January 25, 2016
Warning: I find Florida poll numbers very interesting. Probably to an unhealthy extent. In the interests of brevity and keeping you on board for the entire piece, I’m holding several things back for later in the week.
Two Floridians are in the GOP race. One was a very popular two-term governor. The other is ending his first and only Senate term. He’s spent much of that time with more than adequate approval ratings.
Based on the Real Clear Politics average, never mind the slight outlier we’re going to spend some time with in a minute, Donald Trump has almost double the combined support of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
How is this possible? You can see how the two could split their support, leaving room for Trump to top each of them, but how is he more popular than they are at home? If you add in Ted Cruz, the nationwide number two (also running second here), Trump is equal to the three. What makes Florida so Donald-friendly?
He’s competitive in every poll in every state. Though Trump isn’t ahead in every poll, he’s never far behind. That can fool us into thinking his support is even across the country. It’s not. In inland western states he struggles to separate himself from the pack. The Northeast and South are usually his two strongest regions.
The Florida Panhandle is part of the South. South Florida is part of the North (and Latin America). A state including a bunch of southerners along with northeastern expatriates is tailor made for The Donald. What about the heavy Latino population?
Hispanic voters are not all the same. We can’t assume an 8th generation rancher in New Mexico will vote the same as an immigrant from Guatemala in Arizona, a third generation American of Mexican descent in California, or a second generation Cuban-American in Florida.
A wall on the Mexican border, talk of keeping rapists from Mexico out of the country, renegotiating trade deals with Mexico to stop losing to them does not mean the same thing in Florida as it does in Nevada. If Trump starts talking about bombing civilians in Havana, this may change, but don’t expect to hear that.
This means two seemingly contrary things are true. Polls showing many Latino voters can’t stand Trump are true. His poll ratings in California among self-described non-white Hispanics are awful. However, he would get plenty of Latino votes in some states in November, perhaps more than Mitt Romney did.
A Trump path to the presidency would require a higher turnout of disaffected white voters than 2008 or 2012. It would require the best GOP performance with African-Americans in a few decades. But he won’t lose Florida because of Hispanic voters. It’s one of the few states where he consistently runs at least as well as his Republican opponents in pseudo-matchups.
This may not hold, but for now, Trump needs to make the rest of America see him like Florida does. If he gets nominated and loses, the Sunshine State won’t be at fault.
Florida Atlantic University recently released the most Trump-favorable poll yet, giving him 48% while Cruz/Rubio/Bush combined for 37%. It’s a mild outlier, but the cross-tabs and supporting data are detailed, so it’s worth taking a closer look.
Even if you think the numbers are off, keep in mind they are giving the contest the same shape as the other polls and have the main candidates in the same order. If this is inaccurate, it’s only by matter of degree.
55 to 74-year-old voters are extra angry with GOP candidates
FAU asked voters how they felt about a wide range of candidates. They broke the results down by age group and ethnic group (among other things). Would you have expected Jeb to be more popular (less unpopular is more accurate) with Millennials than any other group? If so, congrats. I was borderline shocked.
His breakdown is as follows (whole voter base, not just GOP):
None of this looks good, but the breakdown isn’t what you’d expect. Here are how the others are doing in the 55-74 group:
By comparison, Hillary Clinton is -2. They aren’t thrilled with anyone (Sanders wasn’t measured), but they strongly favor the Democrat. My guess is this age cohort includes a high volume of northeastern refugees, but that’s not enough to explain this in full. Voters over 75 are even more likely to have begun life up north.
Trump is the only Republican surveyed who isn’t absolute poison with Floridians of a Certain Age.
Voters are disappointed in Jeb’s campaign
You’ll notice I said disappointed with his campaign instead of virulently anti-Jeb. His overall statewide favorability rating is -22. That’s pretty awful for your home state. Given his approval rating was in the 60s when he left office a decade ago, it’s a huge drop.
How do we know it’s a bad campaign and not a re-evaluation of his governorship? Hillary is only -11 statewide (no candidate is looking good overall. It’s not just the 55-74 group). If you have one candidate at -11 and another at -22, it’s easy to assume the candidate with the smaller disapproval number would win the pseudo-matchup.
It has nothing to do with undecided voters. Jeb has higher unfavorable and lower favorable numbers. Yet when matched with Hillary, he defeats her. If voters truly disliked Jeb or thought in retrospect he did a poor job, she would finish ahead of him. There is a chunk of pro-Jeb support that is just embarrassed right now.
Ted Cruz has similarly bad favorability numbers, but loses to Hillary in a matchup. Cruz just isn’t popular with Floridians yet unless they are part of his conservative base. He also polls noticeably worse among Latinos than Bush. Among Florida Hispanics, Bush is most popular, then Rubio, then Cruz, with the big gap between Rubio and Cruz.
Voters aren’t thrilled with Marco’s performance either
Rubio’s overall favorability rating is a shaky -14. He’s less unpopular than Bush or Cruz, a little more than Hillary and Trump. The effect isn’t as strong as with Jeb, but again, Rubio is ahead of Hillary in a direct matchup despite having worse favorability numbers.
Jeb does slightly better than Marco, although he would appear worse overall. Marco does slightly better than Trump, although he would appear worse overall. As mentioned above, Cruz keeps this from being a bizarre inverse effect. If favorability ratings were counter-predictive, Ted would lead Hillary by several points instead of trailing her.
The Trump-Hillary matchup winds up close to what their respective favorability ratings would suggest. The Donald comes out slightly ahead, indicating a few voters who dislike them both think he’s the lesser of two evils. This is something he would need to count on nationwide in November.
Until the presidential contest began, Rubio was popular at home, but Bush was a little more popular. It makes sense that a successful two-term governor would outrank a freshman senator.
Jeb’s campaign is universally viewed as a disaster. Rubio’s is more commonly seen as an enigma. Florida voters seem to have measured out their disappointment accordingly. It means that improvements in either of their campaigns between now and the vote on March 15 will be rewarded a bit.
Even running terrible to mediocre isn’t enough to make Florida voters toss them aside for Hillary. If they start making noticeable progress, their numbers will improve. There’s actual proof in previous polling.
When either candidate is making progress nationally (or even in New Hampshire for Jeb), their Florida top-line poll numbers improve. When they are slipping, flagging, or stalled, that shows up too.
Unfortunately for Rubio, in order to win his home state, he needs Jeb out of the way completely. Trump is popular in Florida. It’s not a fluke. Among the three, Marco has the fewest committed supporters. Even if he starts winning a few states, he’d need Jeb to drop out and endorse him in order to have a reasonable shot of overpowering Trump.
Floridians will not flock to him unless he’s on a big winning streak and Jeb is either out, or is an absolute complete total political zombie (way more than now when you can already call him a zombie).
Marco is actually better off focusing on Illinois for March 15. A win there would possibly make up for a home loss.
Hopefully you enjoyed our first Sunshine State sample. More to follow soon.