Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

PEC readers chat about the GOP nomination

January 10th, 2016, 3:11pm by Sam Wang


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.

Tags: 2016 Election

50 Comments so far ↓

  • Paul

    Based on the GOP rules for IA and NH, this is my current analysis of delegates: In IA: Cruz and Trump 8 each; Rubio and Carson 3 each; Bush, Paul, Christie, Fiorina, and Huckabee 1 each. In NH: Trump 8; Rubio, Christie, Cruz and Kasich 3 each. This does not allocate the 3 delegates in each state who are party officials. This also assumes that no candidates withdraw after IA.

    • bks

      Trump may have a ceiling but Carson has a floor. Not to rub salt in a wound, but only for the sake of consistency, if you click on the graphic in Sam’s 21 September article, Carson is currently in third place.

    • Paul

      Replying to bks as to Carson and a floor, I am seeing Carson as 4th overall, but essentially tied with Bush for 4th and 5th. However, if Carson receives 9% of the vote in IA as he is currently polling using my numbers, that corresponds to only 3 delegates. In NH, Carson is currently at 4% in 7th place which translates to 0 delegates. Carson will be 5th at best in the delegate count after NH. If 9% and 5th place is a floor, so be it. However, 9% will amount to no delegates in threshold states.

    • bks

      Any chance that Cruz’s evangelicals return to Carson after Trump is through eviscerating the Canadian?

  • 538 Refugee

    Looks like Cruz may have a self inflicted problem. Failure to disclose he borrowed money to finance his first senate campaign. It wouldn’t have looked good for the brand he was building if he was dealing with Goldman Sachs and Citibank. So, let’s just leave that stuff out of our election disclosure forms. Even if he navigates his way out of the legal ramifications it might be enough to hurt him in the early voting.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/14/us/politics/ted-cruz-wall-street-loan-senate-bid-2012.html

  • Mark F.

    The Democratic candidate needs to win over women and minorities, not white men. So, even if Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, I see him doing very badly in the South and states with high minority population. The party also wants a woman; if Hillary fails it may be another 20 years before that happens. And there is Sanders’ age–even if I was in agreement with his views (and I’m not as a libertarian leaning Independent), I don’t think a person his age should be President. The chances of him dying in office or having a serious illness are very high, and the job is too demanding for an elderly person. (Hillary is really pushing things as well)

    • vhh

      Trump is 69, Hillary is 68. Generally, women outlive men by 3-5 years. Plenty of outliers in both directions, of course.

  • bks

    I check three prediction markets each morning (PredictIt, Betfair, PaddyPower), and for the first time, all three favor Trump (6am PST).

    • Paul

      I have been following a minimum of 14 of the non-duplicated betting markets. I use medians not means and the last 24 hours has seen a shift towards Trump and away from Rubio. However, the current (12:08 pm East Coast US) Betfair odds appear anomalous (Cruz is 4:9 , Trump is 5:4 and Rubio is 20:1). I just rechecked (one minute later) and 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 Wang

      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. However, a close inspection of the delegate rules reveals two serious looming problems for him: a split field before Super Tuesday deprives him of delegates, and Ohio and Florida contests on March 15th seem likely to keep Jeb! and Kasich in the race.

      Overall, I think the advantage goes to Trump.

    • Amitabh Lath

      The oddschecker site compiles all the British bookmakers. It is a good place to see the spread in odds. Sometimes the uncertainty in the measurement is more interesting than the value.

      http://www.oddschecker.com/politics/us-politics/us-presidential-election-2016/winner

  • Olav Grinde

    Would someone kindly provide a link to a state-by-state overview of how the GOP actually chooses its delegates? I am trying to get a grip on this, but if the information is out there, then I just cannot find it.

    Surely some leading news organization is offering this?

    Surely, in the spirit of American democracy, someone wants to give insight into the Republican Party’s nominating process, making all this transparent?

    • Sam Wang

      A description is available at The Green Papers. I’m writing an article that is also an explainer. I’ll be interested in your reaction.

    • Paul

      In the spirit of democracy (or lack thereof), “538″ reports that 83% of the ad money spent on GOP campaigns has come groups not “affiliated” with the candidate. On the Democratic side, that figure is 2%.

    • Olav Grinde

      Paul, that’s strong evidence that the USA has the best democracy money can buy! ;)

  • Kalil

    Sam,
    Somewhat off topic, but I was interested on your take on the /other/ primary. The latest slew of polls have Sanders pulling even in Iowa and pulling away in New Hampshire. FiveThirtyEight’s model that launched today diverges wildly – the polls-only model gives him a 45% chance of winning Iowa, but the ‘polls-plus’ model puts him down at 23%. Similarly, the polls-only model gives him a 73% chance of winning New Hampshire, while the ‘polls-plus’ puts him at 47%. One of those models has to be seriously wrong.

    Longer term, I’m also curious if you have any prognostication about the race after 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).

  • bks

    Prior to the SOTU, and 48 hours before the GOP debate, the most read article in WaPo is an op-ed by an originalistconstitutional law professor stating that Cruz is not eligible for the presidency:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ted-cruz-is-not-eligible-to-be-president/2016/01/12/1484a7d0-b7af-11e5-99f3-184bc379b12d_story.html
    The comments section is hilarious (sort by Best).

  • Petey

    Political Wire has this headline up: “Trump Surges in Prediction Markets”, referring to PredictWise. Rubio has also semi-collapsed.

    Which serves to help validate my longstanding point that betting markets are always absolutely abysmal during the “invisible primary”.

    Easy, easy alpha. If a month ago, you’d gone long Trump and gone short Rubio, when just how wrong the betting markets were was already pretty obvious, you could cash out a very hefty profit right now. (Though I’d probably leave both those positions mostly in place.)

  • bks

    The new survey found 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 than President Barack Obama.)

    http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-ted-cruz-canadian-birther-iowa-poll-2016-1

    • SF Bays

      That’s because Republicans on the whole are sadly uniformed or misinformed and have no desire to change this. They wear their lack of knowledge as a badge of honor. Which explains Trump.

    • Petey

      Kudos, bks. You were the first I saw to emphatically state that Trump had a winning wedge there.

      (And if you dig into the PPP poll, the news on that particular wedge in Iowa keeps getting worse for Cruz.)

    • Amitabh Lath

      I was actually born in Iowa. But every time I visit Canada it seems such a pleasant place. I would love to be from there. If only Ted Cruz and I could swap birthplaces.

  • 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.

  • Mark F.

    Great discussion. The key to GOP victory is, of course, to get out more white voters and hope for mediocre non-white turnout.

  • bks

    Who would you rather be trapped in an elevator with, Trump or Cruz? I think the average Democrat would say Trump. In a national election I think that Trump would be much the stronger candidate than Cruz. Could he win? I do not share my fellow progressives’ optimism on this. Twitter has made amnesiacs of us all.

  • 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?
    I did just read a Sean Trende article on the 2016 Senate race. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/01/11/calculating_democrats_chances_of_regaining_the_senate.html. Seems plausible for JANUARY model – a little bit of historical data indicating that Presidential Job Approval and Candidate Quality will decide 2016 Senate Control. I have heard a lot worse.
    One question that interests is whether any single GOP candidate has a significant advantage overall. We might speculate that Bush or Rubio would do better with Hispanics, but is that number MORE significant than the increased number of core GOP non-voters who sat out elections based on lack of enthusiasm for the GOP nominee.
    I am certainly not going to vote for Hillary, but I would consider (for the 1st time) sitting out depending on candidate and only a few of the possible candidates would get donations of time and money. I did not consider Trump or Cruz in this latter group, but each is edging closer.

  • Amitabh Lath

    I’ve been playing around with Sean Trende’s EV prediction app:

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2015/08/26/demographics_and_the_2016_election_scenarios.html

    If you leave everything else at 2012 levels, but adjust the Non-hispanic-white up a couple of notches (in both the “turnout” and “Rep-Dem”) you get a Republican victory.

    This corresponds to adding about 6M Republican voting whites, people who did not vote in 2012. Trump has determined that you need a circus to get these people off the couch and that is what he is giving them.

    • Josh

      These seem like “a couple of notches” but you’re actually talking about making (modern) history. I played around with the same app (pretty cool btw) and I didn’t get a GOP victory until almost 65% of non-Hispanic whites were voting GOP and 2/3 of them turned out to vote. Even in Reagan’s landslide 1984 victory, only 66% of white non-Hispanic voters cast votes for the Gipper.

      So in order to win, given current demographics, the GOP candidate would need to turn out a record number of white voters, get more of them to vote for him or her, proportionally speaking, than did Ronald Reagan in an election where he won every state except Minnesota, AND hope that slightly fewer blacks, Hispanics and Asians voted…and even then, the GOP candidate would only collect about 280 EVs.

      Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

    • TC

      Exactly. This is the strategy that Rush Limbaugh has been advocating, for decades. It’s rational. It’s workable. It works. It has historical precedents. And it is basic to the continued existence of the non-parliamentarian Republican Party (wherein all constituents but the One Percent are abandoned and proxy voters are needed). It’s a terrible thing but that is the thing that Trump has been and is free to be. Those who think that Trump can’t pull it off badly underestimate how deeply racist (and macho and nativist) is US culture and US history. One merely need look at the state level elected officials. Much more could be said.

    • Amitabh Lath

      Josh, I absolutely agree on the historic part. And of course the battleground will not be 6M over the entire country but proportionally in CO, FL, OH, VA…

      I do not know if these sorts of numbers are possible but certainly you do not get them if you run a Romney++ campaign. Trump’s willingness to break not just the rules of the GOP donor class (big money in politics, immigration, trade deals) but also the rules of decorum makes sense when you see what he is trying to achieve.

      TC points out the Rush Limbaugh crowd. Note that these people were disappointed in the GOP nominee in ’08 and ’12. That probably led to tepid endorsements and low turnout among this crowd. But this time with their chosen champion Trump?

  • Fel Martins

    I’m actually quite bullish on Trump compared to the pundits. Trump’s use of the media as free advertising has essentially sucked up most of the air, suffocating the fires of the campaigns that were supposed to take off (like Bush, Rubio, Kasich, Perry, Walker, etc). His support is pretty varied, unlike Cruz whose support tends to be evangelical/tea party. Not to mention he’s a lot of voters’ 2nd pick as well, should some of the others fall off. He can and has said things that normally sink other campaigns. And his past positions (which are quite liberal) haven’t harmed him one bit.

    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). The lesser worse-case scenario on that point would be to simply hope Trump can carry them into the White House over the Democrat. History seems to be a bit in the Rs favor, since a party rarely holds onto the White House for more than 2 terms.

    • Josh

      Your last statement isn’t really true–but more than that, using it to predict the 2016 election is pretty impractical.

      To your first point–that a party rarely holds the White House for more than two terms–history shows that it’s actually relatively common. Since Lincoln, there have been twenty-eight Presidents, and one party has held the Presidency for more than two terms in a row eight times. In other words, about once every three or four Presidencies, it happens. And modern history bears this out, too: we’ve had nineteen Presidents since 1900, and it’s happened six times since then. So it’s far from being uncommon–it seems to happen on average about once every 20-30 years. (The last one was Reagan + Bush I.)

      But more to the point, you’re talking about making a prediction, where so many variables are involved, based on one single variable that comes from data with a very small sample size. To be honest, the fact that the Dems have held the White House for the last 8 years probably does have an effect on who wins in 2016–but it’s likely very tiny and hard to isolate.

    • Sam Wang

      I agree with Josh here.

    • Nick Warino

      Yup, you have Reagan-Bush for 3 terms, and you could even argue Clinton-Gore (who won the popular vote and probably Florida)

    • Petey

      “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.”

      Disagree with you here reasonably strongly.

      Only way that happens is if he can make a deal w Cruz, and Cruz can get his delegates to follow him in lockstep in the open vote on 2nd ballot, which is not a sure thing.

      Otherwise, a 2nd ballot spells doom for Trump. A 2nd ballot is the only place ‘the establishment’ really has genuine power. That’s why the anti-Trump GOP factions wish so hard for it. Once you get past the 1st ballot, you get Rubio, Kasich, Romney, Ryan, or the like.

      Delegates can be wooed by bribes, threats, inducements, and a whole host of party favors. Once the ‘robot rule’ expires at the end of the 1st ballot, everything is up for grabs. And ‘the establishment’ holds all those favors.

      (All that said, given the lack of proportionality in the GOP delegate allocation, I find a 2nd ballot to be incredibly unlikely.)

  • Amitabh Lath

    Great, now that I’ve left the relative safety of the comments section, Douthat and his minions will know how to find me.

    Seriously, though, your thoughts on clustering are very interesting, specifically about Cruz. Having very few off-diagonal elements in his support matrix means his support did not triangulate its way to Cruz, they are true believers.

    Analysis-wise (if not issue-wise) similar to Ron Paul’s in previous years?

    • Kevin

      I tend to think that these measures are fluid. Loyalty to the Republican brand is much stronger than loyalty to a particular candidate; even if denied by those who are polled. We may be about to see a lot of motivated reasoning as people find their way to the Trump/Cruz banner. What this analysis can do usefully is demolish the false narrative of “lanes” to the GOP nomination; the supposed establishment vs. outsider distinction which supposedly places a ceiling on the support of Trump and Cruz.

    • Amitabh Lath

      As Sam points out, Trump’s support clusters with Carson but also is developing significant tails in Rubio/Christie space. Fluid is a good description.

      All these clusters will probably coalesce Trump fairly soon. If Cruz is a cult-like phenomena (like Ron Paul) his supporters may balk, but they do not seem to matter outside of Iowa.

      Trump seems to be following the script laid out by Sean Trende in the aftermath of the 2012 loss by Romney and the GOP post-mortem. That document called for increased outreach to minorities. But Trende showed that if whites who sat out could be engaged (even by a few %) that would be numerically superior to minority outreach.

      Trump seems to have put Trende’s prescription into play hitting all the issues the target group cares about (too much of: big money, immigration, free trade). If Trende was right this may well give Trump a leg up in the general.

  • Scott Supak (@ssupak)

    When Carson died in IA, who took his people?

    Cruz and Trump. Cruz gets evangelicals. Trump not so much.

    Old friend told Robert Reich the GOP is “Crumped.”

  • 538 Refugee

    “The exception is Carson supporters, who would go hard for Trump.”

    Interesting. Google ‘trump attacks carson’ and the top links are for November 13. Now check the time line here:
    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/2016_republican_presidential_nomination-3823.html

    Seems that was the beginning of the end for Carson.

    • Roger King

      I think what actually happened was the press was starting to question aspects of Carson’s bio (remember the West Point stuff and the knife attack of the friend etc) at the same time as he was saying absurd comments about foreign policy (Chinese in Iraq etc). Voters were starting to have a hard time envisioning him leading the military or making foreign policy decisions. Trump then launched his attack you’re right but a couple of days later, there were the Paris attacks which wiped Trump’s comments off the front page but also thrust terrorism and foreign policy to the top of the important issues list in the Republican primary. Carson tanked after that.

  • bks

    What are the current rules for Iowa? If memory serves, the caucus decisions are non-binding pending a state convention (to be held when?). Could we get to New Hampshire with the outcome of Iowa still undecided?

    • Sam Wang

      Iowa was hijacked by Paul supporters in 2012. However, that loophole was closed by the RNC for 2016. Iowa caucuses, as well as other elections during the primary season, are now generally binding.

    • Owen

      Sam Wang: The loophole closed on caucus state hijacking is why Utah Republicans have cancelled all presidential preference polling at the caucuses. The party leadership will choose the delegates this year by hand, probably producing a 100% Rubio delegation regardless of voter and caucus-goer preferences.

  • Dan Ferrisi

    Given that we’re now so close to actual ballots being cast, it might be worthwhile to ponder some of the most plausible scenarios as regards who wins what.

    It appears that Iowa is firmly a two-man race, with Cruz and Trump head and shoulders above everyone else. If Cruz manages a strong win, he could certainly be powered to a robust second-place finish in New Hampshire. After all, he’s already nearly at parity there with Rubio. He could build on that win in Iowa and that strong second in New Hampshire, riding the wave to win South Carolina and then powering into Super Tuesday. Wholly plausible, I’d say.

    If Trump wins Iowa, as the past week’s polling suggests is entirely possible, there is every reason to believe that Trump’s current first-place lock on New Hampshire will be further solidified. And, if Trump goes two for two in Iowa and New Hampshire, that’s an awful lot of momentum to ride heading into South Carolina, which is already fertile Trump territory. Three for three? Then Super Tuesday is likely academic.

    What if Cruz wins Iowa and Rubio is a strong third-place finisher (assuming second is beyond reach)? It’s plausible that Trump is perceived as underperforming as compared to expectations and, even worse, that he’s perceived as a “loser” for not taking first. “Loser” is off-brand and off-message. That could dampen Trump in New Hampshire and, building on a strong third in Iowa, Rubio could conceivably consolidate enough traditional GOP support to win the first-in-the-nation primary. South Carolina and Nevada are both fertile for him, and they could give him juice into Super Tuesday.

    Which scenario is likeliest? I’ll leave that to others for their input.

    • Kevin

      Trump has been counted out and/or been imminently expected to flame out since before he entered the race. He will have an easy time declaring any strong finish in Iowa as a victory, even if he finishes behind Cruz, or in third place. “Look how far we’ve exceeded expectations”–the speeches write themselves, and Trump is no klutz at self-promotion.

      I find the “Trump’s brand is brittle” theory of how he will self-destruct the least convincing of them all.

    • SF Bays

      Trump stated today that a loss in Iowa will not affect his plans to continue. This seems like pretty classic expectations setting. A loss in Iowa? No big deal and on to New Hampshire.

      Now a second loss in NH is a big deal and no amount of expectation setting will change that.

      It boils down to this: Trump wins Iowa and NH and it’s over. Cruz wins Iowa and comes in second (weak or strong doesn’t matter) and now we have a race.

      If none of the other challengers take second in one of the first two states we’re now down to a two man race. I don’t really see a path for anyone else to be a serious factor in this race.

    • Paul

      Based on GOP rules, current polling and my own reading of various views, I say Cruz wins Iowa but ends up with the same number or perhaps one more delegate than Trump. Knowing Trump, he will easily convey the notion that 2nd place is a win using his own logic, especially if the number of delegates are tied. We will presumably not know how the 3 party members lean for some time in either state (they are not included in this line of thinking). In New Hampshire ( I live in Vermont and see and talk with NH people all of the time), if Trump even comes in 2nd in Iowa, I think he will easily win NH. Given the 10% threshold in NH, very likely between 5 and 7 candidates will not receive any delegates. The two candidates standing to lose the most in NH who are on the 10% bubble are Bush and Kasich. I think it is quite possible that if Cruz and Trump run away with the Iowa caucus, that only Trump, Rubio, Christie and Cruz receive delegates in NH. After NH, my order of delegates is Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Christie.

    • Matt McIrvin

      Currently I’m more interested in what’s going on on the Democratic side: Bernie Sanders had long been expected to take NH, and he’s still favored there, but now it looks like he might win Iowa as well.

      These 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.