Not Even Pretending

As the presidential primaries crash headlong toward the first votes in three weeks, our pal Chris Cillizza has dropped any pretense of objectivity, today speculating about a Sanders sweep of both Iowa and New Hampshire. His fig leaf basis for indulging this fantasy scenario this is two polls yesterday, one showing Hillary Clinton leading in Iowa by 48-45 and the other showing Sanders leading in New Hampshire by 50-46. From this, Cillizza gushes:

Consider two polls conducted by the Wall Street Journal, NBC and Marist College in Iowa and New Hampshire that were released Sunday. In Iowa, Clinton has 48 percent, Sanders has 45 percent, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley has 5 percent. In New Hampshire, it’s Sanders in the lead with 50 percent, with 46 percent for Clinton and 1 percent for O’Malley.

Even if you accept that these surveys are a snapshot in time and take a step back to look at the broader polling picture, the idea of Sanders sweeping the first two states remains plausible.

Ummm, not really. As Cillizza acknowledges deeper into the article, the NBC/WSJ poll in Iowa is out of whack with the trend line in Iowa which shows Clinton with a larger lead. Her lead in the Real Clear Politics average in Iowa is 10.6 points. The new poll is the closest of the five being used in the current average. Sanders has not led an Iowa poll since early September, and out of 43 polls in the state since late April, he has led in precisely two of them.

In New Hampshire on the other hand, Sanders’ RCP lead is a mere 4.7 points, Clinton leads two of the most recent polls, and she’s led in 16 out of 35 polls since early May. Sanders’ current lead is the product of one poll – by Fox News – showing him with a  13 point lead in early January. But at the same time, the new NBC/WSJ poll shows Sanders ahead by 4, while Clinton leads by 3 in a PPP poll.

From all this data, Cillizza spins out a “nightmare scenario” of Clinton losing both Iowa and New Hampshire. If anything, however, the data argues for precisely the opposite – if Sanders can’t win in either Iowa or New Hampshire, he’s pretty much done. And the chances of him losing New Hampshire are growing with each new poll recently.

But that’s not the story that Chris Cillizza wants to tell. What he suggests certainly isn’t impossible, but absent his transparent cherry picking of a single poll this morning, there’s no evidence to indicate that it’s any more likely now than it was a week or a month ago. Leading me to wonder why this story wasn’t headlined “Sanders lead slipping in New Hampshire.”

Actually, upon 2.3 seconds of reflection, I don’t wonder at all. Chris Cillizza is a hack.

GOP Polling Dump

All at once, because while I could do six or seven posts, one on each poll, I like you too much to subject you to all that Republican miasma. Bottom line: Trump is rolling nationally, but Cruz is looking like the leader in the Iowa race.

Let’s start with the national polls:

Monmouth, December 10-13, 2015, 1006 respondents, margin of error +/- 5.0%

Donald Trump 41% (+13)
Ted Cruz 14% (+4)
Marco Rubio 10% (+4)
Ben Carson 9% (-9)
Jeb Bush 3% (-2)
John Kasich 3% (+2)
Chris Christie 2% (-1)
Carly Fiorina 2% (-4)
Mike Huckabee 2% (-2)
Rand Paul 2% (-2)

NBC/Wall Street Journal, December 6-9, 2015, 400 respondents, margin of error +/- 4.9%

Donald Trump 27% (+4)
Ted Cruz 22% (+12)
Marco Rubio 15% (+4)
Ben Carson 11% (-18)
Jeb Bush 7% (-1)
Carly Fiorina 5% (+2)
Chris Christie 3% (0)
Mike Huckabee 3% (0)
John Kasich 2% (-1)
Rand Paul 2% (0)

Note that although these are the two most recent national polls, they are at the extreme poles from one another. Trump does his best in the Monmouth poll and his worst in the NBC/WSJ. Cruz has his highest numbers in the NBC/WSJ tally. But even if we extend it to five additional polls, the pattern is the same. The current Real Clear Politics average over seven polls is: Trump 31.4, Cruz 16.3, Rubio 13.3, Carson 12.6, Bush 4.0, Fiorina 2.6, Christie 2.6, Kasich 2.3, Paul 2.1, Huckabee 2.0.

Trump is ascendant, Carson is cratering, Cruz is surging, and so is Rubio but to a lesser extent. Bush is treading water, and the rest really need to get back to their day jobs or start overtly positioning themselves as VP bait.

Iowa, on the other hand, is much more special in that very special Iowa kind of way. Three new polls over the weekend.

Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register, December 7-10, 2015, 400 respondents, margin of error +/- 4.9%

Ted Cruz 31% (+21)
Donald Trump 21% (+2)
Ben Carson 13% (-15)
Marco Rubio 10% (+1)
Jeb Bush 6% (+1)
Chris Christie 3% (+2)
Mike Huckabee 3% (0)
Rand Paul 3% (-2)
John Kasich 2% (0)
Carly Fiorina 1% (-3)

Fox News, December 7-10, 2015, 450 respondents, margin of error +/- 4.5% (no baseline for this poll, first one in 2015)

Ted Cruz 28%
Donald Trump 26%
Marco Rubio 13%
Ben Carson 10%
Jeb Bush 5%
Rand Paul 5%
Chris Christie 2%
Carly Fiorina 2%
Mike Huckabee 1%
John Kasich 1%

Quinnipiac, December 4-13, 2015, 874 respondents, margin of error +/- 3.3%

Donald Trump 28% (+3)
Ted Cruz 27% (+4)
Marco Rubio 14% (+1)
Ben Carson 10% (-8)
Jeb Bush 5% (+1)
Rand Paul 4% (-1)
Chris Christie 3% (+1)
Carly Fiorina 3% (0)
Mike Huckabee 1% (-1)
John Kasich 1% (0)

If Trump manages to win Iowa, look out. He’ll probably springboard that into a New Hampshire win, building huuuuuuuuuuge momentum going to South Carolina and Nevada. If Cruz sneaks by Trump, the calculus changes dramatically, and he becomes the favorite in South Carolina and the friendly Super Tuesday states of the SEC primary. The door will be open, briefly, for someone other than Trump to win New Hampshire – most likely Rubio, less likely Bush.

Rubio is in a bind that is simple to define but not at all easy to fix: he’s doing better, but where does he win early? Finishing a strong second or third over and over again leaves you nowhere in this race. He has to break through somewhere and I can’t say there’s a clear shot anywhere.

If Cruz’s momentum continues in Iowa, and he doesn’t get annihilated in New Hampshire, there’s ache de he runs the tense in a whole lot of states, including some of the big winner take all contests as the calendar moves to March and April. This race is shaping up in his favor, but it all starts with Iowa.

Ted Cruz Rising

That sudden cold air we’ve been experiencing the past few days? It’s not just the weather – Tailgunner Ted Cruz is on the march in Iowa and the nation is having a moment of existential terror at the prospect of President Cruz. Brrrrrrrr.

Ted Cruz, buoyed by tea party support and the backing of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, has surged to a virtual tie with Donald Trump in the first caucus state of Iowa, according to the results of a Quinnipiac University poll surveying likely Republican caucus-goers released Tuesday.

Trump took 25 percent of support, followed by 23 percent who opted for the freshman Texas senator, more than doubling his support in the same poll from October, when he earned just 10 percent. Trailing the two leaders is Ben Carson, who dropped from first to third, falling 10 points to 18 percent.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is next with 13 percent, while no other candidate registered in the double digits. Only Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul registers outside of the margin of error, at 5 percent. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dropped a point from last month to 4 percent, followed by 3 percent for Carly Fiorina. No other candidate earned more than 2 percent support, and about 2 percent of Iowa Republicans said they were undecided.

The media’s been talking up Marco Rubio, but at this point it’s been Cruz whose numbers have bumped up the most. He’s the most likely to win Iowa, and while that hasn’t translated to ultimate victory in recent GOP contests, Cruz has the money and the base of support to springboard from an Iowa win to later success.  

Oh Those Crazy Kids

In this case, the kids in Iowa. The Iowa Secretary of State organized a youth caucus earlier this week, and when they got a chance to express their opinions in the Democratic primary, they produced some surprising results.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) prevailed, with nearly 53 percent support. In second place was former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, with 24 percent. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner in the real race, got about 15 percent.

Clinton’s campaign declined to comment on Friday. Sanders — who has been drawing sizable numbers of young people to his rallies — drew attention to the results on social media Thursday night soon after they became available.

Meanwhile, O’Malley’s campaign — which has been running a distant third in Iowa polling — could not stop talking about the outcome.

Bill Hyers, a senior strategist for O’Malley, issued a statement Thursday night, in which he mocked Clinton’s status as the “inevitable” nominee and said: “Tonight’s results prove one thing: Iowans are looking for new leadership, and many are finding it in Martin O’Malley.”

O’Malley needs all the good news he can get, and this is definitely a positive development. What it ends up meaning in the end is less clear. But the kids love them some Martin O’Malley.

Explaining Ben Carson

For many years now, there have been complaints that Iowa and New Hampshire are terrible places to start the presidential nominating process. There’s virtually no minority population in either state, and neither is particularly representative of, well, anything about the country as a whole.

Well, we’re still stuck with Iowa and New Hampshire, and as to Iowa, there’s a new reason to disqualify the Republicans of that state from any prominent role: they’re absolutely nuts.

It’s not just that Ben Carson is leading in the polls. It’s that the Iowa Poll folks asked some questions about some of the more outrageous things Carson has been saying, and it turns out Iowa Republicans like him BECAUSE of the stupid things he says, not in spite of them.

There is before us now yet more evidence that, especially on the Republican side, giving pride of place to Iowa in our nominating process is a truly terrible idea since, especially on the Republican side, the Iowa caucuses are a ridiculous system weighted toward increasingly ridiculous people. The most recent Iowa Poll, the gold standard in such matters, bears this out to a frightening extent.

​The headline is that Dr. Ben Carson has surged past Donald Trump among likely caucus-goers. But it is more than worth your while to scroll down a bit. You may have noticed that Dr. Ben, despite having a voice that could anesthetize small rodents, has ideas that fairly scream, “Bananas Crazy!” The Iowa Poll people decided to run some numbers on that very question. Here are the results.

I’m going to mention some things people have said about Ben Carson. Regardless of whether you support him for president, please tell me for each if this is something that you find very attractive about him, mostly attractive, mostly unattractive, or very unattractive.
​And we’re off.

Ben Carson has said that the Affordable Care Act is the worst thing to happen to America since slavery, and 55 percent of Iowans polled think this opinion makes him “very attractive.” If you add in the “mostly attractive” results, then 81 percent of the people polled think he’s right on the money there.
Ben Carson has said that the Holocaust would have turned out differently had every Jewish person in Europe been armed, and 51 percent of Iowans polled think this opinion makes him “very attractive.” If you add in the “mostly attractive” results, then 77 percent of the people polled like what he said.
And the cherry on top is the fact that an aggregate 96 percent of Iowans polled think Ben Carson “approaches issues with common sense.”

These folks will be picking one of the two candidates who will vie for the position of what used to be called leader of the free world. As Pierce concludes: “Theoretically, democracy is a hell of an idea, isn’t it? Can we just let the cows vote now?”

We could do worse.

Trump Falls to 2nd In Iowa Poll, Blames GMO Corn

The Post reports that Donald Trump didn’t take too well to a new Quinnipiac poll showing the Donald trailing Ben Carson 28-20 in Iowa. Trump’s reaction on Twitter:

I don’t know about the Iowans, but I’m thoroughly amused. Of course, we then had the obligatory deleting of the retweet, followed by the even more obligatory “the intern Twitter monkey did it and he’s sorry” defense.

As for the Quinnipiac poll, it looks like this:
Carson 28
Trump 20
Rubio 13
Cruz 10
Paul 6
Fiorina 5
Bush 5

No one else is above 3 percent.

Polls? We Got Yer Polls Right Here

Released today:

Iowa Democrats: Clinton 37 (-20 since May), Sanders 30 (+14), Biden 14 (+6), O’Malley 3 (+1), Webb 2 (0)

Favorability ratings: Clinton 77 (-9), Sanders (+26), Biden 79 (+3), O’Malley 33 (+13), Webb 19 (-3)

Source: Iowa Poll for the Des Moines Register.

Analysis: Bernie keeps rising, Hilary’s numbers are down. O’Malley’s favorability is up substantially, but it’s not translating into votes. For Hillary, it’s edging into “concern” territory at this point, less for the primary than for the general election. I still think she wins the nomination and most likely handily, but she has to work on the negatives moving forward or she could lose the general election to a non-Trumpian candidate – if one can win the GOP nomination, which is looking exceedingly questionable.

Iowa Republicans: Trump 23 (+19 since May), Carson 18 (+8), Cruz 8 (+3), Walker 8 (-9), Bush 6 (-3), Rubio 6 (0), Fiorina 5 (+3), Huckabee 4 (-5), Paul 4 (-6), Christie 2 (-2), Jindal 2 (+1), Kasich 2 (0), Perry 1 (-2), Santorum 1 (-5), everyone else under 1%

Favorability ratings: Trump 61 (+34), Carson 79 (+23), Cruz 61 (+2), Walker 71 (+5), Bush 45 (+2), Rubio 67 (+7), Fiorina 64 (+23), Huckabee 61 (0), Paul 39 (-16), Christie 29 (+1), Jindal 61 (+18), Kasich 33 (+8), Perry 54 (-5), Santorum 48 (-8)

Source: Iowa Poll for the Des Moines Register.

Analysis: it’s a cliche, but the lunatics have taken over the asylum. It’s turning into the year of the non-politician in right wing land, and the voters are becoming increasingly out of control. Walker, Bush and Paul are in complete meltdown mode here, which would crush both Paul and Walker but not necessarily Bush. If he nosedives here, he must, must, must win New Hampshire. Period. How likely that is remains to be seen.

These poll results firm up my view that Tailgunner Ted Cruz is the candidate to watch if Trump eventually implodes, which is not going to happen any time soon. Cruz has done nothing to attract the Eye of Sauron, and now he’s invited Trump to a DC rally against the Iran deal. Shrewd.

O’Malley Moving Up?

Maybe – not to be a buzzkill or anything, but it’s one poll, it’s from a middling outfit (per 538’s rankings), it is a major jump from other recent polls, and this could all be margin of error noise.

All that said, I got an email from the O’Malley campaign, noting that he’s gone from 1% a few weeks back to 7% in the latest PPP poll in Iowa. I had to look up the poll myself – a link would have killed ya, Marty? – but there it is.

On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton leads with 52% to 25% for Bernie Sanders, 7% for Martin O’Malley, 3% for Jim Webb, and 1% for Lincoln Chafee. That represents a decent amount of tightening since April- Sanders’ support has increased from 14% to 25%, with Clinton’s dropping correspondingly from 62% to 52%.

Other recent polls (summarized here) have O’Malley stuck at 1%. Is this an outlier? An early harbinger of real movement? Until we get some more polling, we can’t really know. But I’d have sent that email out touting the 7% too.

While we’re looking at the PPP Iowa survey, here’s the summary on the GOP side. Hint: Trump ain’t going away any time soon.

PPP’s newest Iowa poll finds Donald Trump leading the Republican field in the state even after a weekend of controversy. He’s at 19% to 12% for Ben Carson and Scott Walker, 11% for Jeb Bush, 10% for Carly Fiorina, 9% for Ted Cruz, and 6% for Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio.

The other 9 candidates are all clustered between 3% and having no support at all (George Pataki)- John Kasich and Rand Paul are at 3%, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum at 2%, Chris Christie at 1%, and Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, and Pataki all have less than 1%.

I would have expected Kasich to get a better bump, but this is Iowa, after all. Those Republicans out there are SCARY. But they do seem at least a little bit taken with Carly Fiorina. I wonder how many of them actually know that she’s a, y’know, WOMAN? In Iowa GOP circles, that’s a bad, bad thing.

But for Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, and Chris Christie (the rest were never really in it), I can already hear the faint strains of the music getting ready to play. Sorry, boys, but off you go.