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Is Donald Trump's lead in the polls really all that surprising? (+video)

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(Read caption) Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at his South Carolina campaign kickoff rally in Bluffton, on Tuesday.

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Donald Trump's entry into the 2016 presidential race may have been heralded by the media and pundits as a distracting side show but, if early polling is any indication, he's gained a certain degree of traction among a not insignificant portion of voters.

A recent Washington Post poll conducted over the weekend showed that Mr. Trump’s the No. 1 choice of 24 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning Independent voters. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker comes in a not so close second with 13 percent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is third with 12 percent.

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On some level, "The Donald" appeals to a contingent of voters who have otherwise felt that their opinions have not been heard, the Monitor's Mark Sappenfield reports

Trump matters because he is a voice for the disaffected conservative – mostly white, mostly over 65, mostly less-educated. This voting bloc might not be decisive, but it will be important, particularly in the Republican primaries. Even if Trump goes away, they won't.

The fact that Trump is appealing to a significant chunk of the Republican populace is indicative of a sweeping shift in the GOP that has largely been ignored by the media, Media Matters' Eric Boehlert writes.

Fueled by hateful rhetoric and right-wing media programming, Republicans and conservatives have veered towards extremism in recent years. If the press had honestly documented that trend, today's Trump phenomenon wouldn't come as such a shock.

Other pundits have countered that Trump's popularity is fueled by the media's fascination with him. Whether his recent success has been fueled by persistent media coverage, as George Washington University political scientist John Sides suggests in The Washington Post's "Monkey Cage" blog, or whether news outlets are just feeding an existing audience thirst, as Monitor's Peter Grier suggests, is a chicken-or-the-egg question that will likely persist throughout his campaign.

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