has led wire to wire in national polls for the Republican primary race. David Moir/REUTERS

In a CNN/ORC poll released early Wednesday—one of the final polls of the GOP presidential race this year—Donald Trump leads the Republican presidential field with 39 percent support nationwide, which is more than double second-place Ted Cruz's 18 percent.

The poll was conducted in the immediate aftermath of the last GOP debate, in Las Vegas, and included issue-based questions about which candidates are most capable of handling matters like the economy, immigration and terrorism. For all three topics, around 50 percent of respondents picked Trump as the most competent candidate. He leads his closest competitors by 30 points in each category. Most respondents also thought that Trump had the strongest debate performance in Vegas.

The poll was conducted by phone interviews with just over 1,000 subjects and has a 3 percent margin of error. Though a Tuesday poll from Quinnipiac had significantly different percentages, the surveys all tell more or less the same story: Trump has the lead, and his grasp on front-runner status as we head into 2016 is less fragile than pundits originally thought. He also doesn't hesitate to remind you of it.

So just how significant are all these numbers? According to the media's conventional wisdom, the Year of Trump has subverted all our expectations about politics. Typically, that narrative goes, controversies and insensitive statements drag down a campaign—but this year, Trump's poll numbers haven't taken a hit after his various "missteps." The same rules didn't apply to Ben Carson after the retired neurosurgeon briefly took away Trump's lead in a few national surveys. After a few weeks of bad press, stemming from inconsistencies in his autobiography and a gaffe about the Egyptian pyramids, Carson's numbers plummeted.

Perhaps because of Trump's consistency in the polls, it's become common course for commentators to backtrack by arguing that his substantial lead might not be so important. After all, his leads in the early-primary states are much smaller than his high national polling numbers; remember, the primary race isn't decided by a national popular vote.

Even the candidates have gotten in on this logic. Mike Huckabee, who won Iowa in 2008 but has had a dismal showing in the polls this year, recently said that Iowa voters "date" candidates for a while but don't "put a ring on it" until the very end, implying that their minds won't be made up until shortly before the caucuses start. As Jeb Bush replied when Trump compared their poll numbers during the GOP debate, "it doesn't matter."

In February, we'll find out whether that's wishful thinking on his part.

2015 Was the Year of Trump in the GOP Presidential Horse Race Polls | U.S.