Considering this is my 16th straight day with a post (with 20 posts over that period!), it’s been generally impossible to keep my New Hampshire predictions close to the chest. Furthermore, each party has a candidate up double-digits in the polls. Today’s challenge, therefore, is to A) Closely predict margins for the winners, and B) Correctly predict the order of Republican finishers. I did both perfectly for Iowa, so I’m due for a huge loss. Nonetheless, let’s take a shot! We’ll start with the less dramatic contest:
The Democratic New Hampshire Primary
First, recent New Hampshire polling:
Bernie Sanders has led every New Hampshire poll for over a month. That’s nearly 40 polls. Over the last two weeks alone, he’s led eight polls by 20-plus and three polls by over 30. His Real Clear Politics average lead is 13.3. CNN’s latest poll, conducted from Thursday through Monday, had him at a 26-point lead. It should therefore come as no surprise that Bernie Sanders is going to win the New Hampshire Primary; the question is by how much.
I think he’ll under-perform his average lead. If you look at the last 15 polls, he’s led 13 of them by between 9 and 17, so we’re probably somewhere in between. There are three factors working against Sanders winning on the high end of that spread:
1. I’ve said it a few times in the last month: challengers close late. This is the only relevant state where Hillary Clinton is a true challenger. Channeling her husband’s “Comeback Kid” moniker, I think she, too, will also finish a better-than-expected second place and claim the match. (If she doesn’t, we can probably expect a lesson on New England geography.)
2. Sanders still relies on young people, and young people are still unreliable with their voting (and their homework). In the latest poll we have, conducted for us by the American Research Group on Sunday and Monday, we can see this primary’s demographic divide continue:
Due to younger voters being less likely to vote, his polling numbers are going to be a tad inflated compared to voting results. Meanwhile, Clinton’s older voters are more reliable.
3. As a result of Sanders’s big lead and a competitive Republican race under Trump, unaffiliated voters, who under New Hampshire’s rules can vote in either primary, are more likely to vote Republican than Democrat in order to have a bigger impact. The fewer of them that vote Democrat, the better for Clinton. According to the latest poll, the popularity of the Democratic candidates among only New Hampshire Democrats is a dead heat:
If independents do decide to gravitate toward the competitive primary, Clinton will run closer than the polls suggest.
These factors means Clinton should beat the average polling spread of 13.3 (and demolish CNN’s 26). PPFA’s pick: Sanders by 8-10.
The Republican New Hampshire Primary
On the Republican side, of course, it’s pure chaos under Donald Trump. One can make a case for Bush, Christie, Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio finishing anywhere from #2 to #6 in the primary. This won’t be easy…
It really feels like Christie should be rewarded for Saturday night. His aggressive tactics against Rubio, who seemed to have wrested control of the Republican Primary, gave the other candidates hope that he wouldn’t start running away with the nomination. But did it help Christie in the polls? It’s hard to know for sure. Only two New Hampshire polls, an ARG and a Gravis, have been done totally after Saturday’s debate:
Christie claims that the “whole race changed” after the debate, but what probably happened was the whole race changed for every contender but him. We do see the slightest of upticks in Christie’s support since Saturday, but even his 8 is well back of the top three finish for which he’s so badly hoping. He may be finishing with momentum, but he had fallen so far back of the top five that it appears to be too little too late. He has a shot at fourth, but he’s more likely to finish fifth or sixth.
The next four candidates — Rubio, Kasich, Cruz, and Bush — are truly jumbled and can finish in any order. To give you an idea of the handful of modica that separates them, check out Huffington Post’s trendlines from the last week:
Wow, that’s close! What to make of it…
First, let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Rubio’s presidential hopes ended on Saturday. Yes, it looked bad, but A) Presidential candidates constantly repeat themselves, and B) It still leaves the question of which flawed establishment candidate replaces him at the top of the heap. Will Republican voters really care about the liberal media’s new narrative so much that they prematurely end the candidacy of their most promising candidate?
Furthermore, let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that a candidate must close strongly in the last few days to do well in a primary. While it of course helps, it’s not a requirement. Remember Ted Cruz’s trends before Iowa? The polls had him second place with definite downward momentum. Then he won it. I expect Rubio to hang on to a top three showing today, though his sought after second place finish, crucial to his 3-2-1 strategy, is less likely than it was a week ago.
Of all the candidates, it feels like Kasich is most likely to keep Rubio out of the top two. Kasich had a widely praised “above the fray” debate in which he pushed bipartisan solutions over the intransigence of the more partisan candidates on both sides. Additionally, while other candidates jockey for position through attacks, Kasich has relied on a more positive message. These strategies will bring over many of the independents that will decide the primary’s results.
Ted Cruz, in those six polls counted toward the current New Hampshire RCP average, has the most consistent poll numbers of the bunch — just a four-point range between 10 and 14. That probably won’t be good enough for third, but a perfect storm could get him there. Consider that he’s likely to unify and turn out his evangelical and tea party bases, however rare they might be in New Hampshire, while Rubio, Kasich, Bush, and Christie have to split their voters in three pretty unpredictable ways. Cruz is the least likely to pop to 20 points, but he’s also the least likely to fall below 10. If three of the establishment candidates divide pretty evenly at 8 to 14 points a piece, Cruz could sneak into third place with 15 to 17 percent.
I’m having the most trouble placing Bush. The opposite of Cruz, Bush has the most deviation in his numbers over the last six polls, ranging from a lowly 7 to an impressive 16. The two post-debate polls, taken after he had his best performance and kerfuffle with Trump, shed no light. He’s at 14 in the Gravis poll and 9 in the ARG. Tonight, he could surge to second place with over 20 percent (there are “second wind” murmurs of Bush finally “clicking” in recent days) or stumble to single digits (as ARG, the most recent poll, suggests), get passed by Christie, and fall to sixth. Neither would surprise me.
As for our bloviator-in-chief, fresh off his latest vulgar comment (I’d link you to it but don’t want to give it easy accessibility), I expect him to under-perform his polls in New Hampshire, as he did in Iowa. He’s usually polling in the 30s (his New Hampshire RCP average is 31.3 with an average lead of 17.2), but he’ll come in underneath that for three reasons:
- I’ve spoken at length about how his voters are less reliable than others.
- Few of the many undecided voters will break to him, voters probably already made up their mind about him one way or another.
- Just as record turnout didn’t help him in Iowa, it won’t necessarily work in his favor tonight, either. It might just once again mean that more people turn out to vote for someone other than Trump. He might have record raw vote totals like he did in Iowa, but his percentage won’t go up because of it. Even if the opposition vote is divided, which is what we expect, it still lowers Trump’s overall percentage.
All of this considered, here are PPFA’s predictions:
1. Trump: high 20s
2. Kasich: about 8-10 behind and over a clumped field that includes
3. Rubio, Bush, and Cruz (in that order, if I’m forced to choose!). Then we’ll have:
8. Carson, and then future President Jim