April 26, 2016
Most of the focus today is on Pennsylvania or Maryland. Of all five Republican primaries, Rhode Island distributes delegates most proportionally. There aren’t very many delegates on either side. This is the smallest (geographically) state in the union after all.
I’m going to argue it still matters though. It’s Bernie’s best shot to win today. He could also win elsewhere, but won’t if he doesn’t here. Rhode Island is the one state where non-affiliated voters can participate, always a good thing for him.
We know Hillary has the nomination just about clinched, and Bernie is planning to continue to California. But wins in Rhode Island and Connecticut make it easier for him to justify a continuing campaign. He won’t drop out, but it’s harder to get free media from TV appearances when the questions are focused on your lack of viability. Just ask John Kasich.
There isn’t a ton of poll data, and it’s always tricky to compare surveys from different pollsters, but it appears Bernie may have gotten a small poll bounce after he lost New York. He was trailing in the Brown University poll taken partly before the Empire State primary and is leading in the PPP survey afterward.
Again, disclaimer on comparing different pollsters. Clinton was at 45% in both, but Sanders went from 34% to 49%. Maybe undecided voters began feeling a slight Bern, maybe one of the polls is off. We’ll find out tonight.
On the GOP side, Two recent polls are showing Trump well over 50%. PPP has him over 60. Again, different before/after pollsters. Brown was considerably more conservative, putting him at 38% before New York momentum would have kicked in. Like on the Democrats side, plenty of undecideds.
We’ll see if the recent polls were flawed, or if Trump is consolidating support. It’s very possible non-#NeverTrump, non-Trumpist voters have decided they would prefer The Donald to a convention scrum. If he can match his New York numbers outside his home state, it’s a strong indicator.
With the interpretation out of the way, time to make a few guesses:
Donald Trump 61.8%
The past couple weeks have gone exceptionally well for the front runner. The Cruz-Kasich non-aggression pact may pay off eventually, but they had a rough launch. Trump won the messaging battle in the first 24 hours and they didn’t provide voters with “instructions” for today’s primaries.
Trump did very well in neighboring Massachusetts, winning almost 50% against a larger field. This is not a Cruz state. If voters are thinking strategically, and I’m convinced a larger percentage than you think are, creating a brokered/contested/confused convention that leads to a Cruz win is not something that sounds good to most Rhode Island voters.
Normally Trump doesn’t pull a large percentage of undecided voters. New York showed it’s possible, and although this isn’t home for him, many of the factors are similar. He’s extremely strong with catholic voters. There aren’t many evangelicals to give Cruz credit for his North Carolina bathroom stance.
Kasich isn’t looking strong. I’m figuring voters deciding between Trump and Cruz pick Trump, and voters deciding between Kasich and Trump pick Trump. With a higher than average baseline, that should push him over 60%, particularly with unaffiliated voters participating and Trump partisans fired up about collusion.
John Kasich 27.4%
There are some #NeverTrump voters out there. Even in Rhode Island, he’s got his detractors. Here, most of them are #NeverTrumpAndDon’tForceCruzOnMe. While the accommodation with Cruz may fail overall, it and Kasich’s second place poll position here give any wavering voters a reason to pick the governor over the senator.
Kasich’s baseline is higher in this region, closer to 20% than the 10-15% he finds himself with elsewhere. Add in anyone and everyone trying to decide between him and Ted as the Trump alternative, and he winds up between 25 and 30 percent. To compete he would have needed to cut into Trump-accepting less committed voters. Perhaps a few will appreciate the gusto Kasich exhibits while eating, but not enough to make a difference.
Ted Cruz 10.3%
Prepare for some fodder for Trump’s victory speech and the days to follow. Cruz doesn’t start with very much in a state like this, and as you saw above, we’ve assigned any voter who would ever consider Cruz and another candidate to that other candidate.
Bernie Sanders 53.3%
We’ve developed a theory over the past few weeks that indicates there is a significant group of Democrats who prefer Bernie as a human but think it’s their duty to vote for Hillary. They think she’s more qualified to hold the office on Day One, more likely to hold up against Trump in the fall.
Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. Absent creating an alternative universe where we can see both outcomes, we’ll never know if Bernie would have held up and could have had a great first 100 days.
The national poll numbers and Bernie’s state-by-state results don’t quite match. Based on his overall numbers, he should have done a little better in New York, a bit better in a few of the March 15 states. Michigan on March 8 was a bit of an outlier. How to explain this?
As Michigan voted on the 8th, it looked like Hillary had the nomination locked up. Bernie over performed. On the 15th, he had a chance to move back into contention. Hillary held up very well in competitive Midwestern states. The caucus states to follow were pro-Bernie anyway, but he exceeded projections.
New York was another way for him to make this interesting. Hillary beat her polls by a bit. Can’t prove this yet. Correlation isn’t always causation. Any other appropriate advisories and warnings apply. But. It sure seems like the Bernie fans/Hillary pragmatists pick her when he’s won recently and pick him when it looks like the game is over.
Combined with a few unaffiliated voters who don’t get to participate in the other primaries today, and it gives us a Bernie win.
Hillary Clinton 46.1%
If I’m wrong here, it’s by underestimating Hillary. Rhode Island isn’t a particularly young state. She won Massachusetts by a couple points and is at least even in Connecticut polling. If she wins here, it’s going to be a very good night for her. Indiana would then decide if this is still sort of a thing, or if Bernie will stop getting any coverage and attention.
At this point, it’s not about who wins the nomination, it’s about how overtly Clinton can move to general election mode. Rhode Island can vote to have her pivot more sharply.