February 10, 2016
We have no data today. All South Carolina GOP polls pre-date Iowa, making them next to useless. It’s possible to make an informed guess on what they will show, but that’s not my job. Same thing applies to the Democrats, but with Nevada in the way, we’ll deal with them separately and concentrate on the Republicans here.
Plan on three distinct rounds of polling, each of which should be read differently.Round 1 (After New Hampshire/Before SC Debate): Many organizations will begin polling today. Some will do a single day and release results Thursday morning, others will poll multi-day and begin putting the word out Thursday night/Friday morning. By the time the debate begins on Saturday night, we’ll have several surveys to sift through.
Donald Trump has proven very durable. Even in Iowa, he lost a few points at the end, not an immense amount of support. Ted Cruz can grind out a couple extra points on the ground, not 10, especially in an open primary state.
Pay attention to the gap between the two. A margin over 10 points for The Donald is going to be tough to overcome. Ted would almost need to take him down in the debate.
If Kasich is at 4%, he didn’t get much of a bump from his second place “victory” and has his work cut out for him. Though he’s done better in recent debates, it’s not his best format. He did well over time in New Hampshire, but obviously doesn’t have any here. Avoiding embarrassment becomes the operative goal.
Previous polling showed Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio pretty close together. Given what Rubio’s past few days were like, any strong scenario for Bush should show a gap. Despite intermittent talk of momentum, Jeb didn’t close that strong in New Hampshire. He wound up about where his immediate post-Iowa polls indicated.
We’ll find out very quickly if Ben Carson is a factor or not. Either his polls are still in the 8-11% range or he’s a relative asterisk. If Carson is at 4% and Cruz is trailing Trump by 10%, it’s a hard climb for Ted. If he’s at 10%, Carson supporters have a reason to hang in.
Round 2 (After SC Debate/Before Final Push): Tracking polls released next Monday (1/15) will combine pre/post debate numbers. By Tuesday, the data will mostly reflect the after debate buzz. Regular polls released in the Tuesday/Wednesday range will have a similar sample.
If Rubio is going to shake off his catastrophe, we’ll see results here. Not necessarily on the top line. Remember, Marco’s supporters (and potential supporters) are the least committed. The thing to look for is if he’s back to being a popular second choice and his favorable numbers look better than in the first round of polls.
If he pulls himself back into consideration, it gives him the ability to close strong as he did in Iowa and benefit from the mistakes of others. With a small base, lack of momentum coming out of the debate likely results in his collapse becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We’ll want to see if Trump or Cruz are moving closer together or further apart. It normally takes The Donald 2 to 3 days to flip the narrative. If things are going against him, either drifting too far away or having Ted pull too close, he’ll pull the trigger on something to try to block out the sun.
This round will show pretty clearly if Kasich is building momentum in the Palmetto State or is just trying to hold on to whatever he got there with. Given how New Hampshire went, if the gap between Kasich and Bush is close, that’s a very bad sign for Jeb.
Debates are not Ben Carson’s friend. Whatever support he has at this stage should hold.
Round 3 (Final Polls/Tracking Polls): With several candidates in the race, there’s potential for volatility. However, there are limits. Nobody has yet exceeded their most optimistic polling. Kasich hit his better numbers in New Hampshire, but didn’t exceed them. Same for Cruz and Rubio in Iowa.
A two-person race moves quicker. If Bernie is trailing Hillary by 20 points somewhere, all he needs to do is steal 10 points and they’re tied. Each vote for him is one she loses. That’s how he won by so much yesterday.
Technically, Independents had more of a choice, but you get the idea. South Carolina is completely open. Democrats can vote in the GOP race or vice versa. However, they are on different dates, so you won’t have people deciding between Hillary and Kasich in the polling precinct.
If moderate to conservative Democrats are souring on the leftward tilt of their contest, it should show up in the polls by this point. If you’re wondering why Kasich thinks he can get somewhere in a Republican primary with a non-partisan message, these numbers will confirm his strategy or your skepticism.
If Rubio properly addressed concerns in the debate, you should start seeing signs of upward top line movement from him. He overlaps so many candidates that locating where the new support is coming from is near impossible. Whatever his trend line is 1 to 3 days out from the vote will magnify on primary day.
Who it will help or hurt won’t become fully apparent until the votes are in.
That’s our rough outline for South Carolina Week. We’ll provide at least one update during each of the rounds, comparing the results against the contest framework.