February 29, 2016
CNN/ORC just completed and distributed their monthly national survey of GOP voters. Before we get to the particulars, check this out:
Oops. Ted Cruz likes to talk about how he’s ahead of Trump by 16 points in a head-to-head matchup. If CNN is even somewhat accurate, that doesn’t add up. The world in which he had that edge has passed. Same goes for Marco Rubio.Before we get into figuring out what this all means (beyond The Donald being in great position), a couple of qualifiers. First, this does not mean Trump is approaching 50%. He’s slightly beyond it. He earned more than half the support of voters choosing a candidate.
Second, CNN/ORC surveys favor Trump. He did not reach his final margin in their surveys in any of the first four states. Their methodology does not focus on calling registered voters or likely voters. They dial at random and trust what the respondent tells them.
Having said that, they weren’t off by that much on him in the early states, and were more accurate than many pollsters using traditional methods. In many instances, a CNN national survey foreshadows what others will find a couple/few weeks later.
We also know Trump supporters do know how to locate their polling precinct. Knock this down to 43 to 45 percent if you want, but it’s not the enormous outlier it might look like. It’s the only national poll taken entirely after Nevada voted.
Half was before the last debate, half after. If Trump lost anything post-debate, that would indicate an even bigger support number pre-debate. State polls do not indicate he lost much. Maybe Rubio’s consistent stream of attacks will take effect eventually, but it didn’t happen immediately.
This is the first survey to have Trump beat the entire field combined, but the previous polls had him even with or ahead of Cruz/Rubio combined. Is it time for anti-Trumpists to start preparing a Canadian relocation?
Not exactly, but time is clearly short. CNN asks a bunch of other questions, usually many of them carry-overs from previous surveys. They indicate Trump is finally just about at his ceiling.
If you want to prevent Nominee Trump, the good news is there’s finally a limit, the bad news is that limit is around or just over 50%. It’s not a new, more elevated ceiling. CNN polls have shown the same upper limit for a few months now.
Trump’s early victories have enabled him to use the bandwagon effect to pull those who had mostly positive thoughts aboard. Time for a data dive.
Three months ago, CNN/ORC had Trump at 36% overall. Just looking at the top line number, he’s up 13 points. But he was already at/over 50% on other measures then.
When asked who would best handle the economy, Trump scored 55%. On illegal immigration, 48%. Dealing with ISIS, 46%. The Budget 51%. He was a bit lower on a couple other measures, but the above covers the leading issues for most GOP voters.
There was a definite group of voters who thought The Donald was best on the issues, but still supporting another candidate. At that point, there was a gap between those topics and how well he could execute the job.
He was at 42% at being most effective in handling the country’s problems, and 37% at handling the responsibilities of being commander-in-chief. These ratings were closer to his overall poll number.
Whether he’s worn voters down over the past three months, or others have proven themselves inferior by being unable to stop Trump, his job execution numbers are now up where his individual issue ratings were before.
He’s now at 51% for handling the country’s problems and 48% for commander-in-chief. Both numbers are right where his overall number is. They’ve improved, and there is no gap.
Way back in August, when Trump was at 24% in the overall poll, his ratings on individual issues were already in the mid-40s. If we’d had perfect foresight and only looked at those numbers, it would have clearly shown the possibility of The Donald dominating the field.
Now, all the numbers line up. Support, execution attributes, individual issue ratings. CNN did not ask the battery of individual issue questions this time. They’ve moved so little over the past few months, that I’m taking the liberty of assuming there wasn’t a sudden shift in the past month.
There’s another reason why I’m very confident he hasn’t suddenly moved to 60 or 65 percent support on the economy, budget, ISIS, illegal immigration, or anything else.
Half the party still opposes him.
Trump has done an admirable job winning over those who agreed with him on many things but feared he wasn’t up to the job. They’re sold, at least for now. CNN is asking voters how they would feel about each of the leading contenders getting the nomination.
The specific query asks whether they would definitely, probably, probably not, or definitely not support the candidate in the general election. I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re a Republican and probably or definitely would NOT support the candidate in November, you’re opposed to their nomination.
25% would definitely support Trump. These are the core Trumpists, the same people who were on board early.
27% would probably support Trump. Again, this is in a general election, not just a two-way nomination contest.
Adding this together gives us 52%, the voters who are planning on voting for Trump in the fall, not hoping for a third party choice, etc. He’s already at 49% in the nomination contest. That means he already has the support of almost everybody who would run to the polls for him in November.
13% would probably not support him. Will these voters actually opt for Hillary Clinton? Highly unlikely. Some might stay home, but many would hold their noses and vote Trump.
Side Note: Before you use this to convince yourself Trump couldn’t possibly win a general election, keep in mind Hillary’s numbers among Democrats are not incredibly encouraging (13% probably not, 20% definitely not.)
35% say they definitely would not support him. This is the core anti-Trump group, just over a third of GOP voters who would pick anybody instead in a two-way race. Give them Ben Carson, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, doesn’t matter.
That’s a nationwide number. In some states it’s higher. This creates a bit of a paradox.
Trump is clearly leading. No single candidate comes close to his current support. He gained considerable momentum from his past couple wins. A strong March 15, and it’s mathematically difficult to keep him from acquiring the necessary 1237 delegates before the convention.
Rubio or Cruz would have a very fair shot against Trump in a one-to-one matchup. Let’s go back to the numbers. Remember, they aren’t even in the same time zone in the top-line, multi-candidate matchup.
Definitely + Probably Support in November:
Cruz 69 (35+34)
Rubio 68 (38+31)
Trump 52 (25+27)
Definitely + Probably NOT Support in November:
Trump 48 (35+13)
Cruz 31 (11+20)
Rubio 29 (12+17)
This isn’t even close. Over 2/3 of Republicans could live fairly easily with Cruz or Rubio as the nominee. If you figure the “probably not” voters would come around when presented with Hillary as the alternative, almost 90% could force themselves to vote GOP.
Either Cruz or Rubio could pull the party together based on these numbers. Trump could not. Again, this doesn’t mean The Donald couldn’t win. He could triumph in November by creating a full realignment, but many of those voters don’t get to participate in GOP primaries.
As long as half of Republicans think Trump is best on issues and attributes, he’s got a solid chance of winning even a one-on-one race. It also indicates the other GOP candidates cannot afford to wait until after March 15 to choose an anti-Trump champion.
Having more candidates in the race on March 1 is not a bad thing for the stop Trump forces. Not only was there no reason for Rubio or Cruz to make room for the other until voters can weigh in tomorrow, but with the Super Tuesday map consisting of a bunch of Donald-favorable states, he would have won most if they were head-to-head anyway.
As long as Cruz and Rubio can reach the 15% or 20% threshold for getting delegates in the majority of states tomorrow, Trump will exit the day with fewer delegates than if he had only one opponent.
On March 15, this is different. By then, if Trump’s opponents want to stop him, they’ll need a single great hope. Until then, it’s both fairer and more strategic to let it play out.
Interestingly, for all the angst about how the field is winnowing itself, the path is likely exactly what the numbers indicate is the best way to stop Trump. The Donald may win anyway, he’s a very strong candidate, with an unparalleled ability to manipulate the media.
But there’s no evidence the reluctance of other candidates to abandon the race has anything to do with it yet. Anything Rubio said about Cruz, or Jeb Bush said about Rubio, would have been said more destructively by Trump in a two-person race.
Trump has enough support to win a two-person race, and enough determined opposition to almost guarantee he’ll wind up with a final opponent, even if he virtually sweeps Super Tuesday.
Look for Michigan on March 8 as the final chance for the anti-Trumps to make their case to get chosen as that opponent.