Donald Trump has based much of his campaign on tough talk about terrorism, and as soon as the tragic news of a deadly ISIS terror attack in Brussels, Belgium, broke Tuesday, Trump was the first to congratulate himself on his strategy.
“This is what I’ve been saying for a long time, and I guess it’s at least a small part of the reason why I’m the No. 1 front-runner,” he said in a Fox News interview Tuesday morning. “I mean, people are very concerned about this, and they’re very concerned about the security of this country.”
Trump, of course, made some of the most significant headlines of his campaign for president in December when he announced that as part of his platform, he proposed a total ban on members of the Muslim religion from entering the United States — including a ban on Muslim U.S. citizens traveling abroad from re-entering the country.
Watch Donald Trump offer his first reaction to the Brussels terror attacks on Tuesday, in the video below.
In the hours following Tuesday’s terrorism tragedy, political pundits throughout the media declared that the terror attacks in Brussels would play right into Trump’s hands, possibly even carrying him to the presidency on the back of American voters’ panic about terrorism.
“Republicans in general, and Donald Trump in particular, will get a boost,” wrote New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin.”In January, he actually singled out Brussels as a potential problem, calling it a ‘hellhole’ because of the large number of unassimilated Muslims.”
And former CNN host Piers Morgan wrote a column for the Daily Mail asking, “isn’t it time we started listening seriously to Trump.”
So, will Donald Trump, who is already a near-lock to win the Republican presidential nomination, gain a big political benefit from American fears of terrorism, after the Brussels attacks?
Fortunately, Tuesday provided a real-time experiment to test that theory as two states — Arizona and Utah, both with reliably conservative electorates — went to the polls.
Comparing Trump’s performance in those two states to pre-election polling which, of course, would not have been influenced by the Brussels attacks, could give at least some indication of whether Donald Trump received a “boost” from the terror attacks.
In Arizona, according to a polling average compiled by FiveThirtyEight, Trump went into Tuesday’s primary election with 40.8 percent support. The election-predicting site, however, also takes other factors into account in projecting the vote percentage any given candidate will receive in an election.
For the Arizona primary, FiveThirtyEight projected that Trump was most likely to finish with 43.4 percent, but his vote share could go even higher than 50 percent.
The final results — of the real election?
Donald Trump finished with 47.1 percent, slightly higher than predicted, but well within the range of projected totals. In other words, if Trump received a “boost” from fears of terrorism, it would have been small at best. Statistically, the most probable interpretation is that the Brussels terror attacks made no difference at all for Donald Trump.
The results were even more clear in Utah, where the FiveThirtyEight polling average saw Trump finishing third, with 11.9 percent — and a predicted finish of 13.8 percent.
The actual Donald Trump result — 14 percent, almost exactly matching the FiveThirtyEight prediction. If Arizona voters were influenced only slightly by the ISIS attacks in Brussels, Utah voters were completely unmoved.
The candidate who significantly outperformed his polling predictions in Utah was Cruz, who collected over 69 percent of the caucus votes in that state, after pre-election polling showed him with a predicted finish just topping 55 percent.
On the other hand, Cruz came up short in Arizona, gaining just 24.9 percent of the vote there, somewhat behind his predicted finish of 33.2 percent.
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The Brussels attacks on Tuesday were as fresh in voters’ minds as they ever will be. But the next test for Donald Trump does not come until April 5, when Wisconsin holds its Republican primary.
Currently, in the polling averages, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are running neck and neck, with Cruz at 35.5 and Trump right behind at 32.9. If Donald Trump scores a decisive victory in Wisconsin, that may serve as some indication that the ISIS Brussels terror attacks did help him at the ballot box after all. Early evidence, however, suggests that terrorism is no help to Trump.
[Featured Photo by Mark Wilson / Getty Images]