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March 1 Poll Watch: Episode 7 (Up in the Air)

February 28, 2016

Continuing with the final piece of our three part look at Super Tuesday targets….

Part One: Locks for Trump

Part Two: Heavily favors Trump

The Donald is an extreme favorite in three states and a solid to strong favorite in another four. Five more for analysis. He could win all five and wind up with a clean sweep. He could also lose four of the five without going through any mathematical contortions to show how.

Here are some of the most interesting places to watch on Tuesday, in order from most to least likely Trump victories:

Tennessee

Since I started in on this project yesterday, a new NBC/WSJ/Marist poll provided the first data on the Volunteer State since November. As dangerous as it is to put too much on one poll, at a minimum, it lifts the state into the Strongly Favoring Trump bucket.

Trump 40

Cruz 22

Rubio 19

Cruz and Rubio combine for the same support as Trump. Combined with the strong lean towards outsiders in the November poll, when Cruz and Rubio needed to put their results together to match Trump or Carson individually, this has the definite feel of a Trump victory.

The poll was taken prior to the debate, so there’s always the possibility for movement. However, Chuck Todd brought this up today on Meet the Press and indicated they actually attempted to re-survey their sample post-debate.

They apparently reached approximately 30% of initial respondents and saw a move of only one point in Rubio’s direction. If NBC’s polling is accurate, it indicates Rubio isn’t closing as quickly as he hoped and that Cruz is a threat to finish ahead of him in Tennessee.

Back in November, Cruz had a 2 point lead on Rubio, and he spent multiple days campaigning there in late December, so no reason to question this just because it doesn’t conform to the thought that Rubio has surpassed him as Trump’s challenger.

Wyoming

No data. No clue.

This isn’t being counted as a Super Tuesday state, but they are taking a caucus straw poll which will impact the allocation of delegates at the state convention. Not sure why this isn’t “official.”

Colorado was supposed to count for the GOP on March 1, but now does not. That was due to the cancelling of the presidential preference part of the event. Wyoming is apparently stuck in limbo between an Iowa or Nevada which is counted even though delegates are assigned later, and Colorado which is not asking individual voters what they think.

Either way, the voters are apparently weighing in on Tuesday although reports on this are conflicting. You would think this is a yes or no thing. Google 2016 Wyoming GOP caucus and prepare to see nothing concrete.

When in doubt, go with your national frontrunner. See this analysis of Wyoming for plenty of idle speculation.

 

Arkansas

We now reach the first state where Trump is not leading in the most recent poll. There is exactly one survey to look at, taken by Hendrix College on February 4th and 5th. This puts us right between Iowa and New Hampshire, ahead of Rubio’s debate flop.

Cruz 27

Trump 23

Rubio 23

This almost exactly matches the final Iowa caucus results. The problem is we need to estimate how changes in the race since then may have impacted these numbers. Trump clearly has more momentum. Cruz has less.

Rubio lost altitude, then regained some, then got in the brawl with Trump. For whatever it’s worth, and I’m not sure how much, Marco got an endorsement from Governor Asa Hutchinson. The poll indicates he’s widely popular, with 44% very positive, and 30% somewhat positive.

That’s almost exactly equivalent to native son Mike Huckabee who sits at 39 + 29. It’s not like getting the seal of approval from Nikki Haley and Tim Scott in South Carolina, but it can’t hurt.

Ask yourself if Trump would win Iowa if the caucus was held today. If the answer is yes, it makes sense to favor him in Arkansas on Tuesday, particularly if Cruz and Rubio can’t create separation from each other.

Carson was at 11% and Kasich at 4%. There’s no way the Ohio Governor has less support now than before New Hampshire. Carson is doing a good job holding on to any voter still with him as of early February.

This isn’t a state where the top three will get 90% of the vote. Expect them to divide 80 to 85 percent. If someone gets 30%, that will probably suffice, as each of the three contenders has a high floor here.

Unfortunately, Arkansas voted late in 2012, after Rick Santorum suspended his campaign. This removes an important clue. So far, Cruz is showing some linkage between his results and Santorum’s. Mitt Romney got 65% of the vote, but he was effectively unopposed at that point.

This is a coin flip at this point. If you see Trump leading here early, he’s headed for an excellent night. Most of the other states are more clearly favorable to him.

 

Minnesota

This one is even more confusing than Arkansas. The most recent poll is from mid-January, before anyone actually voted. It’s a caucus. Most of the GOP candidates haven’t spent time there lately (one short Rubio visit.)  Bernie Sanders is the big voice on the trail in Minnesota.

It’s one of the few states likely focusing more on the Democratic contest. You wouldn’t normally think of this as a Cruz-friendly state, but Santorum won in 2012. Rand Paul finished second, Mitt Romney third.

Rubio doesn’t show much linkage to anything. Except for New Hampshire, where he was dealing with more contenders in his space and the debate fallout, his numbers are almost identical.

Though Trump is now bashing Romney whenever he can, there is a definite tie between places Romney did well and places turning out for The Donald. He adds the advantage of appealing to Newt Gingrich voters.

That’s how he’s ahead in places like Georgia (where Newt won his home state) and Alabama, which went to Santorum, but Romney and Gingrich combined for a larger share (58/35).

In Minnesota, the Romney/Gingrich team combined for slightly less support than Paul, well less than Santorum. If our single poll from 2016 is even somewhat accurate, the connection continues.

Rubio 23

Cruz 21

Trump 18

The Donald could actually finish third. It squares with the 2012 map, and the poll was taken at a time when Trump was doing well nationally. Mid-January was the point of his maximum lead in neighboring Iowa.

He also doesn’t poll all that well in Wisconsin. He’s leading there, but his high number is 30%. This isn’t a region where Trump is any threat to hit 40% in polls. Nevada showed us Trump can turn out his voters in a caucus state. He still didn’t exceed his polls by much.

While there is no justification for deducting, there’s also no reason to add on, beyond normal adjustments. A full 26% of the support in the January poll went to candidates no longer in the race or undecided. Trump will certainly get his share.

Cruz’s organizational capability never hurts in a caucus state. As disappointing as his Nevada result was, he still managed to finish a couple points ahead of his polling average.

Meanwhile, Rubio may have captured a plurality of the support previously with Jeb Bush or Carly Fiorina. On the other hand, Kasich was a complete non-factor 6 weeks ago and may have cut in to the non-Trump, non-Cruz vote.

Any of the top three could win. Kasich could wind up challenging the top group, or in a distinct lower tier. Of all the states, this one has the most uncertainty. It’s noteworthy that Rubio did not choose to spend much time trying to make this his first win.

Whether that’s part of a larger strategic consideration or his internal polls show him behind, or both, is unknown.

 

Texas

This is the one place where Trump is clearly trailing. The two polls showing him effectively tied with Cruz now look like relative outliers. Cruz is ahead by almost 9 points in the Real Clear Politics average.

With the chips down, Texans are rallying around their senator. Polls showing Rubio challenging for second, or even within striking distance of Cruz also look like outliers. He’s now 9 points behind Trump on average, 50% of Cruz.

Not only does it appear there is no late break to The Donald, but Texas does a lot of early voting. Even if plenty of folks have a change of heart in the voting booth on Tuesday, Ted has a bit of a cushion.

It appears Trump has a firm ceiling in the low 30s. Of the 9 polls taken in February, his high results are 31 and 32. He’s yet to get actual results in excess of his most optimistic polling, though he matched it in Nevada.

Cruz has recent results of 38, 38, and 42. While Trump and Rubio are strong enough to make it difficult for him to reach the 50% +1 in a congressional district, allowing him to sweep the delegates of that district, he appears safe.

A candidate needs to reach 20% to get delegates. Rubio is right on the line. This explains why he’s spent time in Texas after the debate, despite having virtually no chance of winning the state. He needs to make sure he stays over 20% and keeps Cruz under 50%.

Especially if Ted holds on in Texas, the Rubio and Cruz campaigns will measure total delegates and who finished ahead of whom more often on Tuesday.

Analysts have estimated the other candidates need to keep Trump to approximately 40% of the total delegates distributed on Tuesday to prevent him from being on track to collect 1237 before the convention.

Texas, Arkansas, and Minnesota are good bets to keep him limited to 30% or so, though he could easily wind up winning at least one of them. Massachusetts and Vermont are opportunities for The Donald to approach or clear 50%.

He’s in the 40% range so far in Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama. Alaska and Georgia are more of a wild card. He could wind up in the low 30s, he could wind up pretty high. Oklahoma has more upside than his worst states, less chance of hitting 40 than most.

This is a very long way of saying the data is showing Trump is right on that line. A little better day than expected and he’s got a great delegate position. A little worse, and he loses a few states.

Cruz or Rubio could have a better day than the other, or it could wind up a draw. Rubio leads in more states, but Cruz is almost sure to win Texas and has a couple other possibilities, while Rubio just has possibilities.

Any of the places Rubio has a real shot, Cruz does too. The states that are clearly better for Marco are also Trump states, where it’s more likely a distant second, with Cruz trying to finish a close third.

 

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