November 22, 2015
Courtesy of CBS/YouGov, we have fresh polling from Iowa, just the excuse necessary for taking another look at what to expect when the caucus actually happens. Only GOP results are released so far, but the numbers on the Dem side are looking pretty consistent in other states, so I’m comfortable rushing forward without it. No sense in being a patient speculator.
The focus today is on what results each candidate requires to move forward to New Hampshire with some degree of hope. They may do worse and choose to stay in the race, but will effectively function as dead candidates walking, doing more to prevent others from getting nominated than forwarding themselves. We’ll also guess what the odds of getting the desired result are.
Notes on the poll results:
After losing his lead to Ben Carson, then trailing him for a couple of weeks, before seeming to catch up, Trump is now ahead in Iowa again, in this case with 30%, a number he’s only exceeded once in all of the polls tracked by Real Clear Politics (31% from Gravis Marketing in late July).
Ted Cruz nosed ahead of Carson, 21% to 19%, continuing a trend seen in Iowa starting in late October, and showing up in national polls as well. While obviously not great for Carson, this is also good for Trump and bad for Marco Rubio.
While there is still danger for Trump if Carson were to fade further or recover strongly, as the combined (and somewhat interchangeable, especially in Iowa) support for Cruz and Carson is 40%, in excess of Trump’s and an indication of a higher ceiling for each of them, as long as they are both reasonably strong, and cancelling each other out, his odds are good.
While Rubio remains safely ahead of Jeb Bush and any establishment-friendly substitute, he’s closer to 5th than 3rd in this poll and the heavy post-Paris tilt toward outsiders/insurgents/etc. isn’t beneficial for him. He’s still got 10 weeks before anyone votes, but it’s not ideal to have only half of Ted’s numbers.
Jeb, Chris Christie and John Kasich combine for 8%, continuing to reduce the chances any of the governors have a mini-springboard from Iowa in to New Hampshire. If Rubio finishes noticeably ahead of them, but behind the leading three (if actual results mirror today’s polling), New Hampshire voters may find themselves very tempted to rally around Rubio before it’s too late.
CBS/YouGov polls approximately once a month. Other pollsters on the RCP list generally survey in close proximity. We’ll see a few more Iowa polls over the next few days. They have a consistent lean towards Trump and away from Carson, towards Cruz and away from Rubio compared to other surveys taken at similar times.
It’s not an enormous difference, but is regular and noticeable. The gap now is large enough (Trump 11 ahead of Carson, Cruz 10 ahead of Rubio), that even those polls that view Carson and Rubio more favorably will likely still have Trump ahead of Carson and Cruz ahead of Rubio, but round these results accordingly until actual voting proves CBS/YouGov is more accurate than others.
Needs: To finish second. First is ideal. If it happens, especially if by several points, in the state most difficult for him out of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he has a real shot at sweeping the first 3 contests, something that has previously (from 1972 forward) always resulted in nomination.
A strong second in a state heavily influenced by evangelical voters isn’t the end of the world, particularly if Carson, who is noticeably weaker in New Hampshire, finishes first. A big Cruz win could be a problem, especially if he effectively knocks Carson out by finishing well ahead of him.
Finishing third, either behind both Cruz and Carson, or one of them and Rubio will effectively finish Trump off. He’s very dependent on momentum and perception of being a winner. Carson moved ahead in polling and Trump survived. He would similarly survive a narrow Carson win in Iowa with the ability to catch up a few days later. Losing to two candidates is a different story.
Odds: If the vote were today, Trump would likely win. It’s always a good thing if the status quo leads to victory. His chances of getting a victory are greater than his odds of finishing third. It’s increasingly difficult to picture Trump getting less than 20-22% of the vote. Either Cruz or Carson could fairly easily exceed that number, but only if the other is below it.
Barring collapse, it’s almost mathematically impossible for Trump to trail both of them. He can finish ahead of both, but likely only behind one. The other risk is Rubio, by either by his completely consolidating the mainstream conservative vote, or by the balance between insurgents and establishment-certified candidates changing.
As of today, both of those things would need to happen in order for Trump to finish behind Rubio, along with Trump falling back towards his floor (figure he’s at his absolute ceiling in the new poll). Do not assume voters will suddenly decide they want a “serious” candidate on caucus day. Pat Robertson and Steve Forbes each pulled numbers that would allow Trump to finish no worse than second.
Needs: To finish third. Though he’s a legitimate competitor in most states, Cruz is definitely more suited to Iowa than New Hampshire. If he finishes behind Rubio in Iowa, he’ll continue losing to him until Trump and/or Carson get out of the way. After finishing ahead of Cruz, there’s no reason for them to quickly fade.
A strong second to Trump is probably a pretty good outcome. The key for Cruz is getting rid of Carson. In order to defeat Trump in the southern primaries, he needs to consolidate the evangelical vote. He can’t worry about beating Rubio until he dispatches Trump, which is extremely difficult if Carson is still strong.
Odds: Cruz has the highest ceiling in Iowa of any candidate. He could wind up as high as 35-37%, which in a field of this size would rate as one of the better performances in caucus history. He’s currently sitting around 20%.
Evangelicals normally consolidate around a single candidate. If this happens again, it’s easy to see Cruz, particularly if he wins the coveted endorsement of Bob VanderPlaats pulling another 10% from Carson, a few percent from Trump, if he returns to his normal support of 22-25%, and perhaps a few wayward Rand Paul voters who want their choice to matter.
However, his floor is noticeably lower than Trump’s and he could fairly easily fall behind Rubio too. Ben Carson is still very popular. Voters really like him. Much like a college football team that loses early enough in the season to recover and make the playoff, Carson has time to clean up his pitch and catch up.
If he pulls 5-7% from Cruz and Rubio makes any forward progress, all of a sudden, Ted is 4th. He has both the best chance of being really happy with the caucus results and a greater chance of going home disappointed than either Trump or Rubio.
Needs: To win. If he doesn’t beat Trump in Iowa, he’s not going to finish ahead of him in New Hampshire or South Carolina. The only way there is room for two serious insurgent candidates with no experience in elected office is if they each win early contests. This is Carson’s best chance.
He can finish a strong second and stick around for quite a while, but it is very hard to see a nomination path that doesn’t begin with an Iowa win. If he finishes a close third (matching the CBS/YouGov poll results), he’d need Cruz and/or Trump to completely implode soon after to have any way to make a dent on March 1.
Unless he finishes a distant fourth, it’s hard to see any reason why Carson, who has plenty of funds, would drop out before March. He’s currently running very strongly in the March 1 states.
Odds: With Cruz becoming a legit threat, Carson’s odds are worse than a couple months ago, even though his polling is better than his post-Debate #2 dip. At the time, my guess was he would get his message back on track and eventually move ahead of Trump. He did, but has to repeat the trick with someone in the way.
Still, Carson had a rough three weeks and Cruz a very strong three weeks and they’re essentially tied. He’s probably really 6-8 points behind Trump right now, not 11. That can evaporate overnight. If Cruz stays strongly competitive, Carson’s ceiling is in the 25-27% range.
For most of the past few months, that is a number that leads in Iowa. Based on having at least 8 active candidates on caucus day, that is probably enough to win. Very tough for the top two candidates to exceed a combined 50% by much.
Figure as long as Carson stays at/above 15% over the next few weeks, he can still recover in plenty of time to win.
Needs: To finish fourth, in double-digits and ahead of any of the governors by a noticeable amount. Anything beyond that is gravy. Rubio is the most Iowa-friendly of the establishment approved candidates. If he doesn’t beat them there, he will really struggle in New Hampshire.
Odds: It’s unlikely, though not impossible that Rubio could actually win Iowa. Should that happen, he might wrap up the nomination faster than anyone figures possible.
Traditionally, an establishment candidate always manages to pull 25% or so. Mitt Romney did this in both 2008 and 2012. I’m not sure Rubio can get past 22-23%, but in a close race with an evenly divided top four, that will be enough.
If you figure he’s around 12% now, as long as Cruz and Carson remain evenly divided, Trump moves back toward his floor, the establishment share grows by a bit, perhaps based on the next couple debates and the governors remain marginalized, the math works.
Each of those things are very possible, but the odds of all happening are in the 5-10% range. The easier outcome is finishing third after either Cruz or Carson take some support from the other.
Jeb Bush/Chris Christie/John Kasich
Needs: To finish 5th, with about 10% of the vote, fairly close to Rubio, well ahead of the other governors.
Odds: Fairly good chance one of them comes in fifth. Jeb’s been hanging out there for a while. The problem is getting to the 9-11% that would look ok all things considered instead of winding up with 5% while Rubio pulls 14%.
Part of what made John McCain viable in 2008 was his Iowa finish. Despite spending almost all of his time in New Hampshire, he was a close fourth, just a few votes behind Fred Thompson. The better than expected finish propelled him forward and was a good indicator for South Carolina.
Given the three candidates are currently combining for 8%, there’s no indication there’s room for one to exceed this on his own. But there’s still time. It requires a trifecta.
Rubio can’t gain much. If he moves past 13-15%, there won’t be enough left. The overall establishment share needs to trend back to the norm. One of the three needs to jump ahead of the others.
As we sit at this exact moment, somewhere between 10-20% chance of all of those events occurring, or slightly better than Rubio winning Iowa.
Needs: To finish 5th, ahead of all governors. Fiorina, without doing anything particularly wrong, has found herself eclipsed by Rubio and Cruz over the past several weeks.
At this point, her path involves the governors being eliminated as a viable choice by completely failing to register in Iowa. If establishment-friendly voters are horrified by the prospect of Trump, Carson and Cruz and need a Rubio backup, especially if he finishes a distant fourth, this would keep her around.
Odds: Not the best, but not impossible. The governors have really struggled and Rubio has done very well in debates. If he’s in low double-digits doing everything right, what if he had a serious gaffe?
Still, absent Carly finding a new wrinkle to break through and keep herself in the news away from debate night, she’s more likely to finish 6th or 7th, trailing the best finishing governor and perhaps someone like Rand Paul.
Mike Huckabee/Rick Santorum
Needs: To win Iowa in a giant upset, bigger than their previous upset wins. Divine intervention.
Odds: Barely visible.
Needs: To finish third. If by some miracle this happened, he might at least become relevant for a few weeks. It’s hard to imagine an actual nomination path, even with an impossible Iowa win. Finishing a surprise third would have a similar effect.
Odds: Seemed microscopic even before Paris. That didn’t help.
Bernie needs to win. Hillary needs to place. O’Malley needs to show.
On the Democratic side, you need 15% at a given caucus site in order to have the vote count. Otherwise it gets distributed among those over the barrier.
As a result, unless he dramatically improves his showing, it’s likely O’Malley winds up with a negligible total on caucus night. If by some miracle this doesn’t happen, he’ll wind up in the 12-18% range statewide, which would get treated as a very big deal.
As I’ve mentioned as nauseum over the past couple weeks, Bernie needs both Iowa and New Hampshire, though in Iowa he can win by a thin margin.
Based on where we are today, Bernie has a 10-25% chance to beat Hillary in Iowa. His progress over the next couple weeks will show us if he really does have a 1 in 4 chance or if 10% was generous.
A solid (10% margin or better) win for Hillary almost clinches the nomination. Winning at all leaves her a remaining clear favorite. Losing a very close race will sting, but they are prepared to handle it. Bernie would still need to do a number of things right to really contend.
If he wins by 8-12 points though, Hillary will really get tested.
Back with more Iowa speculation in a couple/few weeks. That’s the way it was (imagined) today, November 22, 2015.