March 13, 2016
Donald Trump’s worst poll result this month is 36%. Marco Rubio’s best poll result is 31%. That’s not ideal for anyone hoping Trump loses or Rubio wins. Unlike the Democrats side of things, Republican polling has proven very accurate.
There’s no reason to expect a Michigan-sized mistake here. With only a couple of days to go and a large portion of votes already in from both absentee and early voting, a 5 point gap is about the maximum amount Rubio could possibly make up.
He’s a sitting senator. Trump is a long-time, part-time resident, with plenty of in-state investments and universal name recognition. It’s not like there are a ton of things Floridians still need to learn about the pair.
Tons of negative ads have dropped in the past days and weeks. Some from the campaigns, many from PACs. The final debate is in the rear view mirror. Any impact from that would show up in polls taken over the past couple days.
Twelve different organizations have March polls listed by Real Clear Politics. That’s plenty of range. It includes folks who poll nationally and in other states like CNN/ORC, Fox News, Monmouth, and Quinnipiac. There are partisan pollsters like Trafalgar (R) and PPP (D).
We’ve got Florida newspapers, and TV stations, and universities. The only thing we’re missing is a tracking poll. None of them have polled more than once since Super Tuesday, but several of the local contributors have taken semi-regular measurements over the past few months.
Between those and how the national organizations have over or under-estimated Trump elsewhere, we can get a pretty clean read on things. While we can’t prove he’s gaining or losing support this week, it’s easy to see if he’s given up any ground since last month or last year.
As I mentioned above, the best result for Rubio is about the minimum current placement he can get away with. Ideally, this isn’t too far away from the average, and he’s showing positive momentum.
The worst scenario is no progress, and the better poll numbers being an outlier of sorts.
Here’s what we’ve got for March (from oldest to newest poll):
Trump: 38, 40, 36, 38, 45, 42, 43, 36, 42, 43, 36, 44
Rubio: 31, 24, 24, 30, 22, 22, 20, 27, 23, 24, 30, 21
Cruz: 19, 19, 16, 17, 18, 17, 16, 19, 21, 21, 17, 21
Kasich: 4, 5, 9, 10, 8, 10, 10, 10, 11, 10, 8, 9
That is not what momentum looks like. The only person clearly ahead of where they started is John Kasich.
If you are trying to make the case Rubio is going the wrong way, you’ll point out he trailed Trump by 7 in the oldest survey and is 23 behind in the newest. You’ll say he was 12 ahead of Cruz before and tied now.
All true. Also possibly meaningless. There are two polling scenarios. In one, Trump is in the 40s, Rubio in the low 20s, Cruz nearby. In the other, Trump is in the high 30s, Rubio around 30, and Cruz a clear third.
Both versions keep cropping up. Rubio’s second best result is the second most recent. There is absolutely no momentum to speak of, but he isn’t necessarily going the wrong way either.
Not exactly the most hopeful words for Team Rubio.
If there wasn’t momentum, perhaps something in the underlying data in one or more of the twelve surveys would give us a reason to watch Florida on Tuesday. So I started digging.
After some searching, I found something completely illogical. A poll has Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders 50/45 among voters between the ages of 18 and 34. Think I’m calling bullshit on that one.
Back to Rubio. I can’t find anything to show he has a bunch of extra space for growth. There are polls that show he’s the most common second choice. Unfortunately, those are the polls that have him trailing by 15 plus points.
One survey (from Florida Atlantic University) had Trump leading with Hispanic voters 37/34. This isn’t the first time they’ve found this. Other polls disagree. Rubio leads another by as much as 62/14. He’s ahead with women 37/24 in the same survey.
Don’t get too excited. Even leading by almost 50 points with Latinos and 13 points with women, Rubio still trailed by a few points.
What about favorability? That’s often a sign of potential. Granted, it’s normally something you look at a couple/few weeks before the vote, something of more interest when the candidates aren’t quite as well known to the electorate.
Nothing doing there either. Rubio has about the same numbers in each survey that measures this. He’s 60/30 in most cases. Voters feel almost exactly the same about Cruz. The most popular candidate is actually John Kasich. I’m thinking this isn’t particularly helpful.
Trump is the least popular of the four, even in surveys where he’s clearly leading overall. As always, the issue is the majority of voters who approve of Donald Trump also support him as their first choice.
What about strategic voting? Rubio may already find himself benefitting almost as much as possible. A poll from the University of North Florida did a matrix to show who supporters of each candidate liked best as a second choice.
For Cruz voters, Rubio was the favorite next option, but Trump would get one vote for each two of Marco’s. It’s some help, but if Rubio is trailing by 6 points (a generous assessment), Cruz would need to give up 18 points (12 for Marco, 6 for The Donald) to get them even.
That’s also almost the full amount of Ted’s average support. As much as it looks like he’s keeping Rubio from catching up, that’s probably not actually true. It also doesn’t help that in the couple polls that asked about a one-on-one scenario, Trump narrowly led Rubio.
Kasich voters were just as likely to prefer Trump as a second choice as Rubio, so he’s not the problem either. Even if all Kasich supporters who like Trump decided to stay with the governor, and all who like Rubio ditched to him for strategic reasons, it still wouldn’t close the gap.
This was a long journey back to where we started. Trump is ahead. Only the more favorable polls show Rubio close enough to wonder what will happen on Tuesday. He’s only going to catch up by taking some voters directly from Trump.
In any poll where Cruz has enough votes for Rubio to grab, Marco is too far behind to take advantage of the opportunity. Any plausible victory scenario involves his constituents waking up Tuesday morning feeling very nostalgic, possessive, or otherwise warm towards their junior senator.
If the friendly polls are right and he gets at least 50% of the currently undecided and late deciding voters, plus pulls a few Trump leaners, he can win 38/36 or 37/35 or something.
To put this in perspective, his odds of catching Trump are better than Cruz and Kasich’s in Michigan where they fell short, but worse than Cruz’s odds in Iowa or Oklahoma where he actually did.
This would qualify as the biggest upset so far on the GOP side.