There comes a time during every campaign cycle when voters have to actually make up their minds. In some cases that happens early on. But for many voters it’s the critical last few weeks before Election Day when they really start paying attention.
In the race for the Republican nomination, with its array of candidates, this has never been more apparent than in New Hampshire. As we mentioned in our previous look at the state, many voters made up their minds quickly about Donald Trump. They liked what they saw. And while Trump garnered early supporters, many of the establishment candidates have struggled to make noise and break free from the pack.
Now only a few short weeks from the primary, we finally see some action on our Trendency Research numbers. Voters in New Hampshire seem to have set aside certain candidates for good and given others a legitimate shot at making noise on Feb. 9.
First, some quick background on Trendency Research for those who haven’t read our previous articles. Trendency in an online-only platform that surveys a panel of voters about various elections and issues. Unlike traditional polling, we don’t ask horse-race questions in a binary fashion. Voters are instead asked to allocate their current support for candidates on sliding scale.
This scale allows our algorithms to see smaller changes in voter behavior and attitudes than simply whether they’re a Trump or Ted Cruz supporter that day. We term these distributions of voter support as Thresholds. Voters at the higher Thresholds are stronger in their support for that candidate and less likely to switch, while those at lower Thresholds usually are still unsure about who they’ll end up supporting on Election Day.
Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina in New Hampshire? Sadly for them, any remaining support they maintained on Trendency has evaporated in the last several weeks. Paul now has no supporters at the 90 or 75 Thresholds, down from 13 and 10 percent several weeks ago, and Fiorina simply has lost almost all her voters, down close to zero at every Threshold. Trendency voters have moved on to more viable candidates.
While Trump still leads in New Hampshire, according to our data, several other candidates, namely Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Cruz, have seen some positive movement recently. We would refrain from saying that any of them have shot a taking down the long-time leader, but they still have an opportunity to separate themselves from the pack of establishment candidate and set up better results in later primaries.
Bush has increased his support by only 2 points at the 90 Threshold since early January, but by 17 points at the 50 and 25 Thresholds. This implies that voters aren’t ready to throw their total support to Bush, but are more open to him than they were several weeks back.
It’s not all good news for the Bush campaign, though. We also ask voters in New Hampshire who they believe will end up winning the nomination. The idea of a Bush nomination held on surprisingly well for several months, but has weakened in the last few weeks. The percentage of voters at the 90 Threshold who truly think he’ll win has dropped from 17 percent to 6 percent overall. He has also lost 9 points of support at the 75 Threshold and 10 points at the 50 Threshold.
Some voters in New Hampshire may be throwing a little more support his way for the primary, but fewer believe he has a realistic shot at the nomination. That lack of belief, coupled with rising support only at the lower Thresholds, doesn’t necessarily bode well for Bush. But positive movement is positive movement and his focus on New Hampshire is bearing some fruit, although admittedly not a ton.
Supporters of John Kasich take a different approach, increasing at the higher Thresholds more so than lower. Kasich has increased his support at the 90 Threshold by 18 percentage points since early January. At the same time, he’s remained stagnant at lower Thresholds. Trendency is picking up on the same positive Kasich movement, as some public polls are, but here it becomes clear that this increase comes from new, strong supporters of his candidacy. His support leapfrogging the lower Thresholds is interesting as he hasn’t only brought on supporters but they’ve bought in right from the beginning.
In 2008, when we were first testing the Trendency platform, we saw Independent voters move from saying they were planning on voting in the Democratic primary and supporting Barack Obama to becoming more likely to vote in the Republican primary for Sen. John McCain (Independent voters in New Hampshire can choose which primary they want to vote in).
The main reason given was that they felt Obama was going to win and McCain, a Granite State favorite, needed their help. We’re currently seeing a similar trend where Independent voters are moving more in the direction of voting in the GOP primary and giving their support to either Bush or Kasich. It’s too early to tell if this will develop into a full blown trend or if it’s a short term anomaly, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on this movement.
Cruz, on the other hand, is following a third pathway in New Hampshire by increasing his support across all Thresholds. Even though he’s made Iowa more of a priority, his greater notoriety appears to the paying dividends in the Granite State. In fact, his support there has risen 18 percentage points at the 90 Threshold and continues strong all the way down the 25 Threshold, where it increased by 9 points.
Granted, Cruz started with very low numbers in New Hampshire and still has some ways to go to challenge Trump, but a win in Iowa would do nothing to abate this rise.
With how much the numbers in New Hampshire have moved in the last three weeks, we anticipate even more shifting as the negative ads increase and voters settle into their final decisions. Only time will tell if Bush or Kasich or perhaps another candidate from the pack can separate themselves to coalesce the anti-Trump-Cruz vote.
Stefan Hankin is founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based public opinion firm. Follow him on Twitter at @LPStrategies.