April 24, 2016
Ted Cruz needs Indiana. We’ve become a bit fixated on this topic the past couple days. If Donald Trump wins, California is the only thing standing between him and 1237 delegates, or at least getting so close that winning over a few delegates (and only a few) would get him a first ballot victory.
Beyond the clearly Cruz-friendly contests in Nebraska, Montana, and South Dakota, Indiana is his next best opportunity. If he can’t win here, not only is Trump better than 50/50 to win on the first ballot, but the justification for picking Cruz on a second, third, fourth, etc. ballot diminishes.
Either some delegates will think he’s too far away from victory to risk angering the Trumpists, or will figure as long as they are crossing the Rubicon, might as well opt for Kasich or a candidate to be named later. If the Ohio governor/punch line finishes ahead of Cruz in each (or even most) of the April 26 contests, Ted is one Indiana result short of formally joining the losers club.
Assuming you’re properly convinced of the importance of Indiana, time to look at the two new surveys:
Our entries are from Fox News and WTHR/HPI. The results are similar. Trump leads by 8 points in one, 6 points in the other. Kasich is in his traditional (outside of the Northeast/Mid Atlantic) third place position.
These are our only two public data points. No polls were taken previously. None. Respondents were contacted between 4/18 and 4/21, so approximately half before the New York results (polls closed and race was called for Trump at 9pm on 4/19) and half after. Neither of the surveys broke out before/after results.
A couple days ago, results of a couple internal polls leaked out. The results are apparently similar. A close race with a mild advantage for Trump. These two give him an average of 39% (41 and 37 respectively). Indiana is bordered by Illinois (39% result), Kentucky (36%), Ohio (36%), and Michigan (37%). Kinda seems in the ballpark, right?
Marco Rubio participated in those contests. If you figure the majority of his voters went elsewhere and assign a small percentage to Trump, the Indiana poll numbers are an exact average of his results across each border. The polls are likely accurate.
Can Cruz win? Sure. Trump is right on the line. If the 37% poll number is more correct, and all but the most devoted Kasich supporters (usually around 15% of the voters) move to Ted, he can wind up in the low-mid 40s and win. Even if Trump picked up a small share of the 10% of voters who are listed as undecided, Cruz could still win very narrowly.
A good amount of the delegates are assigned statewide. He’d grab those, plus at least a fair share of the congressional district delegates. The Loser Ted narrative would stop, and he’d injure Trump’s chances of getting to 1237 without some help from uncommitted delegates on the first ballot.
The problem is that’s only one of several scenarios. Another equally likely one is the 41% for Trump is more accurate. Combine that with a few voters abandoning Cruz after some bad April 26 results, a few to Trump, a few to Kasich, and undecided voters splitting fairly equally among the candidates, and all of a sudden Trump is at 45%, wins easily and becomes the presumptive nominee in more than his own rhetoric.
When Fox News combined first and second choices, Cruz and Trump were effectively tied. Only 59% of Kasich voters are committed to their candidate. If he has the same retention issues as Wisconsin, Cruz could close most of the gap with defectors.
He’s not starting from the same point as in Wisconsin. Ten days out, he was leading Trump narrowly. When Kasich voters migrated, and undecideds picked Cruz, he wound up with a double digit win. In this case, he needs both things to happen to get a narrow win.
In Wisconsin, he was coming off mixed results in the most recent elections. Arizona was strong for Trump, Utah very strong for Cruz. Here he faces a potentially disappointing April 26th election night, following a wretched New York result. There aren’t any remaining Wyoming, Colorado, or North Dakota-style state conventions to give him a victory.
Wisconsin was getting polled constantly by this stage of the contest. Improving numbers helped Scott Walker decide to throw in with Cruz. Already he’s having more trouble consolidating support among elected officials in Indiana. It would help if polls gave him momentum, but there’s no indication we’ll see the same volume of surveys. Even if Cruz were to make progress, we might not notice.
Another issue is Ted’s overall popularity level with GOP voters. When Fox News asked how they would feel about a Trump/Clinton matchup, 67% said they would be satisfied voting for one or the other. Given a Cruz/Clinton choice, only 62% were content. They didn’t think Kasich was worth asking about.
WTHR/HPI measured overall favorability. Among Republicans, Trump is +16, Cruz is +16. As usual, Kasich is actually the candidate with the best ratings. He’s +25. As usual, it’s due to lack of dislike. The candidates have similar positive ratings (Trump 56%, Cruz 54%, Kasich 52%), but many fewer think negatively of him.
Lack of dislike isn’t usually a motivation for primary votes. That’s among the reasons why Kasich is stalled. When he’s matched up against Hillary he does fine, since well over 50% of the public dislikes her. Unsure beats negative, but isn’t great for getting nominated.
Put all this together and Cruz has a thinner path than he’d prefer. He’s more disliked than Kasich, no more liked than Trump. There’s no evidence of positive momentum, and he could wind up with some negative winds. Overall, Indiana GOP voters aren’t feeling any better about him than Trump in November (possibly worse.)
When Fox News asked voters to pick only between Trump and Cruz, Ted still trailed by a couple points. He can’t even blame Kasich for his predicament. He’s the only thing stopping Trump from a virtual clean sweep on the 26th and isn’t strongly impacting Indiana.
If the election were today, Trump would probably win. If current trends hold, Trump will probably win. Cruz is in range, but needs to have something change, or change things himself to become the favorite on May 3.