February 9, 2016
Whatever happens tonight, a few Republican candidates are going to need to decide to advance or retreat. All are indicating they plan to continue, but with the polls open all day, that proves nothing. They have to say this. Chris Christie has 3 events scheduled in South Carolina tomorrow. John Kasich’s plane is ready to leave for the Palmetto State.
Jeb Bush plans on moving forward. Marco Rubio talks about a long path to the nomination. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson are adamant they are staying in. Ted Cruz wasn’t banking on New Hampshire. The Donald is The Donald. You get the idea.
For days, we’ve all speculated about what the New Hampshire vote will mean. Candidates and surrogates argue a given opponent is not ready to compete in South Carolina. Conventional wisdom says the governors are on shaky footing down there. Unfortunately, we know squat.No public pollster has surveyed South Carolina since mid-January. Nevada is shaping up as crucial for Bernie and Hillary. One poll since October, taken over Christmas Weekend. Anything we’d like to assume from the outside is just a thin guess.
Since the last polls in South Carolina, Iowa voted, Rubio roboted. Cruz won, Trump lost. Some of these things matter to voters there, maybe all of them. You can’t isolate the events after the fact. The individual campaigns do their own tracking polls. When the 4th, 5th and 6th place finishers are deciding whether to advance, they are acting on this data.
Christie can’t know if a disappointing finish will doom him in South Carolina, but he did have the ability to see if the last debate caused his support to increase there. Same goes for Jeb. Almost a month ago, he was within reach of Rubio in the Palmetto State. Lindsey Graham had endorsed him.
Then he got clobbered in Iowa. The other and more popular senator, Tim Scott, endorsed Rubio. But now the tide is perhaps turning in his favor. Where does he stand? Is he even with Marco, ahead, behind? The campaign cut a new ad with Bush 43 to play in the state that salvaged his quest back in 2000.
The Bush campaign has some data. They will strategically share this (or have already) with donors, surrogates and other key figures. We have no idea. You can look at a newish poll from Arkansas, taken after Iowa, but before the debate. Jeb and Christie are both at 1%, Kasich at 4%. Cruz (27%), Trump (23%), and Rubio (23%) had almost exactly their numbers from Iowa.
Both Arkansas and South Carolina are red these days. Their state universities wear red. That’s about all they have in common. One state (SC) has plenty of expats from the northeast. The other can sometimes prefer a more populist message. Total guesswork, to the point of having just enough info to cause danger.
Judging this is especially tricky because the campaigns have more information, but also more bias. I’m sure Christie and his team badly want to believe his moment with Rubio was a turning point. This is when the public realizes Marco just can’t handle the task of defeating Hillary. This is when mainstream conservatives turn to Christie, the toughest sounding of the governors.
It sounds great in theory. The limited post-debate polling in New Hampshire doesn’t show a big push for Chris. He claims his tracking polls do. We know he has to say that. But let’s say he gets somewhere between 8 and 10 percent. That’s almost double where he was polling before the debate.
If he’s seeing movement in South Carolina, it makes sense to continue, and hope that his New Hampshire finish doesn’t discourage voters. It gives him one more crack at Marco in the debate this weekend. After all this time, why not persist for a few days?
Some of us will say this is smart. Others will say he’s a latter day Don Quixote. None of us know as much as his campaign. None of us are as biased. This isn’t even the most interesting of the unanswerable questions.
If Bernie holds on in New Hampshire, Nevada takes on an outsized importance. You haven’t heard that much about it yet. Many commentators forget it follows New Hampshire on the Democrats’ schedule. Everyone talks about Hillary’s South Carolina firewall, a place where she has a large (pre-Iowa) polling advantage.
Nevada is a caucus state. Bernie’s team has spent the past couple months furiously trying to catch up on the ground. Hillary had a 20+ point lead in December, but she had a lead that size in an Iowa poll by the same pollster at the same time. For all we know, the contest is already deadlocked.
The assumption is Nevada is tougher for Bernie due to a much larger non-white population. As a result, a win there would dramatically shape perceptions of the race. A Sanders win and you could see a tsunami heading straight towards South Carolina.
On the other hand, perhaps his progress in Iowa was a state following it’s demographic destiny, while Hillary remains ahead by plenty in Nevada. We don’t know. A couple national polls have shown the contest closing significantly. Others show a sizeable gap.
Two recent polls in Michigan give Hillary a large lead. The latest from Arkansas and North Carolina do as well. You can argue that if it’s fairly to semi close nationally, and Hillary is still well ahead (2:1 margin) in some places, Bernie needs to make up for it somewhere. Maybe Nevada is one of those places.
Or you might note the local pollsters for these states are not the same organizations that conducted the national polls. It proves nothing. The vast majority of recent poll information is from New Hampshire. That data becomes worthless in a few hours, except to potentially poke fun at those who took it seriously.
As I wonder whether Bernie will use his speech tonight to pivot toward the voters of Nevada, I have to remember his campaign knows far more than I do about where they stand.
Over the next few days, the balance will shift and we’ll get more regular information from the field. Our (potential) lack of bias will help start closing the information gap with the campaigns. For now it’s not a fair fight. They know something, we know less than nothing.