A swirl of media attention accompanied last week’s Monmouth University poll that showed Ted Cruz in the lead over Donald Trump in Iowa. This was a moment other campaigns and some media outlets were waiting for — a time to declare panic in the Trump campaign and for Cruz to assume the conservative mantle.
Before that could happen, though, CNN released their own survey (of a very different sample of voters) in which Trump remained the candidate to beat. Prognosticators spent the next few days debating the merits of each, leaving the waters muddy as to who the current leader might be. That was followed by the release of a new Des Moines Register poll showing Cruz with a lead over Trump in Iowa.
While the Iowa caucus race becomes harder to call, New Hampshire has been impervious to the drama. There Trump continues to hold a large lead in the Real Clear Politics average. If you examine the race in the last three months, then compare the movement in Iowa during the same timeframe, the contrast is stark.
In New Hampshire, there’s been only one clear leader: The Donald. While there’s been some movement within the rest of the field — Marco Rubio rising, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich falling — no one has broken free from the pack to become a clear second choice, let alone challenge Trump. The Iowa three-month chart, on the other hand, shows the clear volatility in that race, from Ben Carson falling to Cruz and Rubio rushing to fill his place.
In Trendency Research’s last look at New Hampshire in early November, we raised the possibility that Trump’s invincibility in the state may be waning. Sadly for the other Republican campaigns, that movement appears to have been nothing more than a blip on Trump’s march forward.
While his numbers still are a bit lower than they were two months ago, Trump has seen improvement since November, especially with his stronger supporters. As we’ve explained in earlier articles, Trendency Research utilizes what we term Threshold Analysis to examine a candidate’s support at varying levels of intensity. Instead of just counting a survey respondent as a Trump voter or not, we ask questions in a way that allows for a spectrum of responses. Voters at the higher Thresholds are stronger in their convictions and less likely to move to another candidate, while those at lower Thresholds are just the opposite.
Among supporters at the 90 Threshold, the highest we measure, Trump now takes 56 percent of the vote. This is 7 points higher than when we measured the race in November. At the 75 Threshold, his vote share has increased 11 points to 48 percent. At the lower Thresholds, we see little movement for Trump and he maintains his advantage over all the other candidates.
Looking deeper into our numbers, we can try to glean details that might foreshadow some change in the overall picture of the race. For instance, Chris Christie, who received the high-profile endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader, is now in second place in the Granite State with voters at the 50 Threshold. Christie receives 14 percent of the vote, up 8 percentage points since October.
At the 25 Threshold, his vote share has doubled from 6 to 12 percent. Voters are giving Christie a fresh look, but they’re not ready to go all in for him, as he receives zero support at the higher Thresholds. Clearly the Union Leader endorsement helped, but it’s not allowing him close the deal, at least so far.
On the other side of the coin, Carly Fiorina continues to lose support, especially with weaker supporters. She’s seen her support at the 50 and 25 Thresholds drop almost 10 points recently. Where she used to be the clear-cut second option for voters in October, she’s become just another candidate.
If we’ve learned anything this cycle, it’s to expect the unexpected — unless it’s in New Hampshire where there’s been a clear frontrunner for a long time now. The status quo is holding, and the status quo is Trump.
Stefan Hankin is founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based public opinion firm. Follow him on Twitter at @LPStrategies.