January 20, 2016
Exactly one year from today, a new President of the United States gets inaugurated. For the first time since early-mid-summer, there’s a mathematical possibility John Kasich is taking that oath. Before anyone gets too carried away, I said chance, not likelihood.
Still, he just put up a big, fat 20% in the new ARG New Hampshire poll. Donald Trump joined the race on June 16. Real Clear Politics lists 38 New Hampshire polls taken between then and the new ARG poll. Guess how many non-Trump candidates won 20% support?
That’s right. None. Zero. Nil. Jeb Bush led with 21% in the last pre-Trump poll taken by Gravis Marketing in very early June. Marco Rubio never got there. Ben Carson, even when leading nationally, never got there. Ted Cruz, averaging close to 20% nationally, nope, not even close. Chris Christie, the guy supposedly showing all kinds of Granite State momentum topped out at 12% a couple weeks ago.
Given that Kasich finished tied for second (once with Cruz, the other with Rubio) in the two polls taken right before the debate, this is part of a larger trend. He just got another boost post-debate. I did not see this coming.
Two weeks ago, he was arguably in the sixth best position among the New Hampshire contestants. Trump led (as he still does now, ARG has him at 27%), Rubio and Cruz were far ahead when counting in second choices. Christie was marginally ahead with both first and second choices and had higher favorability ratings. Jeb was slightly ahead, and exhibiting more momentum.
There’s a clear shift here. As usual, there are a couple of questions. The first is why New Hampshire voters have begun favoring Kasich over the other choices. He’s spent the past several months there, as has Christie. Jeb moved in after Thanksgiving. Why are they now on board and will they stay on board?
The second question set involves transferability. If he’s succeeded in cracking the New Hampshire code, if I was wrong about his campaign Svengali, and John Weaver is going to repeat his 2000 John McCain feat instead of his 2012 Jon Huntsman grease fire, are voters anywhere else going to buy?
Unfortunately, ARG hasn’t given us a ton of sub-data to work with. We don’t know who the voters have as second choices right now. We don’t know if Kasich has joined Rubio, Cruz, Christie and Carly Fiorina as largely popular with New Hampshire voters.
We do know a few things though. Kasich didn’t get the extra voters from Trump, who is actually up over his past two ARG results of 25% (a week prior) and 21% (December). This makes sense. Previous surveys from other pollsters indicated he’s not an option for the vast majority of Trump supporters. Their tone is so different it’s hard to see many considering them both in a primary.
Cruz is at the same 9% ARG had him at pre-debate (10% in December), so the voters weren’t pilfered there. Given Ted’s base of strongly conservative voters and Kasich’s comparative moderation, no surprise. We can safely assume the two candidates will continue to have virtually no effect on each other.
Jeb scores 8%, just like last week and up 1 point from December. You can definitely see how a voter would cross-shop these two, but it hasn’t happened yet. When making a case for Kasich hauling down Trump and actually winning New Hampshire, you would say a few Bush voters would lose hope and transfer governors.
Ben Carson has collapsed (though not in some other states, where he’s still impacting the race). Down to 6% in December, he was at 2% last week and still languishes there. It’s hard to see overlap between Kasich and the Doctor. Even if there is, he had no remaining voters to take, so that’s not the answer.
Christie is contributing a few voters and has the potential to donate more if some of his adherents decide to consolidate around a non-Trump, non-Cruz choice. He was at 12% in December, 10% pre-debate. Now ARG has him at 9%. Not a huge move, not outside the margin of error, but his stall has helped Christie. Non-ARG polls show the same mild shift from Christie to Kasich over the past couple of weeks.
Carly Fiorina may have assisted too. She moved backwards from 5% to 3% to 2% over the last 3 ARG surveys. Though she remains popular with Republicans, moving to the undercard last week was just the latest signal that she’s not particularly viable right now.
Though she began as an outsider/insurgent candidate, polling evidence over the past several weeks indicated her remaining support was predominantly with mainstream voters. Kasich almost definitely has benefitted, but not much more to take.
Then there’s Marco. A couple of weeks ago, Rubio began a noticeable strategic shift in tone. For all of 2015, he was the optimistic, hopeful candidate, the guy talking about a New American Century. He was a noticeably sunnier version of Cruz, and antidote to Trump, more vibrant than Jeb, more fluent than Kasich, less negative than Christie.
It worked for him. His overall favorability was high. No, it didn’t give him universal ownership of the mainstream lane, but he was ahead there. His campaign continued to preach patience, that he wasn’t worried about winning Iowa or New Hampshire.
Yet he still changed verbal course. He still sounds like Marco Rubio, but a more attacking version, one who blames President Obama for virtually everything and warns Hillary Clinton will keep it this way or worse. It seemed like a logical adjustment. He’ll need Cruz and Trump voters to unify the party, and more than a few of them to get nominated. Approximately four Republicans are fans of Obama and Hillary.
I think I’ve written recently about Rubio needing to show voters he’s tough enough to win in the fall and do the job. However, he’s abandoned some turf to Kasich in the process, a risk I hadn’t really considered. Even in a grumpy, insurgent season, there are still some voters who prefer an optimistic candidate.
Though Kasich doesn’t sound like Rubio, his message is mostly positive. He constantly talks about how he’s done it before and will do it again. I want to shoot myself each time he goes back to the well and talks about balancing the budget in D.C. and creating jobs in Ohio, but it’s still a positive (if drone-like) message.
Rubio was at 15% in December, 14% pre-debate, but fell to 10% right after. Nationwide, few thought Kasich did better on Thursday night, but New Hampshire begs to differ. Tied in the pre-debate ARG poll, Kasich has double his support today.
This might seem odd on the surface, but overall, Rubio has done best with older voters. The 44-year-old scores better with voters 65 and over than any other age group. He does relatively poorly with the youngest surveyed. Except in the new ARG poll, where he’s at 12% among voters 18 to 49 and only 9% with voters 50 and northward.
Kasich is at 16% with the younger batch, and 23% with the older. I can’t seem to locate where ARG had them previously, but I’m really comfortable guessing that the change is almost entirely with voters 50 and up, most likely mostly those who are at least 65. Voters with grandchildren care about the future and want some hope.
Unless he collapses in Iowa, Rubio is probably close to his floor in New Hampshire. Expecting him to drop much below 10% is probably a mistake, and if he does, those are probably (based on previous polling from PPP) who are cross-shopping him with Cruz, not one of the governors.
Now that we have a solid guess on how Kasich improved his position, it’s time to see if he can sustain it, or perhaps even win the primary. It appears ARG is a Kasich-friendly pollster. They didn’t survey New Hampshire before December, but his 13% then was higher than he got anywhere else. It may be they were on to something first, but this is probably a favorable estimate of his current strength.
The underlying numbers aren’t bad. He’s 19% with Republicans, 21% with Undeclared. Close enough for him not to care that much how many Independents vote in the GOP primary and how many weigh in on Bernie v. Hillary. Kasich is 19% with men, 22% with women. No huge gender gap, and women turn out more frequently anyway.
He’s 20% with landline voters, 19% with cell phone respondents. This means we don’t need to worry about bias due to method of telephony. There are only two noticeable (listed) splits. Age, as mentioned above, where he’s doing better with older voters 23%/16%, and likelihood of voting.
Among definite voters, he’s at 22%, only trailing Trump by 2 points. With voters who instead said they were probable, Kasich has 11%, while Trump has 39%. If you want a good result on voting day, doing better with definite, older, female voters is a great place to start.
He’s benefitted tremendously from other mainstream candidates attacking each other. Rubio and Christie have consistently pushed back and forth. Jeb’s PAC has spent quite a bit of money impugning Marco. Of the four, Kasich, seen as an underdog, has received the least fire. This will change over the remaining couple weeks.
It’s not an easy target, at least in New Hampshire, among governor-considering voters. Expanding Obamacare access/dependency in Ohio is the go to apostasy. Christie isn’t going to have an easy time playing Compare the Record. When your argument is “but I had to deal with a blue legislature and you didn’t,” your cards are weak.
Jeb can’t hit him on Common Core or moderation on immigration. That leaves Obamacare, something Kasich is defiant in defending himself on. Taking a few hits might prompt a momentum stall, but it’s hard to see this devastating his support. I want to see a couple more polls over the next few days before I declare him the clear non-Trump leader, but Kasich is well positioned right now, if possibly peaking a few days too early.
Let’s assume he finishes no worse than second. Continuing the scenario, let’s stipulate Cruz is third and Rubio, Christie and Bush are in a knot, with none over 10%. This would end the Christie candidacy, but Rubio would definitely persist, having finished well ahead of Kasich in Iowa. It also looks like Jeb isn’t going anywhere, evidence of non-viability to the contrary.
What chance would a victorious, or strong-second Kasich have in South Carolina? In 2012, Huntsman finished third in New Hampshire. It wasn’t good enough and he quickly faded out of the race. This is better than that, but by how much?
I haven’t detected much in his debate performance that will appeal to GOP voters in most March 1 states or the March 15 states outside of Ohio. There’s also no indication in polling, where he’s consistently in low single-digits and has shaky-at-best favorability. He assumes a bump from a strong New Hampshire win will help. I’m sure this is true, but it’s impossible (for now) to guess how much.
Kasich would basically need to hang around for another few weeks, scoring very modestly in the votes until March 15. On that date, he could win his winner-take-all home state, while Bush and Rubio (if both are still around) would find themselves mortally wounded if Trump finished well ahead of them (as he currently is).
If the establishment-certified competition finally exited just as the remaining contests moved toward bluer states, he’d have a chance of at least locking up enough delegates to make things interesting at the convention.
This is still very theoretical and the equivalent of pulling an inside straight by getting exactly the right three draw cards, but it’s a path, if one difficult to access. At least he’s clearly moving in the right direction. Rubio is looking weak, Jeb like a spoiler, and Christie has gone from rising underdog to dangerously close to extinction in two weeks.
Kasich is going to have his moment. Let’s see what he does with it.
UPDATE: When Polls Collide
A new CNN/WMUR poll, taken between 1/13 and 1/18 (ARG was 1/15 to 1/18) is out. Kasich is at 6%. To say the polls conflict is an understatement. There’s no New Hampshire equivalent of Ann Selzer’s Iowa poll, a gold standard to weigh alternative scenarios against.
Kasich’s result here is his worst since the last CNN/WMUR poll, when he drew 7%. If this version of events proves out, Rubio, and Jeb, who finds himself ahead of the other governors, will advance, while Kasich and Christie exit. Neither poll helps the New Jersey boss, as he’s at 6% here.
While Kasich can argue this is an outlier, Christie can’t. He’s clearly lost momentum and is in a minor free fall. CNN provides favorability numbers, and he’s lost more ground than anyone since their last poll, now showing net negative in New Hampshire after some incoming fire from Rubio and other candidates.