January 9, 2016
I love polls. That’s probably why this is already the 22nd post specifically focusing on them since August, not counting the 80 or so others that reference them. Polls mean data, and data is fun (for me at least).
However, even more than data, polls mean narrative. This was true even before Donald Trump created a new form of stump speech, one that spends a sizeable amount of time rattling off favorable survey numbers (in fairness, it’s nor hard for him to find them).
Pre-voting polling always matters. It helps donors determine who to shell out for, state, local and national political figures decide who to endorse. Traditionally, the most important function is to set expectations heading into the actual voting.
While it’s good to win, place, or sometimes show in the first contests, the most important measure is often how the candidate does compared to the numbers going in. That’s how Jimmy Carter launched his path to the presidency by finishing second to Undeclared in Iowa back in 1976.
Everyone is selling. The candidates are pitching contributors, voters and media on their viability. The mainstream media needs a narrative that will keep people coming back to read/watch/hear more. So do bloggers, both paid and unpaid.
The contest follows a theme, then it changes and everyone picks up the new one. My major point of pride (at least as it applies to politics) is to catch the wave when it’s pretty far offshore, so that I can sound the alarm bell that it’s coming.
In today’s world, if I’m a few hours to a few days early, It’s worth it for you guys to read me. By only claiming to see things sooner, rather than knowing who will win Iowa or New Hampshire just yet (come back the morning of each vote for the official predictions on that), it’s supposed to give me the ability to reverse myself as needed whenever conditions change.
It’s technically possible I’ll wind up being right twice, even though the posts conflicted a bit. The first one said he was too buried to get nominated or even stick around that long, and that his most likely exit was between New Hampshire and South Carolina. Could still happen.
The second one saw Jeb making progress in New Hampshire and figured if nothing else he would seriously impact the Granite State outcome, even if he was still a definite underdog to win. That one looks pretty darn good three weeks later.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that I can’t do anything to drive or control the national (or even local New Hampshire) narrative on a given candidate. At best I can predict it, and will claim to have done so correctly on Jeb both times.
But there are others with a far larger audience who do have a strong influence on the narrative. When the data is close, and the race is very competitive, that narrative can take on outsized importance.
A couple days ago, after the first post-Xmas, post-New Year New Hampshire poll, we took a look at what the data was showing. It’s a full house. Trump is leading by any reasonable measure, but you could argue Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Jeb, and John Kasich could finish in any order.
Though Trump is the favorite, you could make the math work to put one of the others ahead of him too, if a few things break against The Donald in the next month and another candidate can consolidate some support.
Anyway, it’s a damn tight race, at least for second, and unlike a month or two ago, there’s a fairly equal split between insurgent and establishment support, further increasing the range of possible outcomes.
Not only is this very neat from a paying way too much attention to this on a daily basis standpoint, but it creates a big range of true things you can say depending on which narrative sounds good.
Two more polls quickly followed the PPP one that served as basis for my analysis, one from Fox News, the other from NH1/Reach Communications. It’s a good cross-section. PPP is Democrat-affiliated, Reach partners with Republicans. Fox is a national news organization, NH1, local.
PPP gave favorability numbers. PPP and Fox News listed second choices. NH1 focused on separating registered Republicans from Independents. If you look at all three polls, you’ll find a definite consensus. There are no real outliers.
I believe each of the following statements are true:
Donald Trump does better with Independents than registered Republicans. The more Independents choose the GOP primary, the better for The Donald.
Trump is leading. He’s ahead with practically every measureable group.
Ted Cruz is positioned very well.
So is Marco Rubio, who still has every possibility of winning New Hampshire or at least finishing ahead of everyone except Trump. He could also finish sixth, though I would bet against it.
Jeb Bush has made definite progress in the last 4-6 weeks and is still on an upward trend. He could also win New Hampshire or finish sixth.
Chris Christie is still very much in contention. However, he’s plateaued over the past couple weeks. Jeb has more momentum than he does as of today.
John Kasich could very easily finish second, but he’s in the worst position of the six, both inside and outside of New Hampshire.
The underlying data backs each of these things up. It also creates opportunity for mischief. With only a month to go before New Hampshire votes (3 weeks in Iowa), we’re getting closer and closer to having the narrative that voters go to vote with.
At least a couple of the candidates will see their chances of being nominated end in New Hampshire. The contest is absurdly close for now. The slightest variable could shift things noticeably. One candidate could move way in front of another, based purely on perception.
I grant you, that’s sort of what politics is. There’s nothing inherently unfair about this. You can look back at what each of them did and see how it didn’t need to come to this. Still, it’s interesting to see what winds up catching on as the narrative.
After all, you can say each of the following and have absolute data evidence:
Trump is surging.
Trump has a small and vulnerable lead.
In the NH1 poll, he’s 20 points up on anyone else and has almost triple the first choice support.
In the PPP poll, he’s barely ahead of Rubio and Cruz when you add together first and second choice, which is more predictive at this point.
Cruz has the most upside of any candidate.
Cruz could finish second in Iowa, sixth in New Hampshire and be sinking heading in to South Carolina.
He needs to finish first or second in New Hampshire less than any of the others, yet is just as likely to as anyone except Trump. He did very well in both polls that measured second choices.
It’s not hard to see how he could finish second in Iowa, Trump is close in several polls. Meanwhile, as the current leader there, one of the NH polls has him tied for fifth, another has him in fifth, one point ahead of sixth. What if he has negative momentum heading in?
Rubio is the clear leader among the Trump alternatives and could upset him.
Rubio could fall flat on his face and finish behind all 3 governors, imperiling his entire candidacy.
He’s at 15% and second place in two of the polls, with a high favorability rating in the poll that measured it. He’s also a strong second choice option for many.
The NH1 poll has him in sixth. He pulls less than 7% support among Independents. If they turn out in large numbers, he could find himself very embarrassed. Jeb is ahead of him in this poll among both registered Republicans and Independents, the first time he’s had a noticeable lead on Marco anywhere in months.
Jeb is now tied for second! His hard work is paying off. Among registered Republicans he’s only 12 points behind Trump. At the rate he’s going, he might be able to at least say he won Republicans in NH.
Jeb still has the lowest favorability ratings of any of the New Hampshire contenders. Outside of the Granite State he’s doing even worse.
Plus he has three debates before New Hampshire votes. Last time he was noticeably better, yet still not as good as many of the others. Any further improvement will get people to give him another look and add to the momentum argument.
If he face plants again, particularly as his numbers give candidates not named Trump a reason to go after him, he’s back down the pole in two blinks.
That Christie has a real shot. His favorables are good and even Trump voters like him. If they get cold feet on The Donald, he could win.
Christie had his moment in the sun. Once the others started hitting him, he stalled. Will be lucky to finish ahead of Jeb or Kasich.
He’s within reach of second in two polls and is more popular than Trump.
He also pulled 5% in the third poll. Not exactly in line with the guy the national press has talked up for a couple/few weeks now.
But yet in the bad poll, he was the second choice of another 14%, so if you take that into account, it was the same result as most of the others.
Kasich is tied for second! He would get more bounce out of a surprise win or second place finish than anyone. Remember, Hillary doesn’t want to face him.
Kasich is dying in Iowa. That won’t help his pre-New Hampshire momentum. When you add second place choices in, he trails the others, so less upside.
Let’s see which of these stick. Nobody has to lie to turn any of the above into a talking point.
Especially if he has a decent debate Thursday, the Jeb Comeback! is probably irresistible.