I don’t have the financial resources of ESPN/FiveThirtyEight. But I do have you, my dear readers!
Let me cut-and-paste some of your recent remarks into a PEC chat. Edited for flow. Add your own two cents in the comment thread.
JesseE: Over at FiveThirtyEight, Silver et al. have been consistently bearish on Trump’s chances; through the summer and fall, they put Trump’s chances in the low single-digits (i.e. borderline Pataki-territory). Recently, they’ve started to concede that Trump might have a reasonable chance; yet they continue to peg his odds in the 10-15% range- well below what the polling data (and even the betting markets) suggest.
I understand the theoretical reasons for this position….[but] given their skepticism re early polling, why do 538 forecasters unanimously consider Rubio to be the overwhelming favorite, both in absolute terms, and vis-a-vis his intra-establishment rivals? The same analysis of Iowa that puts Trump’s vote share at 5% (just 1 point ahead of his closest non-establishment rival), also puts Rubio’s vote share at 3% (just 1 point ahead of his closest establishment rival). Why is Trump’s advantage met with such skepticism, while Rubio’s advantage is met with such certainty?
In a way, I’m much more sympathetic to 538′s bearishness re Trump – given their perspective re early polling and Party Power, I understand how it follows. It’s their bullishness re Rubio that I find so baffling. It would be one thing if he was dominating in other Party Decides metrics: money + endorsements. But he isn’t. Instead, his only real advantage vis-a-vis other Establishment candidates is his polling. But 538 has told us again and again not to trust this polling (at least when it comes to Trump). So why is Rubio considered the run-away-favorite?
Sam: In summer/fall, it was probably appropriate to rely heavily on The-Party-Decides because polls lacked predictive power. The question in my mind is why the FiveThirtyEight people have not updated their belief, now that polls are more informative. It is Silver’s style to react slowly to new data. So maybe they are just being deliberate. I think this must hurt their readership. But what do I know – I do not run a commercial site.
Also, correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think FiveThirtyEight has done an analysis of polls like what I posted last week. Even if they did, they (and I) have a problem as of today: The-Party-Decides and poll-based indicators are pointing in very different directions.
As for “Why Rubio?,” this is a consequence of The-Party-Decides. If one accepts that premise, then the only alternative is Jeb Bush based on endorsements, money, and officeholding experience. This prediction fails if The-Party-Decides has waning influence. In national HuffPost averages, in January 2012 current and former officeholders were supported by about 80% of respondents. As of today, that number is about 25%. It seems to me that The-Party-Decides is in trouble.
In my view, this is because the national GOP has been moving toward crisis since 1994. Therefore I would say
Probability that The-Party-Decides will fail = 30%.
Probability that poll-based predictions will fail =15%.
Based on that, I would guess that Trump is favored now over Rubio. (For now, I think Cruz is less likely because he scores so low on ranked-preference polls.)
Kevin: The case for Rubio has been an argument from elimination from the beginning. If you start from the premise “not Trump/Cruz/Carson,” then who? Well–not Bush (unpopular name plus everyone’s favorite punching bag thanks to Trump), Christie (Bridgegate), or Kasich (Medicaid expansion). Ergo, Rubio.
The problem is that there is no evidence that actual voters make their decision this way. The parsimonious explanation is that voters choose the candidate they like best. Rubio may have more in common with Pawlenty/Walker than McCain/Romney.
What is the positive case for Rubio? That he’s young and telegenic? That’s also how Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin were selected, but they didn’t turn out to be popular with voters en masse for long.
I’ve heard two other positive cases for Rubio: 1) that his selection would build bridges to the Latino community, perhaps by magically moderating GOP voter preferences on immigration and economic issues; and 2) he’s really strong on foreign policy. On the latter, I don’t get it–I can’t be the only person who finds his pronouncements on foreign policy unhinged, and besides, 2016 voters don’t care much about foreign policy. On the former, this reasoning seems more compelling to center-left pundits (who also won’t be voting for Rubio) than actual GOP voters.
It is ironic that Nate Silver built his brand on fact-checking punditry, yet keeps doubling down this cycle on pronouncements of opinion divorced from data. It’s one thing to (appropriately) point out that the data doesn’t tell us much at this stage, and another to leap from that position to telling everyone ad nauseam what’s bound to happen with Trump.
Amitabh Lath: [Speaking of pundits,] Douthat’s article is a mess. First he makes hay of the fact that Trump is behind in Iowa even though the polls there have him within the margin of error of 1st.
But polls that show him ahead by large margins in other early states? Never mind, polls cannot be trusted.
But the key to this Rossplanation is that as “establishment” candidates (as defined by Douthat and his ilk) drop out, all their support will go only to the remaining establishment ones and after a few iterations one candidate emerges to rule them all and slay Trump.
This seems a bit much. The whole “establishment vs. outsider” frame may turn out to be a media creation. Candidates will drop out, and as to where their voters go, if your Bayesian prior is truly flat then they go everywhere including Trump (and some who stay home because if they can’t vote for Rand/Christie/Kasich then it’s no one).
Petey: Most definitely. But it’s sorta emblematic of all the anti-Trump GOP pundits, who have been going through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief.
Douthat is still stuck on Denial, though others have moved on to Bargaining or Depression. But both Denial and Bargaining require bad/spurious reasoning.
(Standard disclaimer: I’m not asserting Trump will be the nominee. Things are still fluid, and I found the most recent Charlie Cook article not implausible. But there’s a whole lot of Trump Can’t Win punditry “mess” out there, on all sides.)
Sam: There is some evidence that GOP primary voters fall into groups (what a statistician would call clusters). However, to my eye the groupings don’t precisely favor the “establishment” vs. “insurgent” idea. If you look at Gerber and Nalebuff’s ranked-preference data from back in October, if lower-tier candidates (Bush, Christie, Fiorina, Huckabee…) dropped out, their support would be about equally split between Trump and Rubio. The exception is Carson supporters, who would go hard for Trump. Cruz gets very little from any of these groups, and seems to be his own phenomenon.
I imagine there being three approximate clusters of voters: (1) Trump/Carson supporters, (2) Cruz, and (3) everyone else including Rubio. However, it also suggests that group (3) supporters are willing to vote for Trunp. This means that Trump supporters do not comprise a single category, as some pundits imagine. Instead, Trump is a Republican candidate with multiple constituencies. This is bad for Republican Party insiders, and therefore bad for Marco Rubio.
Fel Martins: Probably the Party Leaders don’t really have the influence they once had. Even if the leadership came out and endorsed a candidate, Trump would just use that as an attack against them, probably use something along the lines of them being losers who fear that their crony interests are at risk. Red meat that his supporters will eat up.
The added cherry on top of this Trump sundae is that the field is wide and he only needs to win a plurality of delegates. If he goes into the convention with, lets say, 3/8ths of the delegates, with the rest split among the other candidates, he’s essentially won. The delegates can’t rally behind another candidate, Trump has more votes and his angry supporters would make their wrath felt at the ballot box (either by writing in Trump or simply not showing up).
JayBoy2k: Excellent!! PEC is up and running again for the 2016 race. I’ve been in a kind of hibernation where Political races are not a primary consumer of my free time. It will be a while yet before we get real polls to analyze and lots of pundit opinions to wade thru. This is like the polar bear clubs. Do I want to jump in the frigid water in January or wait until Sam has the 2016 model set up in mid-late summer?
Sam: I myself had every intention of waiting things out until the general election phase of the campaign. But the opportunity to state the obvious – that Trump is in a strong position, maybe because the GOP is at a crisis point – was too juicy to pass up.
I think 2016 is a major turning point for the Republican Party, a year when many tensions are hitting the crisis point. I wonder if data punditry is really equal to the task of analyzing it.
SRS: I think Nate and his team at 538 are victim to having to capture an audience 24/7.
What they do, and they’ve been doing this to some extent since the beginning, is that they have a core set of data that they believe in. But whenever that data doesn’t give them a clear answer, they fill up the gaps with relatively un-informed and poorly reasoned punditry.
Poor because as they build themselves around quantitative analysis, they have little-to-no skills at qualitative analysis such as looking at cultural shifts within the republican party, rhetorical skill of the candidates, etc. etc.
They are slightly better than common punditry because they do have a data-driven side to what they do. But in these early months where the data-driven side doesn’t do much for them, they’re left with not much.
I’m guessing they were hoping their endorsement model would be their secret to providing data-driven coverage through the pre-primary season. But that failed completely, because since they launched it it’s been the case that on the Dem side Hillary has the endorsements locked up, and on the GOP side endorsements haven’t been going anywhere.
Personally, I like 538, but I’m just waiting them out till polls get reliable and they get to the stage where they can talk based on data again.
bks (on Tuesday): This new survey finds that only 46% of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers realize that Cruz was born outside the US. More Iowa Republicans believe Cruz was born in the US [he wasn't - Sam] than President Barack Obama [who actually was - Sam].
Also, prior to the SOTU, and 48 hours before the GOP debate, the most read article in WaPo is an op-ed by an originalist constitutional law professor stating that Cruz is not eligible for the presidency. The comments section is hilarious (sort by Most Liked).
Paul: The Betfair odds have changed significantly (Rubio and Trump are 15:8 and Cruz is 11:4). Rubio did have a clear advantage for some time with the betting systems and PredictIt. That advantage has evaporated. Cruz had made a run but that progress seems to have stalled.
Sam: The markets are moving in a correct direction. I actually think Cruz is toast – he, not Trump, is the one with the low ceiling. I also think it is make-or-break time for Rubio, who is being damaged by the divided field. Overall, I think the advantage goes to Trump.
Kalil: Somewhat off topic, but I was interested in the /other/ primary. The latest slew of polls have Sanders pulling even in Iowa and pulling away in New Hampshire. The general assumption I’ve seen is that even if he wins Iowa and NH, he’ll still lose Nevada, SC, and the Super Tuesday states, because of current polling showing poor demographic appeal. The counter to that, though, is that I’m not sure if polling can really tell us much about the aftermath of an early Sanders upset and the results of the publicity that would generate, and there’s very little precedent for a candidate to lose both the early states and then go on to win the primary (Bill Clinton is the sole counterexample I’m aware of).
Matt McIrvin: Iowa and New Hampshire are both very white northern states where Democrats might be expected to favor Sanders, so it’s not really that shocking. I still doubt Sanders can carry the Southern primaries. Still, it’ll probably create a revived “Hillary in freefall” narrative for a few weeks that might affect the rest of the primary race.
Sam: I do not think it is time to write off Hillary. It will be good for both her and Sanders in the long term for there to be a conflict, which will attract coverage. Currently, the news is full of Trump’s ideas. I would rather hear about the economy and climate change than deporting millions of people, or Ted Cruz’s birthplace in Calgary, or whatever.
Sam: Briefly back to the GOP nomination: if anyone is interested in simulating the delegate selection process, I have written MATLAB scripts to cover the process through Super Tuesday, which is on March 1 this year [GitHub] It looks like in a divided field of four candidates, at his current levels of support Donald Trump could get a majority of delegates – enough to win the nomination on the first round. I will soon publish the graphs that support this argument.