The evaporation of Carly Fiorina’s polling bump exposed how short lived support gained from a cascade of media coverage can be.
Fiorina’s performance in the preliminary round of the first broadcast GOP debate moved her into the top tier of Republican presidential candidates. As a result, she was invited onto the second broadcast debate’s main stage, where she was declared one of the winners. This resulted in a jump to double-digit support in traditional polls. So what’s happened since September?
Some have pointed to her being a woman, and her lack of earned media as the cause for her drop in support in recent polls. While these may be factors, according to our Trendency numbers, the answer is much more straightforward. Her support was never really there.
Looking at Fiorina’s numbers, the data indicates that her support is, and always has been merely surface level. In our article last week, we introduced the concept of Threshold Analysis. Essentially, it’s way to measure how committed voters are to a candidate.
Supporters at the higher thresholds on a 0-100 scale are less volatile and more likely to stick with supporting that candidate, while those at lower thresholds are more prone to change their preferred candidate. In contrast to traditional polling, we don’t count all supporters of a candidate the same. By looking at the horserace at various Threshold levels, we can get a complete picture of what’s happening today, and what’s likely to be happening in a few weeks.
Examining the data from several weeks ago, we can see just how weak Fiorina’s support was and why this raises red flags about her future in New Hampshire and nationally. When we looked at the average Threshold Support at the beginning of October, Fiorina was in second place with 10-percent support, running behind Donald Trump at 22 percent and ahead of Ben Carson, then at 9 percent.
But the vast majority of her support was at the lower Thresholds. Indeed, among voters at the 90 Threshold (very steady supporters), Trump led the field with 67-percent support, with Fiorina coming in with only 10 percent. This gap held for all of the higher Thresholds and it wasn’t until we dropped all the way down to the 25 Threshold (volatile supporters) in our analysis did Fiorina even come close to matching Trump’s support — 20 percent compared to his 22 percent.
Furthermore almost all of her support was at 30 and below on the Threshold scale. Given this weak level of strength and consistency among her supporters, it wasn’t surprising to see her numbers dip during recent weeks.
Now, Carson is rising in New Hampshire according to Real Clear Politics, but don’t put much money on this trend continuing for much longer. Carson has the same problem with his support as Fiorina did. While Carson is doing well in public polling and sits in third place overall on our Trendency panel, currently all of his support is concentrated at the lower Thresholds. In fact, all of his support resides below the 50 Threshold, so his support is actually weaker than Fiorina’s. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee that Carson will lose support in the coming weeks, but it does mean that his support is marginal and his current supporters could just as easily throw their vote elsewhere as they could stay with him.
The one candidate who has consistent numbers and support at the higher Thresholds in New Hampshire: Trump. The businessman-turned-candidate continues to lead the rest of the Republican primary field in our New Hampshire Trendency panel. He’s winning at every Threshold level and has three times as many supporters at the 90 and 75 Thresholds as Jeb Bush, his closest competitor.
This doesn’t guarantee Trump a win in the New Hampshire primary, but over the next few weeks don’t be surprised if his numbers remain steady in public polling and you see Carson start to dip. Barring a large national news shift, we wouldn’t be shocked to see various candidates rise and fall into the second place slot as Republican voters in the Granite State switch their allegiances while looking for a Trump alternative. Right now Bush appears to be the next in line to enjoy a polling bump, but we shall see how he does in the debates and the post-debate spin.
Stefan Hankin is founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based public opinion firm. Follow him on Twitter at @LPStrategies.