Donald Trump’s infamous diatribe against Ben Carson and his Iowa supporters has coincided with a drop in the former surgeon’s level of support. While Carson still leads overall in recent surveys, since Oct. 28 voters in Iowa have shifted their support away from him and toward Trump. This is especially true with those voters who are at lower Thresholds.
Our Average Threshold Analysis shows Carson leading the field with 23 percent of the vote, which is down a point since late October. Trump, meanwhile, comes in at 19 percent, which is an increase of 1 percent. This is slightly different than most public polling, which now has Trump and Carson in a virtual tie, according to the Real Clear Politics average. But these numbers are just one part of the picture.
As we have mentioned in previous articles, Trendency Research employs metrics called Threshold Analysis, which allow us to examine a candidate’s support at all levels. Support at higher Thresholds includes voters who are strong in their convictions and are less likely to switch to another candidate. Those at lower Thresholds are more likely to switch allegiances before Election Day.
In fact, at the 90 Threshold — voters with the strongest support — both Trump and Carson trounce the field with 32 percent of the vote each. These numbers are unchanged from October. It’s when we move further down the food chain, away from these ardent supporters, that we see the subtle strengthening of Trump’s position.
At the 75 Threshold, Carson’s vote share has dropped 6 points to 28 percent, while Trump has climbed 3 points to 34 percent. When moving to even lower Thresholds, Carson’s support continues to slip, down 9 points at the 50 Threshold and 4 points at the 25 Threshold.
Now, Carson’s support is still at or near the level of Trump’s, and both are way above any other contender. But it should worry other Republican campaigns that it appears Trump is consolidating more support in Iowa rather than weakening. Ted Cruz, for instance, should take note as his campaign seems to be banking on one or both of these candidates dropping out and their supporters jumping to his camp. But if the Trump/Carson voters just move back and forth, there’s little potential gain for Cruz, at least for right now.
Also in recent weeks, there’s been discussion about the rise of Marco Rubio as the heir apparent for the crown of Most Electable Republican. With the less-than-stellar performance of Jeb Bush on the campaign trail, Rubio has parlayed his strong efforts in debates to higher numbers in national surveys and in some states. Indeed, in public polling, Rubio has made gains recently in Iowa.
Our Trendency numbers shows that Rubio has a perception-versus-reality problem brewing. In our tracking of the likely outcome of the caucus, Rubio has never broken free of the pack. In fact, he only maintains 3 percent support across all Thresholds when we look at the average. And while he’s currently in third place in most public polls, our data shows that Iowa voters just aren’t placing strong bets on his candidacy at this point.
We’ve also asked likely GOP voters in Iowa who they think will win the nomination. When we frame the question this way, Rubio comes in third with 17 percent, right behind Carson and Trump. With every other candidate, there’s a strong correlation between their current vote tally in Iowa and their perceived likelihood of eventually taking on the Democratic nominee. Rubio is the only candidate who’s perceived to be a contender, but this belief doesn’t translate into support.
Rubio hasn’t set high expectations for Iowa and a lower result there may not harm his chances overall. But data like this should raise red flags for his campaign. It’s great that voters see you as a viable nominee, but they need to vote for you in order to make this perception a reality.
With a little over two months to go before the caucus, there’s plenty of time for the campaigns to make adjustments. But right now Cruz and Rubio have their work cut out for them.
Now, Rubio is at least perceived as a potential winner, although he needs to convince voters he’s worth giving a serious look. Cruz, on the other hand, needs to find a way to start directing the voters who are vacillating between Trump and Carson to move in his direction. It’s a difficult task as he needs to keep playing nice with both candidates in order not to alienate their supporters.
Stefan Hankin is founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based public opinion firm. Follow him on Twitter at @LPStrategies.