2016 Democrats, 2016 General Election, 2016 Republicans, Poll Watch, State of the Race, Uncategorized

Poll Watch: Episode 17 (General Questions)

December 2, 2015

Quinnipiac has a poll out.  It’s the first national survey to hit the presses since Thanksgiving.  For our over-analytical pleasure, they’ve covered the Republican primary field, Democratic primary field, and pseudo-matchups.  Combined with recent approval rating polling on President Obama, we can reach all sorts of justifiable conclusions.

Let’s start by unpacking a few items that might look a bit contradictory.  Expect to see various opinion makers and interpreters use several of these out of context to help a pre-existing argument.  Consider the following:Hillary Clinton has a 44/51 favorability ratio and a 36/60 trustworthy ratio

Ben Carson has a 40/33 favorability ratio and a 53/34 trustworthy ratio

Marco Rubio has a 37/28 favorability ratio and a 49/33 trustworthy ratio

Ted Cruz has a 33/33 favorability ratio and a 43/39 trustworthy ratio

Donald Trump has a 35/57 favorability ratio and a 35/59 trustworthy ratio

If you just had the above information and were guessing which candidate was ahead in what general election matchup, you would think Hillary leads Trump by a little bit, with similar honesty ratings and a better favorability rating.  Mid-high single digits sounds reasonable.  In fact, she leads him 47/41.  So far, so good.

What about Cruz/Clinton?  That’s a little trickier.  While his numbers are unquestionably better than Trump’s, it’s partially due to voters who don’t have a full opinion yet.  Only 66% of voters know if they like him, but 89% made a choice between him and Hillary.

With 82% of voters having an opinion on his honesty, and Cruz having better numbers, even if the entire batch of unsure voters (18%) wakes up tomorrow thinking he’s a pathological liar, could Clinton possibly do better than a tie?

Yes.  47/42, or just about exactly her numbers against Trump.  How is this mathematically possible?  Actually pretty easily.  It’s improbable there are more than six Americans who like both Clinton and Cruz.  Assume the 44% who approve of Hillary would choose her over Cruz, whether they dislike him or aren’t sure yet.

If a few of those who dislike Clinton are among the 33% who are anti-Ted, they might decide Hillary is the lesser of two evils, especially if they are relatively moderate.  Clinton is running as a progressive, tacking way to the left.  Cruz is in his usual home on the right.  If you’re middle of the road and think she’s lying and he’s not, you pick her, at least for now.

Let’s move on to Rubio.  His numbers are unquestionably good.  His favorability rating is better than any other Republican (+9), in a survey where Trump, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are all -22.  Hillary is -24 on honesty, Rubio is +16.

If two-thirds of the 35% of voters who haven’t decided if they like Marco decide they don’t, he still would have a higher favorability number than Clinton.  Surely, these numbers would indicate the young senator leads the Democratic front runner, if only by a few points.

Nyet.  Clinton 45, Rubio 44.  Conventional wisdom says Rubio would have an easier time next November than Cruz.  He’s more likeable (as shown in the data) and viewed as less overtly manipulative (also backed up in the numbers, though the gap isn’t huge).  Why isn’t this translating yet, is Cruz right that the only path to victory is to go for the ideological jugular?

Answer to follow shortly.

First, we need to look at Dr. Carson.  With the other candidates discussed, his numbers fall neatly in line.  Voters have more of an opinion on him than Cruz and Rubio, though less than Trump.  Logical.  He’s a unique prospect, making him stand out more than any freshman senator, but hasn’t spent 30 years in the national spotlight like Trump.

Clinton leads him 46/43.  Once again, all Hillary supporters are choosing her, as well as a few who are unsure about Carson, but dislike Clinton.  A good amount of voters who think he’s honest and she isn’t, still picked Hillary.

This is different from the Cruz situation where moderates may purposely prefer the person they think is lying about their domestic and social policy positions.  Instead, the debate is whether to pick the candidate you think is not informed enough about foreign policy over the one with a shaky at best track record.

The slight edge goes to the ex-secretary of state.  Why?  Paris and partisanship, both of which are framing the race very differently than when Quinnipiac last released a poll on November 4.  Four weeks ago:

Carson 50, Clinton 41

Rubio 46, Clinton 41

Cruz 46, Clinton 43

Clinton 46, Trump 43

Doesn’t that look closer to what the underlying numbers would suggest now, especially with Carson having a bit better metrics pre-Paris.

At first, the attacks and President Obama’s response were not beneficial to Democrats.  Fox News ran a national poll in the immediate aftermath and even Trump led Clinton.  Much like now, it didn’t really matter which candidate was which compared to her.

Rubio 50, Clinton 42

Carson 47, Clinton 42

Trump 46, Clinton 41

Cruz 45, Clinton 41

Hillary was limited to the voters who will always choose the Democrat, while swing voters split between Republicans and undecided.  Presidential approval ratings dropped to their lowest level since March, with Obama at 40% in the Fox poll and scoring in the very low 40s with Rasmussen, Gallup and others.  His net ranged between -10 and -15.

It’s safe to read this as a temporary reaction that made persuadable voters want to throw the bums out in favor of just about anyone, as there is little in common between the leading Republicans in how they would handle ISIS, Syria, Iraq, et al.

Just over a week later, Obama was back in the high 40s, scoring 50% in a Rasmussen tracking poll.  They run these numbers constantly.  He’s done that well a couple times all year.  What happened?  Two things.  Obama got his voice back and started making things very partisan.  Trump started getting very loud, even for him.

The Republican Party is unpopular.  Donald Trump is unpopular.  Democratic policies are unpopular.  The GOP is winning plenty of state and local elections running against Democratic proposals and legislation.  In a neutral, less partisan environment, Republicans do fine, as the non-Trump candidates did in the early November Quinnipiac poll.

You can argue 10 days of Trump talking about Muslims on 9/11 in New Jersey are directly hurting Rubio.  Combined with Democrats winning the narrative on the Planned Parenthood shooting, establishment Republicans would seem to have a strong argument The Donald is destroying GOP chances.

They are both right and wrong.  Two very conflicting poll answers illustrate this.  Keep in mind, these are the SAME respondents.

Clinton has a good chance of beating the Republican nominee:

63% yes

32% no

Trump has a good chance of beating the Democratic nominee:

46% yes

49% no

So, the same voters think Trump is 50/50ish to win if he gets nominated as think Hillary has a 2/3 chance.  Two easy explanations, both unlikely.  One is some voters think Bernie Sanders could be the nominee, but think he’d have less chance of winning.

Not buying that one.  Few people think Bernie is going to be the nominee and those who do tend to think he’d be a stronger candidate in the fall.  Sanders actually did better than Hillary in all the new pseudo-matchups, and has the highest favorability rating (+13) of anyone in the Quinnipiac poll.

The other is that voters think Trump would do better against Clinton than the average GOP candidate.  Really?  He’d do better than Rubio?  Who besides the biggest Trump diehard thinks this?  They don’t.  So how to square these two numbers?  What if I told you the voters are probably correct on both measures.

The first question was Hillary v. Generic Republican.  When the race is framed that way, her odds are pretty solid.  At the moment, voters are viewing the GOP candidates as interchangeable and she’s winning.  Rubio is the most appealing of the bunch, and that one is a virtual tie.

If the election is a referendum on letting Republicans steer the ship by themselves, Hillary can start planning her Oval Office decorating.  It’s also an argument against finding a traditional establishment candidate, the very definition of a generic Republican.  There isn’t really one in the race, but pining for Mitt Romney is a mistake.

The second question is to Trump or not to Trump.  The public is split.  If you held a firearm to my temple right now and asked me if The Donald has a good chance of winning, I would say 50/50, just like the crowd did.  It assumes he got nominated, over the vociferous objections of the official GOP.

While he’s very unpopular, he’s not much more disliked than Hillary.  Nobody thinks of him as a Republican, just The Donald, for better or worse, usually not in the middle.  There is definitely a solid chance he could make the public hate her even more than him and win.

Hillary v. Generic Republican is a partisan battle in a country where most assume Democrats have an electoral advantage.  Hillary v. Donald is a brawl between two individual brands, both with more detractors than supporters.

When in doubt, assume the voting mob is actually pretty sharp, at least as a combined entity.  At this point, Republican voters should plan on voting for their favorite candidate (or at least type of candidate), without worrying about electability.

Depending on conditions and how well the fall combatants run their campaigns, anything from Hillary semi-narrowly defeating the most-electable Rubio to the often-hated Trump having the best GOP result since 1988 is possible.  Expect a wild ride.

















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