Swing State Pres

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

November 2015 Month in Review: As Expected, GOP Outsiders Finally Fading, Insiders Rising, With...Um...One Exception

What are the “shape shifters” of our nation’s nominating process?  What events move poll numbers as we proceed inexorably toward the early primaries and caucuses?  I can think of five major forces at work:  the debates, of course; grind-em-out “retail” politics, the up-close-and-personal vetting process largely practiced in Iowa and New Hampshire; external events that candidates must react to on the fly, without the benefit of focus groups; gaffes, revealed lies and mistruths; and advertising (particularly negative ads).

This last month brought at least the first four of these to the forefront, and the polls are indeed on the move.  The Paris attacks, the ongoing flagrant “art of the unreal” statements of Donald Trump and Ben Carson; the existential door-to-door battle for New Hampshire votes among establishment wannabees Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie; and the continued excellent debate performances by Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, have all left their marks on the polls. 

THE REPUBLICANS

With two months to go until Iowa, there is sharp movement on the GOP side.  The fourth GOP debate was on November 10 and the Paris attacks occurred on November 13.  A week later, the GOP national polls took a sharp turn:

NATIONAL
Pre 11/19
Post 11/19
Change
Trump
29
37
8
Rubio
11
13
2
Cruz
10
12
2
Carson
20
11
-9
Bush
6
7
1
All other/NA
24
20
-4

Donald Trump, already well ahead of the field, skyrocketed in the last weeks of the month, reaching heights (high 30% range) he has not seen before except in isolated polls.  He picked up a full 8 points versus polls conducted in earlier November.  Clearly his stridency was playing well in the heat of post-Paris passions.

Trump Showing Carson the Door?
Trump’s gains were mirrored by Carson’s descent, who saw his support nearly halved in a matter of days.  Apart from his mild temperament being unsuited for the post-Paris times, he committed a string of gaffes, ranging from his assertions about the pyramids (“made for storing grain”) to a Chinese presence in Syria (false) to blunt anti-Muslim sentiments (“rabid dogs”), all heaped on top of a rather remarkably negative assessment of Carson’s tutelage on foreign policy from one of his own advisers, a former CIA agent (“nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East”).

Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio posted modest gains nationally and, as you will see below, jumped markedly in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Cruz’s own stridency helped him capitalize on the moment, and Rubio is one of the very few GOP contenders with any foreign policy chops to speak of.

Iowa is crucially important to Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Cruz, Huckabee and Santorum, the outsiders and the Tea Party wing of the party.  It is also important to Rubio, who is the one insider candidate trying to bridge the gap between the Tea Party and the Establishment (“everyone’s second choice”).  The outsiders want the credibility of scoring well in their very first political contest, while, self-evidently, the Tea Party folks need to do very well in this evangelic paradise tailor-made for their message.

New Hampshire, on the other hand, is the battleground of the Establishment.  Trump, as the frontrunner, wants this one, too, as does Rubio, for the same reason as in Iowa.  But for Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Lindsay Graham, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore, New Hampshire will be the last dance but for a good showing here. 

If you need some evidence of all this, look no further than this chart, which represents the total days each candidates have spent in each state.  (Also note that if you need more evidence that Donald Trump’s candidacy is unique in every way, check out how little relative time he has spent in either state, near the bottom in each.)  The “ratio” column is a good proxy for where each candidate thinks they are on the political spectrum, the higher the ratio, the more identification with evangelicals/Tea Party, the lower the ratio, the more moderate or Establishment.

Days Spent, 2013-15
IOWA
NH
RATIO
Huckabee
49
5
10:1
Santorum
67
9
7:1
Carson
26
11
3:2
Rubio
27
16
3:2
Cruz
36
22
3:2
Trump
23
17
1:1
Paul
31
30
1:1
Fiorina
43
46
1:1
Bush
16
34
1:3
Christie
23
53
1:3
Graham
24
60
1:3
Kasich
7
37
1:5
Pataki
n/a
46
n/a
Gilmore
n/a
28
n/a

Ah, Solid Double Digits in Iowa
There are too few polls in Iowa and New Hampshire to slice them into pre/post periods, but the changing contours of each are clear nonetheless.  Iowa in particular has tightened up considerably, a two-way Trump/Carson race rapidly morphing into a quartet, with Cruz and Rubio both ascendant, up to the mid-double digits on the strength of 6- and 3-point gains, respectively.  (In several of the latest polls, Cruz exceeded 20% and was nipping at the heels of Trump.)  Trump revved up as well to regain the lead in Iowa, swiping it from the hapless Carson. 

Huckabee and Santorum, at the top of the above chart, care a great deal about Iowa.  Huckabee won here in 2008 and Santorum essentially tied for the win with Romney in 2012.  Their current standing represents doom for their candidacies.

New Hampshire is similar though not identical.  Trump still leads but is showing some slippage.  Carson is fading here as well, albeit more slowly.  Rubio and Cruz are on the rise.  Kasich, Bush and Christie are still in their dogfight to challenge Rubio for the “Establishment” sub-segment win, and are virtually camped out in the state.  The others are simply non-factors.

Christie just picked up the endorsement of the highly influential and very conservative Manchester Union-Leader in New Hampshire, because, they say, he has “prosecuted terrorists” and “tells it like it is and isn’t shy about it.”  It is too soon to tell whether this backing will translate into a Christie resurgence in New Hampshire.

IOWA
Oct '15
Nov '15
NH
Oct '15
Nov '15
Trump
20
24
Trump
30
26
Carson
28
21
Carson
14
12
Cruz
9
15
Rubio
8
12
Rubio
10
13
Cruz
5
9
Bush
7
6
Kasich
8
8
Fiorina
5
4
Bush
9
7
Paul
3
3
Christie
3
6
Huckabee
2
2
Fiorina
8
4
Christie
1
2
Paul
4
4
Kasich
2
1
Huckabee
1
1
Santorum
1
1
Graham
1
1
Graham
0
0
Santorum
1
0
Gilmore
0
0
Pataki
0
0
Pataki
0
0
Gilmore
0
0
Other/NA
12
8
Other/NA
8
10

THE DEMOCRATS

Hillary Clinton continues to dominate the field on the national level, sustaining the level of her exceptional October, when she scored in the initial Democratic debate, the Benghazi hearings, Bernie Sanders’s welcome dismissal of the email fiasco as a campaign topic, and Joe Biden’s decision not to enter the race.


She followed up her strong performance in debate #1 with another one in debate #2, which occurred on the night after the Paris attacks.  Domestic issues were thrown off the agenda, and, in the wake of the horror, the ensuing foreign policy driven discussion played to her obvious strengths in that arena.  Hillary was able to speak cogently and at length on all of the implications of the attacks (and their origins) while Sanders and O’Malley, while earnest and not unimpressive themselves, still gave the appearance of straining to recall passages from briefing books.

Hillary has maintained a massive 24-point lead on the national front, a solid 17-point lead in Iowa, and overtook Bernie in his own backyard of New Hampshire and now holds a narrow lead there.  (Watch out, though, Bernie closed within 10 points with two 40%+ showings in the last two polls in the month.  Does he have one more kick left in him?)  O’Malley’s numbers are inching up and his profile is rising, but not to the level that he can be considered a serious contender.

NATIONAL
Oct '15
Nov '15
IOWA
Oct '15
Nov '15
NH
Oct '15
Oct '15
Clinton
50
55
Clinton
54
53
Clinton
36
46
Sanders
25
31
Sanders
34
36
Sanders
38
42
O'Malley
1
3
O'Malley
3
4
O'Malley
2
3
Other/NA
24
11
Other/NA
9
7
Other/NA
24
9

But Hillary’s ever-tightening grip on the nomination has not really translated to a better position in the general election.  The Hillometer improved marginally, from -22 to -20, meaning she is still in jeopardy and could very well lose the general.   She is only fractionally ahead of the leading challengers from the GOP (Trump, Carson and Rubio), and her favorability rating inched up another point but remains low at 43%.  There was little change in President Obama’s approval rating or in the state of the economy.



Raw

Final
As of November 30, 2015
Measure
Base
Score
Weight
Score
Hillary's margin vs GOP leader (Avg. Top 3)
0.4%
0%
0.4%
50%
0.2
Hillary's favorability rating
43.1%
50%
-6.9%
25%
-1.7
Obama's approval rating
44.7%
50%
-5.3%
15%
-0.8
Econometer
103.7
100
3.7
10%
0.4
Sum




-2.0
HILLOMETER




-20



Clinton
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov.
% Favorable
44.2
41.0
41.4
42.1
43.1

In other campaign news, I’m sure you saw the screaming headlines (“Breaking News!”) when Bobby Jindal packed it in on the GOP side, and similar fanfare greeting the departure of Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig from the Democratic race.  Jindal still has not quite erased the memory of his only real national moment, his disastrous Republican Response to the State of the Union in 2009.  If you want to see how not to do it, check this out:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmNM0oj79t8.    This event has largely served as a way for the GOP to destroy its young; it nearly choked off the early rise of Marco Rubio’s star when he inexplicably reached for a glass of water in the middle of his “response” in 2013: 
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLmZbBh83-I.  (It happens at the 11:03 mark of the video.)

***********************************

Many have awaited the moment when the outsiders would finally fade and the traditional politicians would rise in the GOP race.  That moment has certainly begun.  But there is one ongoing exception to the pattern, the man who has been the exception to every pattern thus far:  Donald Trump.  Every day that goes by that finds him at the top of the charts is a step close to the reality show turning into…reality.




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