2016 General Election, 2016 Republicans, Poll Watch

Poll Watch: Episode 10 (Who’s Electable?)

September 30, 2015

Electability is a big part of the Silent Primary, the part of the election cycle we are currently enjoying.  Few people pick a candidate they think has no chance of winning.  We take for granted that donors, endorsers and party activists feel this way, but so do voters.  Part of what makes a Flavor of the Month candidate stumble is the realization they aren’t a plausible nominee or general election contender.

It’s virtually impossible to prove a given candidate is a sure thing.  There’s always a historical example to the contrary, a current poll or three that would argue.  Any poll is a snapshot in time, candidates will get more or less popular with their core voters, their potential nominating coalition and swing voters as events change.

But we can still see who is looking more plausible, who the voters are at least open to right now.  Plus it’s always fun to compare the underlying polling data (OK, fun for me) to the narratives we’re hearing on a regular basis.  Is there strong evidence the conventional wisdom is wrong about something?  Who’s floating under the radar? Continue reading

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2016 Republicans, Iowa, Trump

Forecasting Iowa: Update One (Can Carson Destroy The Donald?)

September 29, 2015

Welcome to our first installment of Forecasting Iowa.  Though the impact of the first voting contest of Primary Season is sometimes overstated, Iowa almost always matters, sometimes well ahead of the actual voting.

Tim Pawlenty (2011) and Scott Walker likely pulled the plug more because of single-digit polling numbers in the Hawkeye State than microscopic national numbers.

Every other contest is influenced by voting that has already occurred.  Though Forecasting New Hampshire will debut soon, this is the only truly clean speculative canvas.  On the Democratic side, drawing any firm conclusions before Joe Biden opts in or out of the October 13 debate is pointless.  However, the GOP crystal ball for Iowa is beginning to de-fog.  Continue reading

2016 Republicans, Debates, Uncategorized

Who Gets to Debate Next Time?

September 27, 2015

The next GOP debate is a month away.  At this stage before the previous two contests, candidates were positioning themselves for the next round, particularly those on the line between main event and undercard.

Now, many campaigns don’t know what to expect.  You see, the criteria for Debate #3 is still undetermined.  We have heard a couple of things: Continue reading

2016 Republicans, Uncategorized

How Does Boehner’s Exit Impact the Nomination?

September 25, 2015

Boehner is gone.  Now what?  There are three questions of varying intrigue and difficulty answering.

First, who’s the next Speaker?  Probably Kevin McCarthy of California, currently the #2 House Republican.  Yes, there are still GOP elected officials from the Golden State. Most of those survivors are pretty conservative.

McCarthy, who represents the lower Central Valley (think Bakersfield), is a good example and is both well-respected and conservative enough to hold most of the caucus together and house-broken enough for the establishment.

Odds are most will feel good about the political version of a coaching change.  With Paul Ryan apparently in his corner, McCarthy will face a challenge from at least a couple of his peers, but should win.

If for some reason he doesn’t, this would strongly indicate the environment next year will be more hostile than a Marco Rubio-type candidate can handle.  My expectation is that the party could get behind Rubio fairly easily if he runs a strong primary campaign. A defeat for McCarthy would strongly indicate otherwise.

Second, does this change in leadership increase or decrease the odds of a shutdown, either in the next several days or right after Boehner is gone, if a temporary agreement is reached?

Think it increases the odds of a shutdown sometime before the end of 2015.  It’s also going to put Mitch McConnell in an impossible position.  As long as Boehner was around, half of the bile was targeted elsewhere.  Now, if McCarthy isn’t on board, he’s got a huge problem.

If McCarthy somehow loses, McConnell is surrounded.  Not a good place to be.  Given that the 2013 shutdown was such a catastrophe that the GOP dominated the 2014 midterms, fear that Republican chances in 2016 are ruined if the government grinds to a halt are perhaps exaggerated.

While it’s true that shutdowns preceded re-election victories by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, this likely had more to do with Clinton and Obama being better candidates than their opponents.

Republicans have never lost control of the House in an election immediately following a shutdown.  It may well be that 60% of the voting public would oppose a shutdown (that’s about the normal objection rate), but it doesn’t mean it’s a big issue for general election voters.

Especially if Democrats are also buying the conventional wisdom (that a shutdown is GOP suicide) and not leaving McConnell any bargaining room, the odds are pretty good this happens.  Boehner can probably buy himself enough time to retire without one and then all bets are off.

Third, what impact does the new Speaker and possible (probably more likely) shutdown have on the nomination race?  We’re reaching the land of idle speculation here, but let’s give it a shot.

It’s probably bad for Jeb.  If the House leadership and the more conservative presidential candidates are more in synch, it could easily isolate Bush.  He’s kind of stuck either way.

If there’s no progress on conservative issues in Congress, Jeb is a symbol of the frustration.  If there is progress now, it means Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina (among others) were correct, that it was worth fighting.  It’s hard to see an outcome that benefits him.

This is probably good for Cruz.  My first reaction was the reverse, that it takes away a convenient lightning rod.  Now he can’t campaign against Boehner anymore and if McCarthy winds up in his cross-hairs, Cruz may seem unreasonable.

While there’s something to that, odds are McCarthy is noticeably more aggressive in pushing a conservative agenda.  This allows Cruz to point out that his pressure made a difference.  Nobody questions his brainpower, few doubt his consistency.

The question is always effectiveness.  Can Ted Cruz be a leader who makes things happen or is he just a very polished, eloquent bomb-thrower?  This is an argument for the former, as he’s the candidate who had the most to do with this happening.

It’s likely negative for Trump.  Many Trumpists are of the pox on all their houses mindset.  Cruz is more identified with the struggle against Boehner, and can claim a victory so for those who weren’t sure if a total outsider, or someone like Cruz was a better idea, this may tip the scales.

It won’t destroy Trump’s support by any means, but now that he’s more in the 25% range than 30-35%, every couple of points begin to matter.  If he were to drift to 18-20% on average, his chances of winning the early contests he needs for momentum begin to diminish.

No idea how this effects Ben Carson.  Too many variables.  Neither Mike Huckabee, nor Rand Paul have a path to the nomination right now and this didn’t change that.  Same goes for the undercard debate participants.  If one catches fire, it’s for a different reason.

It’s a plus for Fiorina.  She’s promoting herself as a reformer, someone who can shake things up and create rapid change.  With Trump voters, some belief in The Donald as a messiah is required, the idea he will move heaven and earth to get a deal.

Carly’s admirers are a bit more skeptical.  While she’s vastly more popular than Trump, she trails him because she’s often a second or third choice.  Voters are waiting to see how she holds up to scrutiny over HP.  They love how she sounds but aren’t 100% sure she can get Comgress to do what she needs.

For those inclined to buy her explanation of losing a boardroom brawl, the natural question was how she would get Boehner and McConnell moving.  With little chance of a GOP filibuster-proof majority, controlling the presidency isn’t a guarantee of dramatic change.

A more active McCarthy-led House could give primary voters enough comfort to vote for Carly to finish the job.  Failing at that, I can’t see how it hurts her.  There will be more drama, more things to talk about and she, as we know, talks very well.

Chris Christie and John Kasich face both danger and opportunity.  At this point, the two governors share a pod with Jeb Bush as the semi-moderate governors who participate in the main debates.

None are viable without a strong performance in New Hampshire.  Anything short of a win, or close second to Trump is it for Kasich and Christie and puts Jeb in a very bad spot.  Only one of the three (at most) will survive the primary.

This is a chance for either of the non-Jebs to support the new House leadership if they get more aggressive and push towards a shutdown.  Jeb can’t, it’s not consistent with his image of being the adult in the room (though it might not be a bad gambit for him if he really meant it), and his donors don’t have the stomach for it either.

Kasich has House leadership experience, Christie brags about jousting with the Jersey legislature.  There’s an opening here for one or both to distinguish themselves and build some separation, while also reducing their negatives among more conservative GOP voters.

Given the more centrist tone Kasich has used in debates, it’s probably an easier pivot for Christie.  We’ll see if he takes it.

Meanwhile, Rubio is potentially exposed.  He’s steered away from advocating a shutdown.  If McCarthy avoids one too, he’s probably safe, as he would remain in line with the center of the Party.

If they do shut down, and Rubio doesn’t come up with a good reason why he now thinks it’s worth it, it would leave him to the left of the House leadership which is not a safe place to be.

All considered, the new developments are probably more drama than he wants.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of suppositions and random guesses.  Crossing my fingers the above words look good in 4-8 weeks.

2016 Democrats, 2016 Republicans, Poll Watch

Poll Watch: Episode 9 (Is Hillary Collapsing or Not?)

September 24, 2015

We may not know where GOP voters are headed, but it’s usually fairly easy to see where they are.  Several post-debate national polls have dropped in the past few days and the candidate order is similar.

Donald Trump is always leading, his best result is 26%, worst is 21%.  Ben Carson is second in 3 polls, a very close third in another.  His range is from 14% to 18%.  You get the idea.

In case you’re curious, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are in the next group.  Carly did best immediately post-debate and is now giving some of her support back.  Same for Marco, but at a slower rate from a lower peak.  Exactly what happened after the first debate.

Ted Cruz almost never moves.  He’s never worse than 5% or better than 8%.  Usually he polls 6% or 7%.

Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Rand Paul are jumbling around in the lower group of main debaters.  Given their polling numbers are usually less than the margin of error, it’s remarkable how generally consistent they are, usually in the 2-5% range.  Again this is with a 5% margin of error.

To make things even easier, national and Iowa polls taken in the same week are often also about the same.  The biggest discrepancy was Scott Walker, a concern he kindly solved for us.

So you’d think tracking a Democratic race with only 3 viable candidates would be even easier.  Two of the three are connected to the Obama administration and have very similar ideological positions.  All are Social Security eligible.

Yet the polling message is decidedly mixed.  A mere couple days ago it appeared Hillary was recovering, based on a national poll and an Iowa poll, each of which showed progress for the Clinton Campaign.

Almost as soon as I posted that commentary, Bloomberg released an Ann Selzer-conducted national poll which concluded quite the opposite.  Given Ms. Selzer’s record of accuracy, it couldn’t be dismissed as an outlier.

Last month, she found Hillary doing far worse in Iowa than other pollsters had.  The next few polls backed her up.  To some extent, the same happened here, as new Fox polling has it a little closer, while Qunnipiac has the larger national margin that CNN originally found.

Ok, so the gap is wider or thinner, big deal.  That’s why Real Clear Politics does an average.  Can’t we just look at that, assume the margin is about 12, maybe 13 points between Hillary and Bernie and call it a day?

Not quite.  In some polls, Biden and Bernie are virtually tied, in others Bernie is well ahead of the possible third wheel.  Sometimes, they struggle to combine to match Hillary’s support, sometimes they clearly add up to more.

If the Bloomberg/Selzer scenario

Hillary 33

Biden 25

Bernie 24

is correct, not only is Hillary in deep trouble, but you can see how a strong Biden announcement could propel him ahead.

With fresh stories about the FBI being able to access Hillary’s supposedly erased emails, new contradictions between her story and what the State Department is saying, and nearing the end of her additional positive TV exposure, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see her running 3rd a couple weeks from now.

On the other hand, if you average Fox and similar results from Quinnipiac, you get this:

Hillary 44

Sanders 27

Biden 18

Totally different.  Instead of a 3-horse race, with Biden on track to jump into the lead sooner than later, Hillary has a strong lead with the other two dividing the non-Clinton vote.

Sanders looks like the stronger opponent, while Biden seems more like a spoiler.  Which is it?

Or do you prefer CNN

Hillary 42

Sanders 24

Biden 22

which tells sort of a third story.  In this version, Hillary is still in the driver’s seat, but the other two are fighting for shotgun.

For those of us watching at home, this is a diversion, something to speculate about.  It’s mostly a giant whatever, something forgotten as soon as things change again.

But what if you’re Joe Biden?  Let’s assume he’s getting closer to getting in.  Let’s believe recent articles that say his wife Jill is no longer an obstacle (if she even was in the first place).  Let’s assume he’s still (very logically) feeling some ambivalence.

If Selzer is right, he should do whatever he can to get himself in by the first debate.  Hillary is on the ropes and the next couple weeks should include several punches to the midsection as the server/email fun continues.

A good debate performance for Joe, bad Benghazi hearing appearance for Hillary and many dominos will fall, likely including a couple union endorsements and maybe some friendly words from the boss.

If he waits, Bernie could seize the high ground (remember, no polling shows Biden any better than essentially tied with Bernie) and wind up in a more difficult version of Hillary’s current struggle.

All in all, if you believe this polling scenario, he needs to announce in the next 10 days.

On the other hand, if you take the most negative possible view of the other 3 polls, both assuming Hillary has a 15-18 point lead on Bernie and that Sanders is 8-10 points ahead of Joe, perhaps he should wait.

This view indicates Biden could claw a few votes away from Hillary and still find himself trailing her and Bernie.  I get tired just thinking about how hard he would need to swim against the currents.  Not impossible, but hard as hell.

Better to hold out and see how much worse things get for Hillary.  If Sanders is already ahead of Biden by a noticeable margin, Joe is only beating him if Hillary is completely discredited.  If not, there aren’t enough votes to go around.

So which is it? Biden has to make a major life decision on this hazy info, I just need to make a prediction we can all forget about if I was wrong and I’ll remind everyone of ad nauseum if it turns out correct.

My gut says the Bloomberg/Selzer story is closest to the truth.  Bernie is probably a couple/few points ahead of Joe, but he’s one or two weeks away from changing places with Hillary.

Biden has the highest favorables.  Bernie has the lowest unfavorable number.  It doesn’t make sense that the third candidate would have the big lead.  Especially when she’s sounding worse than her competitors.

If Biden enters the race in time to participate (which I still think he will), my guess is Hillary comes out of the debate in 3rd place.  A close third, but third.

LATE NOTE: Right after this was published, a CNN New Hampshire poll put Sanders 16 points ahead of Clinton.  Though he’s definitely strongest there (Biden is definitely not even with Bernie in that state), it’s noteworthy that Hillary is down to 30%.

I’m going to interpret this as supporting my guess.