2016 Republicans, Poll Watch, State of the Race, Uncategorized

Poll Watch: When Narratives Collide

March 8, 2016

If you turn your TV to any of the Super Tuesday 2.0 coverage, between discussing exit polls and waiting for actual returns, the anchors and pundits are talking about a new NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll of the GOP race.

The results are as follows:

Trump 30

Cruz 27

Kasich 22

Rubio 20

It makes for a wonderfully neat narrative. Ted Cruz is closing in on Donald Trump, feeling the effects of rough debates and a more robust anti-Trump ad campaign. John Kasich is ascendant, Marco Rubio is fading into irrelevance.That’s all well and good. It’s quite possible Cruz will have a good night, Trump will struggle to hang on in one or two states, Kasich will finish a very strong second in Michigan, and Rubio will get shut out.

Should that happen, this train of reasoning will move far down the tracks. The only problem is the data they cite shows otherwise.

NBC/WSJ polled a few weeks ago. The new poll was taken from 3/3 to 3/6, the previous one from 2/14 to 2/16. That was right between New Hampshire and South Carolina, two states Trump did well in.

Rubio would go on to finish just ahead of Cruz in South Carolina and Nevada. So that survey was taken in an environment that would strongly favor Trump, and where Rubio had an edge on Cruz.

As I’m typing this, David Gergen is saying on CNN that the new poll is terrible news for Marco Rubio.

Let’s see how each candidate is faring in the new poll, compared to the old one:

Trump +4

Cruz -1

Rubio +3

Kasich +10

Huh?!?!?!?

First off, it’s questionable whether anyone should pay attention to the new poll given how useless the previous one was in showing what would happen over the following couple weeks.

The panel is continuing to talk about how Rubio is done, how his strategy of getting in the mud with Trump was a mistake. Some think he should exit. Again, they’re citing a poll that had Rubio 3 points worse three weeks ago.

The new ABC/Washington Post poll has Rubio at 18%, up from 11% when they last surveyed from January 21 to 24. He’s likely to finish fourth in Michigan tonight, and is hoping to hang on for third in Mississippi.

It’s fair if you feel like asking exactly where these Rubio voters are hiding at the moment. He’s made some progress in Florida, and is in the low 20s in Illinois, so they’re at least there.

He’s not in great shape. Even the campaign says his path to the nomination is through a contested convention. He may suffer from a situation where voters move away from him in the couple days before they actually vote, thinking they need to strategically ally with Cruz or Kasich to stop Trump.

Feel free to build your own scenario for why Marco is doomed. We did earlier today for an entirely different reason. Just don’t use national polls that show him closer to Trump and Cruz than he was in late January or mid February.

Kasich is another story. He’s making legit progress. In NBC/WSJ he went from 11% to 21%. In ABC/WaPo from 2% to 13%. It might be too little, too late. He might split too many of the same voters with Rubio for the two to coexist, but he’s clearly ahead of where he was.

Meanwhile, the Cruz campaign is boasting about closing within a statistical tie of Trump in the NBC/WSJ poll. It’s their job to conveniently overlook his better position three weeks ago. Campaigns are supposed to spin.

The media is completely incapable of disentangling narrative and numerical evidence. It’s up to us to look a bit deeper. Cruz has made noticeable progress in the past week where it counts.

He’s closer to Trump in the delegate race than before March 5, and could get still closer tonight. The Donald is no longer on pace to get to 1237 before the convention. Those stats matter. Those do match the narrative.

Be very, very wary of national polls right now. Check them against the last time the same organization polled. CNN/ORC is the official national poll of the Donald J. Trump campaign. They had him at 49% right before Super Tuesday 1.0.

If they start showing a tight race, take notice. Otherwise stick to the state polls and remain as skeptical of punditry as possible until March 15 gives us more clues. In a little more than 168 hours, we’ll know if we have a 2-way, 3-way, or 4-way race for the GOP nomination.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin taking a close look at polling in each of the five individual states voting next Tuesday.

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