2016 Republicans, Debates, Poll Watch

Poll Watch: Episode 3 (Fiorina’s Fury)

August 26, 2015

Pretend you did absolutely everything right for an entire month under the spotlights.  Pretend you picked up significant support as a result.  Pretend despite this success, the one thing everyone assumed you would receive as a reward is potentially unavailable.

You’d be pissed.

So’s Team Carly.  There is now a large possibility Fiorina will spend Debate #2 back at the little kids table, on the undercard, during Happy Hour, instead of mid-way between center stage and the end of the line, in front of Air Force One at the Reagan Library on September 16.

How?

When Carly crushed the first debate, we all assumed she would move up by enough and fast enough to play in September.  Both Chris Christie and John Kasich qualified for the August debate with national poll averages of 3%.  Whether by taking one of their spots, or replacing a vulnerable looking Rand Paul or Mike Huckabee, somebody was moving aside for her.

Fiorina is now ahead of all four of those candidates in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls taken since the debate.  Not only is she sitting 7th, but is closer to Scott Walker in 4th than Rand Paul in 8th.

Though her best result was most immediately after the last debate round, Fiorina is at or above 5% in each August national poll CNN will use to calculate the participants.  The problem is unlike Fox, which based their invitations on the most recent five polls, CNN is taking an average from the beginning of July through September 10.

This is an important detail missed by many of us who assumed she’d earn entry fairly easily.  As Harry Enten pointed out on FiveThirtyEight a couple days ago, this means Carly has to noticeably outperform the competition, as her July polling was almost invisible.

Even with that, she had a decent shot, it just wasn’t a foregone conclusion.  There were 9 approved polls (CNN disclosed the certified pollsters and exact terms and conditions months ago) taken in the 3 weeks prior to the first debate date.  If there were 9 taken between debates one and two, Carly would need to cross her fingers.

If there were 3 polls per week, as before, for a total of 18, Fiorina would likely make it without much trouble.  Instead, so far only 3 total post-debate polls are in, none for over a week.  So Carly is mad as hell and her team isn’t going to take it anymore.

After contacting the RNC and CNN yesterday, they issued a public statement today.  It reads as one long, well documented whine.  Was this a good idea and will it work?

Yes and probably.

Neither the RNC, nor CNN can or will do anything about the rules.  They were announced a long time ago and the other candidates are not going to threaten to boycott the debate if she doesn’t get in.

Creating a stink does a few things:

  1. Gives her a reason to do another round of Sunday Shows.  Fiorina is a very effective self-advocate and will have her talking points ready.  She won’t sound like the campaign release.  This increases overall free exposure.
  2. A couple polling points make a very big difference.  While Trump has way more support, Fiorina has higher favorability ratings, among the highest in the field.  Most Trump supporters are committed Donaldistas.  Many Dr. Ben Carson fans are very committed.  But not all.  Many Republicans want to see Carly on stage bashing Hillary Clinton and her server.  Just takes a few people to strategically choose Carly.  People who already like her and assumed she’d make the debate.
  3. Increased scrutiny might result in one or two extra polls being conducted.  I’m not expecting an extra 10, but even a couple will help, especially combined with the above two factors.

Seems like it was worth a try.  While CNN and the RNC won’t change the rules, there’s nothing to say they won’t push for extra polls.  One of the pollsters already partners with CNN.  Though Trump already ensures great ratings, Carly makes for an even better show.  Better still, there’s a strong chance of Trump-Fiorina fireworks, as the two jousted semi-frequently in the week or two after the last debate.

The RNC might not enjoy being called out, but they’d prefer the optics of a Carly-included stage too.   Expect to see a bunch of last minute polling right before and after Labor Day (though most would have happened anyway).  With polls usually conducted over 3-4 days and a 9/10 deadline, and people paying less attention over the next 7-10 days, she couldn’t wait any longer.

Fiorina is a stronger candidate than indicated by her current national numbers.  At this stage of the race, Iowa and New Hampshire polling is often more predictive, especially for candidates with a lower national profile.  Results in the two earlier voting events impact momentum going forward and current polling can indicate how voters in other states may respond with more exposure to the candidate.

Competing in both states is difficult, as Iowa Republicans are significantly more conservative (social conservative in particular) than New Hampshire GOP voters.  With the exception of the very strongest national front-runners, most candidates are far more competitive in one than the other.  Usually, you’re either an Iowa (Carson, Walker, Cruz, Huckabee) or a New Hampshire (Kasich, Jeb, Christie).

Fiorina is competing in both.  Based on the current RCP average, she only trails Trump, Carson and Walker in Iowa and ties Cruz.  She’s ahead of all “New Hampshire” candidates plus Marco Rubio.  Carly leads 2008 Iowa caucus winner Huckabee and 2012 winner Rick Santorum.  Combined.

In New Hampshire, the latest poll has her in third, just behind Kasich and ahead of the guy with the dad and brother who were presidents.  This is her best NH result, but not by that much.  At the moment, Trump is the only candidate ahead of her in both states.  If Trump should falter at all, she’s a natural landing place for his potential voters.

Though this applies less in a GOP primary, some criticize the predictive powers of Iowa and New Hampshire because both include a bunch of old white people.  However, Fiorina is running third in Arizona and second in Michigan.  This is not a lower-tier candidate.

It’s too soon for Carly to start humming Hail to the Chief, but if she can ruckus her way into the main event next month, there’s a lot of upside.  Whether looking at national or state polls, the leading “outsiders” (Trump, Carson, Cruz, Fiorina) are pulling a combined 50% plus in each.  She’s very possibly the most acceptable of this group to more establishment Republicans.

Arguably significantly more prepared for office than Carson and with far lower negatives than Trump and Cruz, Fiorina is in very good position.  If she makes the debate.  Carly will not and should not go away quietly.

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