Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

The GOP’s deadline problem

February 11th, 2016, 3:31pm by Sam Wang

Given the results in Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as national polls, if the Republican front-runner were a more conventional candidate we would be writing about near-inevitability. Donald Trump is in a very similar position to Mitt Romney’s at this point in 2012 – if anything, a somewhat stronger position. Look at this graph and imagine the top-to-bottom rank ordering as being the top candidates in 2012: Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul. That’s where we are now. Furthermore, in 2012 Romney lagged at various points to other candidates. For Trump, this has not happened since he entered the race.

Nonetheless, what would it take for Trump to fail to get the nomination?

With the Republican field so divided after New Hampshire, the path for anyone other than Trump requires nearly all candidates to drop out. Multiple candidates want that to happen. For example, Ted Cruz thinks it is time to unite around one candidate: Ted Cruz. And so on. However, after getting 3 or 4 convention delegates each on Tuesday, Cruz, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio all have reasons to stay in. Under these conditions, Trump wins.

Most political journalists and readers have a wrong understanding of the early-state delegate process. It is not proportional at all, but what I call pseudo-proportional. As suggested by my computational simulation of the delegate process [the code is here], in a field of four candidates, an average-across-states vote share of 30% is enough to get 50% of delegates through Super Tuesday. That’s an average: the winner could get 20% of the vote in Texas and 40% in Georgia, and so on. Donald Trump is well on track for this scenario: he won 24% of the vote in Iowa and 35% in New Hampshire. As of today, he is at 36% in national surveys.

The not-Trump scenario occurs if Republicans cull their field, fast. As far as I can tell, if Republicans want a candidate who is acceptable to most of their party to get a majority of convention delegates, their deadlines are:

  • Deadline 1 (February 29th): Get down to two alternatives to Donald Trump as a consequence of South Carolina and Nevada – and before voting starts on Super Tuesday, March 1st.
  • Deadline 2 (March 14th): Settle on one alternative to Trump as a consequence of Super Tuesday and the March 5th-12th primaries.

For example, the first of these deadlines can be met if the South Carolina and Nevada primaries knock out three of the following four: Bush, Kasich, Rubio, and Carson. (I’m assuming that at a minimum, Cruz is in through Super Tuesday.)

If these drop-dead dates aren’t met, Trump could still be stopped, but it would be difficult. First, it would require somebody other than Trump to take the popular lead in April. In a three-way race, that is hard to imagine. Even in a two-way race, it is not at all clear that Trump will lose, since for now, he picks up enough “Establishment” support in head-to-head matchups to get a majority. Consistent with this, exit polls in New Hampshire show that some Republicans of all stripes like Trump.

To understand the details, let’s get into the weeds of the delegate process. [Read more →]

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GOP rules update: An escape route closes for the Establishment

February 10th, 2016, 5:37pm by Sam Wang

In my calculations of the GOP nomination process, I constructed a simulation of the many rules between now and Super Tuesday. I had assumed that each state’s party officials – 3 delegates per state – were “superdelegates,” not bound by the election result. They would be free to vote as they liked. Although they are only around 5% of all delegates, they would be one way that the party could have wiggle room in case it was necessary to cut a deal at the convention. For example, what if Donald Trump has just below 50% of delegates? They might want to derail him.

However, over at FHQ is a scoop: party-official delegates are bound to their state’s election winner – just like regular delegates. This rules change was instituted by the national Republican Party to streamline the process, so that a frontrunning candidate who was supported by less than 50% of voters could still win a majority of delegates. In a divided field, that is a substantial risk, and might lead to a protracted nomination fight. Little did they know that the front-runner they would end up helping is Donald Trump.

My calculations will require some minor modifications. My conclusion is actually strengthened: Trump’s chances are even better than I had initially estimated. I’ll provide an update, once I make sure there are no other significant problems.

Speaking of arcana, this is a very minor point and doesn’t describe the big picture – but it is entertaining:

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New Hampshire vote-counting thread

February 9th, 2016, 7:30pm by Sam Wang

Follow results at the Huffington Post or the Guardian (great coverage there). Open thread.

10:30pm: Christie might be out. Still, if either Kasich or Bush stays in (and they both might do that), the assumptions behind this simulation appear to be met.

10:00pm: My analysis and computer simulation of the delegate process still appears to outline a plausible scenario: with all the loopholes in the Republican party’s “proportional” system, Trump only needs about 30% support in a divided field to have a path to get a majority of delegates. That’s why Kasich’s rise and Rubio’s crash tonight are such a big deal.

9:50pm: With these results Kasich, Bush, and Rubio seem likely to stay in. Governor Christie contributed to that by taking down Rubio. Looks like it’s time for some traffic problems in the establishment lane.

9:40pm: A passionate concession speech from Hillary Clinton. “I know I have some work to do, particularly with young people, but … even if they are not supporting me now, I support them. Because I know, I’ve had a blessed life, but I also known what it’s like to stumble and fall. It’s not whether you get knocked down that matters. It’s whether you get back up.”

9:20pm: For the second time in a row, the talk about Trump supporters not showing up to vote turns out to be hot air. In Iowa, Trump only underperformed polls by about 2 percentage points. Tonight so far in New Hampshire, he is overperforming by 4 percentage points. These differences are normal by primary standards – actually, they’re kind of low. It appears that polls reflect Trump’s support perfectly fine.

For that matter, Rubio is only 4 percentage points below his final polling. Again, not a huge error, but it seems larger for a candidate with support in the 10% range. We’ll see as the evening progresses.

9:00pm, 25% of precincts reporting: I thought Rubio would drop below Kasich, but not necessarily behind both Bush and Cruz. If that holds, it’s a humiliation.

In the arcane rules of the N.H. primary, lower-tier candidate performance affects Trump’s delegate count. 20 delegates get handed out proportionally…but only if a candidate gets at least 10% of the vote. Leftover delegates go to the first-place finisher. For example, if Bush gets above 12.5%, his delegate count rounds up to 3. That leaves one fewer delegate for the Donald.

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New Hampshire: Kasich and Rubio lead a scramble for distant second

February 9th, 2016, 1:00am by Sam Wang

image from five polls conducted February 4-8 that include data from the 7th and 8th, after Saturday’s debate, undecideds show up as 8 percent of GOP voters. About 50% of the respondents were reached after the debate. These people aren’t able to express their candidate preference to a pollster, but they do have pretty much all the evidence they are going to get from the candidates themselves. They probably have some preference, but we just can’t find out what it is by asking.

Donald Trump appears to be far in front, at 31%. His lead is 17 percentage points, just about what it’s been since the beginning of August. After that, the undecideds could easily scramble the order of the runners-up… [Read more →]

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Symposium on the Law of Democracy – Stanford Law Review

February 7th, 2016, 6:03am by Sam Wang

This weekend I attended a symposium on the Law of Democracy at Stanford University. The schedule is here. The list of attendees and presenters included Stephen Ansolabehere, Nate Persily, Charles Stewart III, Jane Schacter, Bertrall Ross, Sam Isaacharoff, Heather Gerken, Rick Hasen, Robert Bauer, Ben Ginsberg, Richard Pildes, Bruce Cain, Maggie McKinley, Rabia Belt…this is quite a concentration of election-law practitioners and researchers.

Below I give live highlights of selected parts of the program, including:

  • Rick Hasen on voting rights under the current Supreme Court.
  • Federal Election Commissioner former chair Ann Ravel on the broken regulatory process.
  • The legal future of my statistical partisan-gerrymandering standards (article now accepted at SLR).
  • Ben Ginsberg on how this year’s Republican nomination process may play out.
  • The consequences of rising mistrust, not just in government institutions, but across many sectors of society.

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The post-Iowa bounce goes to…Hillary Clinton

February 6th, 2016, 12:54pm by Sam Wang

Update, post-primary: Sanders outperformed his final New Hampshire polling margin by about four percentage points. That is interesting, but not out of bounds. It may reflect the difficulty of polling an open primary. It remains obviously true that Iowa did not have effects of a size to affect the likelihood of a Sanders win in New Hampshire.

It is probably hopeless to counteract reporters who weave the tale that Sanders is surging. Based on actual data, it might be exactly the opposite.

  • In aggregated data, Hillary Clinton has gotten approximately a 6-point bounce in New Hampshire. The median margin was Sanders +21.5% in 4 surveys conducted January 26-30. This narrowed to Sanders +15.5% in 6 surveys conducted February 2-5.
  • A daily tracking poll from U.Mass. Lowell shows even more narrowing. On February 1 it showed Sanders +31%, which by February 6th narrowed to Sanders +14%, a 17 percentage point change in Clinton’s favor.
  • In national surveys, Clinton went from a median of Clinton +12% (4 polls, January 22-February 1) to Clinton +16% (3 polls, February 2-4). This is noisy data, but the median change is a national 4-point bounce for Clinton. It is possible there was little change in either direction (see confidence intervals below).

It is likely that Hillary Clinton has remained level or risen in her national standings. This may be counterintuitive, considering the tone of the coverage by the press corps. Since Sanders is still in the lead in New Hampshire, my guess is that few reporters will get static for portraying an imagined surge for him. [Read more →]

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On GOP side: Trump level in N.H., Rubio moves up, Kasich catches up with Cruz

February 6th, 2016, 8:51am by Sam Wang

In New Hampshire, Donald Trump is right where he’s been since August. In seven polls done February 2-4, he is at a median of 29.0 ± 1.4 %. He was rising in late January, but that came back down after the Iowa caucuses on February 1. So he’s stuck…in first place. [Read more →]

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Consequences of Iowa: Trump still strong, new life for Rubio, long-term trouble for Sanders

February 2nd, 2016, 1:21am by Sam Wang

My preliminary take on the Iowa caucuses is that they didn’t alter the trajectory of where things are probably headed for the Democrats: Hillary Clinton is still favored. However, the Republican field could potentially narrow to a three-way race (Trump-Cruz-Rubio) sooner than I had expected, thanks to a strong showing by Marco Rubio.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz switched places relative to polls. To compare the final polls with tonight’s counts, Trump underperformed by 26.5-24.3=2.2%, Cruz overperformed by 27.7-23.5=4.2%, and Rubio overperformed by 23.1-18.0=5.1%. The late swing for Rubio was visible in the final days of polling. All of this is well within the range of normal polling error in primaries. As expected, multiple delegates went to Cruz (7), Trump (7), Rubio (6), and Ben Carson (3). Numbers updated to reflect exact vote shares. After all the fuss, Cruz and Trump appear to be tied for first.

It is premature to say that Trump is doomed. However, he does look a little less inevitable. It is certainly possible that he can crash from his high position in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and nationally. But I think a bigger risk to him is the possibility that tonight’s results will pressure Rubio’s lower-tier rivals to get out sooner rather than later. As I’ve written before, if the field gets down to three candidates after New Hampshire, that opens up a narrow route to stopping Trump. In short, tonight kept Marco Rubio’s chances alive.

On the Democratic side, tonight was substantively bad for Bernie Sanders. After all the talk about hordes of Sanders supporters, in the end he only achieved a near-tie: 23 delegates for Clinton, 21 delegates for Sanders. Iowa is one of the most favorable states for him because of its ethnic composition. But it is not enough to win 50% of white Democrats. To have a chance overall, he needed a big win to (a) indicate that he can get enough white support to compensate for lack of support in nonwhite demographics in other states, and (b) create press coverage to boost him in the coming weeks. Outcome (a) didn’t happen. We’ll see about (b).

One of the most notable features of the Democratic race was the age gap. In an entrance poll, Sanders led by 70% among voters aged 18-29, while Clinton led by 43% among those aged 65 and over. That is a 113-point gap. This difference surely is on the minds of both sides for the weeks and months ahead.

Finally, a word about polling. There seems to be a persistent meme that polls are in trouble. There was no evidence for this. Primaries and caucuses are volatile situations – this is a well-known fact. I have been assuming that home-stretch polls can be off by an average of 5 percentage points. Any fuss tonight is based on the fact that in Iowa, with its tiny turnout and odd voting procedure, Trump was polling 3 points ahead of Cruz, and ended up losing by 3 points. It would be a mistake to conclude that Trump’s support is illusory in other states. Quite the opposite. A 6-point error would not affect his ranking anywhere else. For now.

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Iowa discussion thread

February 1st, 2016, 7:50pm by Sam Wang

Follow the returns at HuffPost, the New York Times, and Red Racing Horses.

“Will Marco Rubio come in a strong third, or a weak third?” That was an actual pundit question. Data-ish punditry welcome below.


12:09am, Tim in CA: “Iowa and New Hampshire may represent a high water mark for Sanders. And in the case of Iowa, that high water mark is a tie. That result doesn’t look good enough for him in the long run. New Hampshire is even more favorable to him, so he will probably win it. But then comes SC and NV, and after that the Super Tuesday states. The tide will start turning to Hillary. That is the big unreported story, right?”

12:07am: The Duke asks, “Will we get a ‘I was overconfident in the polls and my model was wrong’ post from you?” My short answer: no way!

Firstly, let me get out of the way that this misusage of “model” really grates on me. When I report simple poll medians, there’s no model to speak of. This colloquial terminology has always bothered me.

But to address what the Duke meant to ask: my estimate of probabilities was simple, and seems OK. I suggested that the Iowa data indicated a 70% probability of a Trump win, 60% for Clinton. These probabilities were based on the idea that poll medians could be off by an average of 5 percentage points. For now it appears that the polling error was about 2 percentage points for Trump, the same for Clinton. These are actually pretty small errors. The big story tonight was a net move from Trump to Rubio, as I pointed out. Also, think about it…those probabilities would only be both right 70%*60%=42% of the time…in other words, a 58% probability that either Trump or Clinton would lose. That’s the way it goes when outcomes are uncertain.

I will stick with one statement: Sanders needed a clear win tonight, and he didn’t get it. For the moment, I see tough sledding for him in the weeks ahead.

Here is one error I may have made: I didn’t think Iowa would narrow the field. But Rubio’s strong performance might just do that. We will see.

11:25pm: NYT now has delegate projections. On GOP side (97% reporting): 8 Cruz, 7 Trump, 6 Rubio, 2 Carson, 1 Paul. Democrats (93% reporting): 21 Clinton, 21 Sanders.

11:17pm: I agree with Pechmerle – the “strong third” thing ended up not being that silly. If it narrows the GOP race to three candidates soon (Trump, Cruz, Rubio), that’s the most likely route to a not-Trump outcome.

10:45pm: The Des Moines Register site was terrible.

10:25pm: Cruz, then Trump, then Rubio. With a chance that Trump will fall to third. That is about a 5% deviation from polls. Wow.

10:20pm, Froggy: “A reminder that Ann Selzer had it Trump 28, Cruz 23, Rubio 15, Carson 10. Oops!” but “Not a total loss for her – Carson does have 9.3%.” ow.

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What To Look For in the Iowa Caucuses

February 1st, 2016, 9:05am by Sam Wang

(updated since January 29th) After the mindnumbing levels of coverage over the last year…the first actual voting of the primary season finally starts tonight, with the Iowa caucuses. To answer the simple horserace question, Donald Trump seems positioned to come out on top on the Republican side, as is Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. In both cases, polls narrowed over the weekend, adding a dose of uncertainty.

For the long term, a better question to ask is: can we get clues about who will eventually get the Republican and Democratic nominations? (For a hint, mouse over the image.) To get a sense of where things might be headed, here’s what I will be thinking about tonight.

On both sides, the race appears to have narrowed over the weekend. Iowa is a must-win state for Bernie Sanders. Neither Trump or Clinton needs it. And what other GOP candidates need, Iowa probably won’t deliver. [Read more →]

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