Update: 8-11-15 @ noon: Another Iowa caucus poll was just released and was in the field one day longer which showed an expected result- The reaction from the debate appears to be confirming as discussed in the original post but the reactions are more muted and Rubio should be listed as a “winner.” Further, the “Bubble” I discuss may be on the verge of disappearing. Fiorina moves into the top tier debate and Christie falls back.
Additionally, there are two other pieces of news today that may be illuminating.
- Rick Perry has run out of cash and has asked his paid South Carolina staff to become volunteers. Because he has concentrated this in the 3rd state (after Iowa and New Hampshire), it tells me he is hopeful to turn things around and/or he has decided to stay in the race as an “issues candidate” (see below) and that issue might just be Donald Trump.
- Rand Paul has decided to strike out at Donald Trump. After Bush, Paul may have the strongest/smartest campaign team, he has plenty of money, and is likely spending money on polling/focus groups so this is not likely an action of desperation. It has a purpose but I’m not sure what it is. Veep Cred? Believe Trump supporters would otherwise support him as “another kind of Republican?” Precursor to choosing to run for re-election for US Senate and not wanting Trump at the top of the ticket?
I want to stress the following:
- I don’t think any of this is predictive of who will be the nominee or who will still be viable once the elections start. However, those in the bottom tier may have only one more chance to break-out and they may have to do it in the next debate.
- In my mind, the value is what will happen with undecideds and to the support for the bottom 7-10 candidates when they disappear over the next 6 months. This is roughly 30% of the primary voter population. The candidates who pick up chunks of this will find higher viability via fundraising and ability to attract organization for when the elections start.
- This is Iowa and not the nation as a whole. My main point was to attempt to assess movement and reaction to the debate as well as try to discern strength/weaknesses and future direction/discern of the individual campaigns.
However, this poll gave some interesting new information:
- Top 5 candidates as 2nd choice after their first choice (in order): Carson (12%), Rubio (12%), Cruz (11%), Walker (10%), Fiorina (9%). Personally, until and through the Iowa Caucus & New Hampshire primary, I think this is a critical component of staying in the field as it winnows down.
- Top 5 candidates with a favorable impression (in order): Carson (78%), Walker (73%), Rubio (72%), Fiorina (70%), Huckabee (69%). Lowest is Cristie (37%)
- Top 5 candidates with an unfavorable impression (in order): Christie (43%), Paul (41%), Trump (37%), Bush (36%), Huckabee (19%). Lowest is Carson (7%).
- Of those who watched the debate second debate (Fiorina got 83% in the first debate), Top 5 who made a favorable impression (in order): Rubio (23%), Carson (22%), Cruz (11%), Trump (11%), Kasich (8%)
- And, finally, after watching the debate two Trump impressions: 56% are less comfortable with Trump as a candidate and 32% think Trump doesn’t show appropriate respect for women.
Original post: At this stage of a campaign, I don’t put any stock in polling with regard to predicting who the nominee might be. There are way too many variables, especially when you consider the current size of the field. Too much can happen plus we don’t really know the voter’s second and third choices which is relevant as first choices fall out. In a few months, the most relevant polling information will be candidate’s favorable/unfavorable numbers. A candidate has negatives above a certain level is not longer viable (too unlikeable-think Gingrich). Similarly, a candidate who can’t stimulate a favorable number above a certain level is not going to be viable (not likable- think John Edwards).
However, I do think where polls are informative at this stage is they give understanding about what is moving people’s impression at particular stages of a campaign. Most recently, we had a debate which was watched by a record number of viewers. And, today we got the first post-debate scientific poll measuring a highly informed group of voters (Iowa Republican caucus goers). Yes, they are generally considered more conservative than the average Republican primary and general voter. However, they are those most likely to be monitoring current developments and how they move can be a glimpse into what is happening or will happen in the general public.
So, comparing it to a similar poll of the same voters, what happened from before the debate and after the debate?
Apparent “winners;” Fiorina (+7%), Trump (+6%), Bush (+5%), Carson (+5%), Cruz (+2%)
Apparent “losers:” Walker (-10%), Jindal (-2%), Paul (-2%)- Editorial comment- Walker might not really be a “loser” as his number settled to a level comparable to his national numbers.
Everybody else: Between +1% and -1% which is really no movement. Maybe a case can be made that no movement is a move backwards but, at this stage, I think treading water keeps them in the game unless they are near the bottom.
If these numbers extrapolate to the nation at large in national polls:
Practical Impact #1 for the CNN debate on September 16:
In top 10: Bush, Carson, Cruz, Fiorina, Huckabee, Rubio, Trump and Walker
Bubble: Christie, Kasich, Paul, Perry (two will make it, two will not)
The debates after the the CNN debate have not announced the selection criteria yet. Thus, we don’t know whether the debates will have all remaining candidates or will have a limit on the number of candidates. If the debates are limited to 7-10 candidates on the podium, I suspect we might see more fireworks with the lower tier candidates trying to stand-out.
Practical Impact #2 on fundraising: Florina has reported a big spike in fundraising. Cruz and Bush are rumored to have had a good weekend. Graham, Jindal, Pataki & Santorum are likely going to see raising money very difficult. Unless they are the break-out candidate (ala Fiorina) in the next debate, their reason for remaining in the race is down to two purposes:
- Be a “happy camper” and hope to be selected as Veep (ala Biden in 2008)
- Be an issue candidate hoping to frame an issue in the minds of voters (ala Gene McCarthy in 1968)
Practical Impact #3 on strategy:
- Bush, Carson, Cruz, Huckabee, Rubio & Walker (assuming Walker’s support nationally doesn’t drop as it appears to have done in Iowa) are likely to continue to do what they have been doing. They don’t have to be aggressive or throw any bombs. They should just keep raising money and meeting with voters in low-volatile formats with an occasional policy speech or announcement to add to their gravitas.
- Fiorina is hot right now and needs to try to get one more bump to firmly get herself in list above. Candidates who get hot risk flaming out. If I were her, I’d maximize fundraising as money presents viability and hammer exclusively on Clinton to engender greater bona fides as a politico.
- Trump is rumored to be considering making a pledge to not run as an Independent and to support the GOP nominee. While it might not be politically critical (I think it is) at this stage of the election, it will become practically critical prior to state primaries because the national and state parties will not make available voter lists and other data available to a candidate who hasn’t made such a pledge. Additionally he needs to find a way to make amends with women, he might be able to reverse his current high unfavorable rating where he only trails Graham (40%) and Christie (36%) with 35% of the GOP primary voters having an unfavorable opinion of him. Finally, with the exception of building a wall on our southern border, Trump has been high on rhetoric and low on policy. At minimum, he should unveil 2 or 3 policy specifics.
- Bubble candidates have two choices: Throw bombs and hope to move up while risking they blow themselves up. Christie and Paul appear to pursing this strategy. Or, do as Floriina did- steadily and seriously talk about issues with voters and hone their message. Perry and Kasich appear to moving in this direction.
- Bottom tier candidates have one realistic hope- be the next Fiorina in the CNN September debate.
Practical Impact #4 on organizational emphasis: You might be wondering how the Fox debate influences organization priorities? The top candidates (poll standing or money) have the luxury of looking forward to the blocking and tackling of preparation to an actual Election Day. By the time the campaign moves to South Carolina, it is likely the field will be reduced to only 4-5 candidates at most. Right now, NO CANDIDATE is assured of being in the top 5 after New Hampshire and there will be only one winner in Iowa.
- Iowa: This state is famous for picking candidates who disregard perceptions of national viability or conventional wisdom (Santorum in 2012 or Huckabee in 2008) or are regional favorites (Dole in 1988 and 1996). This state is ripe for someone to make a statement and catapult up in standing. This is where Cruz, Rubio, and Walker can shine. Trump and Fiorina have real problem here because of its intense retail politics, with which they have little experience. Nobody has ever won here without being excellent retail politicians.
- New Hampshire: Because this is almost a home state for the Bush family and they have most of the political leaders in their camp, this is a place where Bush must do reasonably well (yet currently is polling below his national standing) and someone can land a knock-out punch. Carson, Paul and possibly Kasich can be that candidate as they appear to be polling well so far. Trump also seems to have captured the imagination of NH voters above his national standing so he should attempt to build on his standing there.