I don’t do much pontification or statistical analysis of the Presidential primary polls. The thing is, primary processes are irregular and messy. Some states hold primary elections. Some states, caucuses. And some states hold both–you know, like Washington state in 2008.
Polls can sometimes reflect the subsequent outcome of state primaries, but in states with open primaries, cross-over votes can determine an outcome that polls may not capture. And the contests are not independent. There can be a social effect whereby the outcome of one primary or caucus might drastically alter a contest held days or weeks later.
On top of all that, the elections and caucuses don’t directly select the ultimate nominee. The McGovern-Fraser reforms that followed the 1968 conventions have made the process quite transparent, but it’s still messy. Parties and individual states have different ways of going from a primary or caucus result to a binding of delegates to the candidates.
Democrats use a largely proportional system, with some differences among states. Republicans use a proportional system for state contests before March 14th. Contests after March 14th can be winner-take-all or proportional or a mixture of both—the decision is made by the states. And then there is the issue of “unpledged delegates” (or superdelegates) that are employed by both parties. These are the wild cards that can affect (but, in practice, haven’t really affected) the selection of candidates at the national nominating convention. Unpledged delegates make up about 5% of the Republican delegates and 20% of Democratic delegates.
Like I say…it’s a messy process. Any attempts of using statistical analyses to ascertain the nominee is either absurdly simplified or absurdly herculean.
Still, this season brings us an incredibly interesting primary. So I may, on occasion, offer some thoughts–typically based on collections of polls, but without the formal analyses.
The Democratic primary is not the interesting one. I’ve seen pretty much every Democratic state primary poll and everything points to an easy win by Sec. Hillary Clinton. Sen. Bernie Sanders is providing a great service to his party by running against Hillary, but he ain’t gonna be the person nominated. Well…not unless Hillary’s emails reveal something startling (“Back off, Rahm, or I’ll do the same thing to you that I did to Foster….”). And even then, only if there’s an actual indictment.
Never mind what you see in (way overly-polled) New Hampshire. In the 100 or so national primary polls taken to date, Clinton has only twice dipped below a double digit lead. Currently she is up from 15% to 30% with a strengthening trend for six weeks. Sanders has stayed about the same over the same period.
The Republican primary is the really “interesting” one. Currently, “outsider” candidates have been leading with a pack of insiders, who are languishing in the mid-single digits. Until mid-July, there wasn’t a lot of differentiation, but Gov. Jeb! Bush was the national front-runner, with Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Scott Walker nipping at his heels. Real estate mogul turned reality TV star, Donald Trump, “broke out” of the pack in mid-July and has pretty much remained on top. Notable surgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, “broke out” a month later and has held a solid second place lead since, typically within single digits of Trump. Former CEO Carly Fiorina spent the last week of September in third with over 10% support, but she has subsequently fallen to the middle of the single-digit pack.
These days, when I start talking among friends about the general election, people want to know my predictions for the GOP nomination. So, allow me to speculate a bit here. First, I maintain that Carson has virtually no chance of becoming the Republican nominee. His inexperience as a politician and campaigner and his relative ignorance of policy and politics will do him in. And I believe sooner rather than later.
Trump is a different story. He has much more political experience than Carson, though still an amateur. But he has the resources to make up for his inexperience. And he is adept at using his resources to undertake big “projects.” Furthermore his real-world experience is highly conducive to undertaking a large, complicated project like a campaign.
What Trump lacks is verbal discipline and a “presidential temperament.” This caps his support ceiling. He may also lack the discipline necessary to learn the policy details that will eventually become important in the nomination process.
Jeb! has hit rock bottom following a mediocre debate performance that launched a “disaster” feeding frenzy among the media. It’s overblown and likely wrong. Give it a month or two, and Jeb may well bounce back. He, among the GOP candidates, has the strongest “foundation”, in a broad sense, for a presidential bid. On the other hand, maybe Barbara is right: We’ve had enough Bushes
Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz supposedly had a great 3rd debate. Maybe…if by “great” you mean they each made a couple of brief non-policy statements that received applause. Really, each candidate’s “great” performance is little more than a media snowballing meme. I mean, if they didn’t have Jeb to kick around, the meme might be about how Cruz was overly whiny or how Rubio lacked spontaneity and was merely peppering us with overly rehearsed lines. Media reaction is a fickle thing.
There haven’t been many polls released since the 3rd G.O.P. debate, but I don’t think that matters much. From the collection of recent polls (before and after the debate), we can divine something of a trend. Bush is down to 4 or 5 percent buried in a cluster with Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Rand Paul, Fiorina, and Gov. John Kasich. Cruz seems to have ticked up slightly, but is still below 10% (except, of course, in Texas where he is at 14%). Rubio, on the other hand, has seen a big jump into the land of double-digits. This is true in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and in a national poll taken after the debate.
For awhile, I’ve given Bush the greatest probability of taking the nomination. Now, I sort of feel like there is a two way tie between Bush and Rubio, perhaps a 30% probability each. Then I would give Trump a 20% probability, Cruz a 15% probability and anyone else a 5% probability. In other words, I offer a subjective probability of 75% that a person with Hispanic children will be the G.O.P. nominee. And a 99.9% probability that a woman will be the Democratic nominee. In terms of diversity, it’s likely to be a historic presidency.
We’ve come a long way from the last time a Clinton ran in the general election for President, when a pair of Southern white male Baptists ran against a Midwestern white male Methodist with a white male West-coast Presbyterian running mate. Progress, baby!