March 23, 2016
Yesterday was not a good day for John Kasich. He wasn’t facing high expectations in Arizona and Utah, but managed to fall short anyway. In Arizona, he got fewer votes than Marco Rubio.
Sure, a ton of Arizonans vote early or absentee, but there’s no set of circumstances where losing to a candidate who dropped out a week prior is ok. Serious contenders don’t get 10% of the vote in a fairly representative state.
In Utah, he finished just ahead of the toxic Donald Trump, more than 50 points behind Ted Cruz. Kasich invested time and money in the state, hoping to make a statement by finishing well ahead of Trump, and perhaps keeping Cruz under the 50% level that allowed one candidate to take all delegates.
Cruz wound up near 70%, Kasich under 20%. While Utah was never the perfect state for the governor, and Mitt Romney recorded a robo-call saying a vote for Kasich was effectively a vote for Trump, it was still disappointing.
If he was trying to convince voters and observers he’s relevant outside of Ohio, yesterday did not help the cause. As such, betting markets are showing him with less than a 5% chance of winning the GOP nomination.
You can rank the five remaining candidates as follows in order of probability in winning their respective nominations:
Hillary Clinton (-17)
Donald Trump (-28)
Ted Cruz (-15)
Bernie Sanders (+13)
John Kasich (+23)
Those numbers in parentheses? The national favorability rating for each candidate in the new Quinnipiac poll. If you aren’t a fan of that one, choose one of the others. The results are essentially similar in all who measure this.
The numbers apply to pseudo-matchups too. Hillary beats Trump. Bernie beats Trump by more. Cruz and Clinton are usually very close. Sanders beats Ted by decent margins. Kasich leads both Democrats, Clinton by more.
The candidate with the best favorability ratings, the one who does best in pseudo-matchups, has the least chance of getting nominated. His standing among the national audience has improved over the past several weeks, but his result in GOP contests hasn’t.
Bernie is more popular than Hillary. He consistently does better in the matchups. He’s made zero progress against her in actual elections. He continues to win where he should, lose where he should, and usually lose where you could potentially envision a win under ideal circumstances.
Both Democrats and Republicans say winning is important. While exit polls used to say Rubio was the favorite of voters interested in electability, more recently those voters are opting for Trump.
Despite the polling, actual voters indicate they think Hillary is more likely to win in the fall. It’s one of the reasons less committed voters often pick her. Who’s right? The voters or the voters?
On the one hand, voters are saying Hillary is more electable. On the other, they’re saying she’s less. Same goes for Trump. The reason is different voters are being asked. Democrats think Hillary is electable. At least some Republicans think Trump is.
But the full national electorate thinks Trump is poison and Hillary highly questionable at best. Betting markets are favoring Hillary over Trump since highly questionable beats poisonous.
It’s possible nobody is wrong.
While Democrats realize Bernie is more popular, they also realize Hillary has dealt with 1000 times more incoming fire. They figure you can’t dent her any further. They (at least those who aren’t crossing over to support Trump) figure Trump is a disaster, and Hillary can stop him.
With her leading him in most matchups, why risk the comparatively untested Bernie? Democratic-leaning Independents feel very differently. They support Sanders when they get to participate in a primary, but at the moment they’re outnumbered.
To them, President Clinton 2.0 isn’t a whole lot better than President Trump. Why not take a chance on Sanders?
Meanwhile, Trump partisans have seen their man take down 14 GOP contenders with the remaining two opponents on the ropes. Given Hillary’s poor favorability ratings, trustworthy numbers, and general unpopularity, is it absurd for them to think she could lose?
If Cruz is hardly guaranteed to win, why jump off the train? For those who want to unify the party around Cruz to stop Trump, his mediocre numbers represent a problem. Those who want to stop Trump at any cost are already with a competitor. Those wanting to avoid Hillary have more questions.
Kasich’s strong electability numbers are recent. Several weeks ago, he was roughly even in national favorability polls, and only occasionally included in them anyway. Even if voters are able to get their minds around John Kasich, General Election Favorite, they’d need to forget about the 30 primaries and caucuses he’s already lost.
He’s broken 20% four times so far. Rubio still has more delegates. So up is down, down is up, and it all makes perfect sense. For understandable reasons, voters of both parties are turning their backs on the candidates who would appear more electable.
For Kasich in particular, this does indicate he would make a strong third party candidate. He’s expressed no willingness to do so, and is increasingly running out of time for ballot access. However, he’s far more plausible than Michael Bloomberg was.
While Sanders would pull disproportionately from Democrats, almost guaranteeing a Republican win, and a Paul Ryan-type candidate (he won’t run, but you get the idea) would likely do the reverse, Kasich would grab votes from the middle out.
That makes him both the perfect candidate for 2016, and exactly what primary voters aren’t looking for. When someone tells you this is an all outsider year, a progressive year, a blue collar year, that primary voters are irrational, whatever, it’s not that simple. The Kasich conundrum proves it.