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.

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