If The Latest Polls Are Right, Everything’s Coming Up Trump
With mere days until voting starts, the possibility of Donald Trump running the table in the February primaries and caucuses, or nearly doing so, is more and more likely.
While the news of the morning continues to focus on Donald Trump’s decision to sit out the last Republican debate before Iowa in favor of what he’s calling a rally to raise money for wounded veteran’s charities, and pundits wonder what a Trump-less Republican debate will look like and just how many people will watch tonight, the polls continue to show the New York real estate mogul running the table in the three major early state contests:
In the Hawkeye State, real estate mogul Donald Trump now leads the GOP pack with 32 percent support from likely GOP caucus-goers. Texas senator Ted Cruz gets 25 percent, Florida senator Marco Rubio has 18 percent, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has eight percent and former Florida governor Jeb Bush has four percent. All other Republican candidates get just two percent backing apiece from likely caucus-goers.
The results are an improvement for Trump, who trailed Cruz 24 percent to 28 percent in the same poll less than three weeks ago.
The poll also shows Trump in a close race with Cruz among likely voters who are white evangelical Christians, 31 percent to 28 percent. The two candidates have been battling over the influential bloc of voters in the state, with each touting endorsements from evangelical heavyweights in recent days.
As he has throughout the campaign, Trump has a big advantage with non-college graduates, winning 42 percent of their support compared to 24 percent for Cruz and 12 percent for Rubio.
Among likely caucus-goers who are Republican college graduates, Trump receives 20 percent, while Cruz gets 26 percent and Rubio gets 24 percent.
Trump’s seven point lead in this poll is consistent with the results of two other polls released in recent days, one from Monmouth University and the other from ARG, which also show him leading the field by seven points, and they seem to suggest that the Quinnipiac poll that I made note of the other day that showed Trump with only a two point lead was indeed an outlier. In the RealClearPolitics average of Hawkeye State polling, Trump now has a 6.0 point lead over Ted Cruz, garnering an average of 32.0% support compared to Cruz’s 26.0%. These two are followed by Marco Rubio, the only other candidate averaging in double digits at 13.3% with some signs in recent polling that the Florida Senator may have some upward momentum in the first contest of the 2016 race that could cause him to finish stronger than many might suspect. This would be good news for Rubio, who has garnered much attention, as well as endorsements, from Capitol Hill and the GOP establishment, as well as praise for his debate performances of late, but has yet to see it translate into anything substantial at the polls. Rubio is unlikely to have to the momentum to make it into second place, I think, but even a strong third place finish in Iowa could help him going forward. After Rubio, Ben Carson comes in fourth at 7.6%, which is largely where he’s held since his campaign collapsed at the end of last year, which suggests he may serve as something of a barrier for anyone below him to rise any further. After Carson, no candidate is averaging higher than four percent. The results, if not the actual numbers, are largely the same in the broader poll average measured by Pollster.
Given that Iowa is a caucus state, the polling here should of course be taken with a grain of salt. In the end, the most important factor here will be which candidate has the supporters that are most likely to show up at their caucus site Monday night and do what needs to be done to show their support for their candidate. In that regard, it’s still unclear what we can expect to see from Trump supporters, many of whom have never caucused before or have only done so on rare occasions. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, generally draws his support from groups such as evangelicals that have a long history of making it to the caucus site no matter what the weather conditions. This could give the Texas Senator enough of an advantage to allow him to eke out a narrow win, or we could see Trump do what Barack Obama did eight years ago and win the caucuses outright thanks to a surge in first-time caucus goers. Since it’s hard to forecast something like that, I’d currently classify Iowa as a toss-up between Trump and Cruz, with the possibility that we could see a surprisingly strong third place finish from Rubio.
In New Hampshire, Trump continues to maintain a strong lead that seems to be solid:
Trump remains the dominant frontrunner in New Hampshire, getting 31 percent support compared to 12 percent for Cruz, a margin largely unchanged from polling earlier this month. Rubio and Ohio governor John Kasich tie for third place at 11 percent, while Bush garners eight percent and New Jersey governor Chris Christie gets seven percent. No other Republican candidate polls at more than five percent in the state.
Again, Trump runs the table with key voting groups, leading with young voters (37 percent), Tea Party supporters (34 percent), independents (26 percent) and with white evangelicals (26 percent – although the share of evangelicals in New Hampshire is much smaller than in Iowa.)
One of the more interesting questions about New Hampshire is what will happen with that state’s large bloc of independent voters, who can chose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries. As was the case in 2008 when those voters had a choice between Barack Obama on the Democratic side and John McCain on the Republican side, this time they are presented with two populist candidates in each party that, while the present very different messages to voters both tend to speak in ways that arguably appeal to independent voters more than the other candidates in either party. How those independents divide themselves could have a huge impact in both the Republican race and in the Democratic race, where this same NBC/Marist poll gives Sanders a nineteen point lead over Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s lead in New Hampshire in this poll is largely consistent with polling in the Granite State that goes back several weeks now, and with the general trend in the state that tends to show Trump as the undisputed leader of the first in the nation primary. In the RealClearPolitics average, Trump has an average lead of 20.5 points at this point in the race, with Ted Cruz far behind at with an average of 12.5%, Ohio Governor John Kasich in third place at 11.8% and Marco Rubio in fourth with 10.8%. After Rubio, Jeb Bush is in fifth place at 9.3%. In other words, three of the four “establishment” candidates in the race are within an average 2.5% of each other. This is arguably worrisome for establishment Republicans hoping for the emergence of a clear establishment champion to challenge Trump out of the early primaries in general and New Hampshire in particular. Given the trends right now, it doesn’t appear that this will happen and that could make any effort to stop Trump and Cruz all the more difficult. Behind Bush in sixth place, though, is Chris Christie with an average at 6.9%. If Christie doesn’t improve his numbers in the Granite State then we may see him drop out after primary day, which at least would narrow the “establishment” field to some degree, but would still leave the party without any clear challenger to Trump and Cruz. After Christie, no candidate is averaging about four percent in the state. Given these numbers, at this point one has to classify New Hampshire as a state where Trump clearly has the advantage and one that he should be expected to win if he can get his voters to the polls on February 9th. Then, the race will move south.
Arguably, South Carolina is more important in the race for the Republican nomination than either New Hampshire or Iowa have been given the fact, with the exception of Newt Gingrich in 2012, no candidate has won the nomination without winning the Palmetto State primary, and in that state Trump also holds a solid lead:
Trump wins 36 percent of likely Republican primary voters, 16 points ahead of Cruz, who finishes second at 20 percent. Rubio garners 14 percent support, Bush gets nine percent, and Carson gets eight percent. All other candidates receive two percent support or less.
Among white evangelicals in the Palmetto State, Trump wins 33 percent, while Cruz receives 25 percent
So far, South Carolina has not been polled nearly as much as Iowa and New Hampshire have. That will likely change as we move past Iowa and pollsters start to concentrate on races further down the line, and it’s also worth noting that voter opinion in the state could change significantly depending on what happens in the first two contests. Nonetheless, this is another state where Trump seems to have a huge advantage at the moment, something that was emphasized last night when Trump picked up the endorsement of Henry McMaster, a long-established figure in Soth Carolina Republican politics who now serves as the states Lt. Governor. He leads the RealClearPolitics poll average by more than sixteen points and has had a strong lead there for some time now. After Trump, Ted Cruz comes in second in the poll average at 19.7%, followed by Marco Rubio at 12.7%, Jeb Bush at 10.0%, and Ben Carson at 8.7% After Carson, no other candidate is averaging higher than three percent in the Palmetto State, including potential “establishment” candidates such as Chris Christie and John Kasich. Along with New Hampshire this would be another state where Trump has the advantage, although the situation here is likely to change significantly as February goes on and candidates begin to drop out of the race.
Taking into account the caveat that much could change in the fast moving environment we’ll be in once the voting starts in Iowa on Monday, these numbers suggest that we could end up with a situation a month from now where Donald Trump has run the table on the early primaries and caucuses, or nearly done so if he ends up finishing second to Ted Cruz in Iowa instead of winning as the polls now suggest he could. The one February contest I’ve left out of the mix is the Nevada caucus, but that’s largely because it’s been a month since anyone of consequence has polled there, but I suppose its worth noting that the RealClearPolitics average in that state was also decidedly in Trump’s favor. Nevada is also a caucus state, but its caucus is run in a very different manner from Iowa’s so it’s unclear what the real on the ground situation there is. Nonetheless, let’s assume that Trump wins there as well, or at least pulls a strong second once again.
In that case, we will likely be faced with a situation where the race for the Republican nomination will be dominated by Donald Trump headed into Super Tuesday and the other major March primaries and the question will be what happens to the rest of the Republican field. Ted Cruz will likely be in the race for some time to come given the fact that he’s already worked to build a network in the Super Tuesday states. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio will likely be tempted to stay in the race until at least Florida unless they’re running out of money. Unless he can capitalize on a surprise in New Hampshire with success elsewhere, Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are unlikely to last very long at all. As for the rest of the field, candidates like Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and the rest are already dead in the water, they just haven’t realized it yet. What all this means is that, possibly by as early as mid-March the GOP field could be reduced to a field of three or four candidates at the most, with Trump and Cruz battling near the top. At that point, Republican voters in later states will have to ask themselves whether they really want Donald Trump, or Ted Cruz for that matter, to be the face and voice of their party going forward. Of course, if the “establishment” candidates all end up killing each other off, they may have no choice but to choose between one of these two men, neither one of whom seems likely to be a viable General Election candidate in November.