February 25, 2016
Yesterday, I took advantage of a new Texas poll to build a narrative of a narrowing race. Ted Cruz was sliding, Donald Trump was holding, and Marco Rubio was surging.
This meant Ted was in grave danger and any of the three could win, though there was more chance of Trump using this for a clean Super Tuesday sweep than Rubio as a leverage point to greatly exceed expectations while knocking out his fellow senator.
Either way, it set up plenty of drama heading into tonight’s debate. Well, there’s still drama, but for a somewhat different reason. Several other pollsters released data in the past 24 hours.
All are partially or completely taken after South Carolina. Some include post-Nevada surveys too. They agree completely on Ben Carson and John Kasich. At most, they combine for 14%, at worst 11%. The assumption that 85 to 90 percent of the vote is for the top 3 still holds.
We discussed the Emerson College survey that had Cruz barely ahead of Trump 29/28. Another poll from TEGNA/Survey USA shows 32/32. Nice, clean narrative, right?
Not so much. Emerson has Rubio at 25, TEGNA at 17. Is this a 2-way or 3-way race?
The Austin American-Statesman thinks it’s a 2-person duel. They found 13% support for Rubio. Perhaps Emerson is an outlier. Very possible, though I should point out they were closest on Rubio in Iowa, and slightly underestimated his number in South Carolina.
It’s still a little early to tell if being more accurate in one state means anything in another. Monmouth has Rubio at 21, so there’s a second poll that has him in the 20s. Given that Marco finished between 21 and 25 percent in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada, it’s not ridiculous to think he might do the same in Texas, even with Cruz around.
Unless Rubio has a great debate and Cruz a poor one, it’s a bit harder today to see a Marco victory. That leaves the Trump-Cruz battle. The two polls showing them essentially tied are not the whole picture.
Monmouth: Cruz +15
KTVT-CBS11: Cruz +8
American-Statesman: Cruz +12
Are rumors of Ted’s demise greatly exaggerated? Not sure. If we believe Emerson and TEGNA, Cruz needs to spend part of the next week protecting his home base.
He should hunker down, spend time in neighboring Arkansas and Oklahoma, where he’s doing relatively well (Arkansas is the one other state where he’s leading the most recent poll), and try to make sure to win those three.
If the more optimistic readings are correct, Cruz is fairly safe at home and should spread his wings, making an effort in Tennessee and Alabama too.
Taking 50% in a Texas congressional district gets the full compliment of delegates instead of distributing proportionately. Even the optimistic readings have him in the mid-upper 30s, so there’s still a gap.
Better to give himself a shot at several victories and protecting against Rubio finishing ahead of him in southern states. He’s already ahead of Ted in Georgia, so hitting a wider range of states is necessary for protection.
The Cruz campaign is doing their share of internal polls. If he stays close to home, he believes the pessimistic ones. If you see him outside the Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas trio, he’s thinking he has this one.
Trump has two polling scenarios where he should spend time in Texas, only one where he should point his attention elsewhere. KTVT and the American-Statesman have very clearly delineated positions.
If this is the story, there’s little reason for Trump to stick around. He’s not likely to win, not at risk of finishing third. Better to do a big rally in most of the March 1 states and try to win everywhere else.
If the tied polls are correct, he should stick around and try to finish Ted off, or at least force him to stay there to defend himself.
As great as things look for The Donald, and they do look great, there’s some downside risk. Emerson has him leading Rubio by 3, Monmouth by 2. Marco has closed well everywhere except New Hampshire (for Christie-related reasons).
Normally, Trump has such a large lead on Rubio that it just narrows the margin of defeat. There are a few states where Marco is in range of Trump. The most recent (though ancient) Minnesota poll has Rubio in first.
I’d imagine The Donald doesn’t want to finish third anywhere. If he actually is worried about Rubio, he might spend a little time in Texas and go places like Minnesota and Virginia where Marco could do well.
If he mostly ignores Texas and is in Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee most of the time, he’s trying to block Cruz and figuring he’ll deal with Rubio (if necessary) later.
When the polls are saying different things, the candidates can help us figure out which ones to trust.
The same thing applies to the Democrats. An equal number of recent polls have an equally split result. Hillary is safe either way, but Bernie-friendly polls have the gap at 10 and 16, while Hillary-leaning data is showing 29, 32, 34, 40.
If the pro-Hillary data is correct, not only will she win handily, but will pick up some extra delegate benefit from dominating many of the congressional districts. Democrats are still proportional, but there’s a bonus if she crushes it.
If a campaign believes those numbers, there is no reason to continue to contest Texas. Hillary has it and by a resounding margin. You’ll see the candidates focused almost entirely on Colorado, Minnesota, and Oklahoma, as Hillary tries to hold Bernie to 2 states, while he attempts to stretch to 5.
If you see activity in places like Texas, Tennessee and Virginia, Bernie thinks he can win those 5, plus keep the delegate gap to a minimum elsewhere.