Is it better to be the underdog candidate or have the expectation of inevitability as the frontrunner? That is a question the Iowa caucus could help answer.
Real Clear Politics and other aggregators have frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz locked in a tie with less than two weeks to go, although the contest is more nuanced than that implies. Cruz certainly has momentum, but lost in the Texas senator’s rise was the steady nature of Trump’s vote share.
While Cruz garnered seemingly most of the momentum, Trump has maintained his high level of support over the last 30 days, even slightly increasing his average support level in public polling from 25.4 to 27.3 percent.
Now, if you’ve been following our series of articles on the Republican nomination process, Trendency Research is an online survey platform that allows researchers to move past binary results of who people might vote for and instead look at the horserace in much greater detail.
The platform allows us to decipher which people can be considered strong and steady supporters of a candidate (high Threshold voters) and those who are weak in their support and likely to shift allegiance to other candidate (low Threshold voters).
In the end, this allows for a more nuanced look at places like the Iowa caucus, where standard polling sometimes struggles to grapple with the unusual format.
Since Trendency’s previous look at the Iowa race, we have seen little movement on the overall numbers. Trump and Cruz are still neck and neck. But internally there’s a potentially different story.
At the 90 Threshold (strong/consistent supporters), Trump has lost 12 percent of his support since mid December. The same phenomenon exists at the 75 Threshold, where his support has dropped 7 percentage points. At the same time, Cruz has slightly increased his support at those same higher Thresholds, by 3 and 4 points respectively.
In many of the states that Trendency Research is tracking this year, we’ve seen a distinct pattern in the race for the Republican nomination. Trump supporters are simply more ardent in their candidate of choice. While other candidates have risen and subsequently fallen (Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina), or have must lost in the mix (all the establishment candidates), Trump supporters remain with him, and this support shows at the higher Thresholds.
For this support at higher Thresholds to erode days before the first caucuses in Iowa isn’t a great sign. Still, it’s not all doom and gloom there for Trump. It’s true that a few more Iowa voters are beginning to look at alternatives to Trump, but they’ve also elevated his chances of winning the overall nomination.
A whopping 52 percent of voters at the 90 Threshold think that Trump will win, up 27 percent since December. (We should note that not many Iowa voters are sure who will win, so there are fewer votes at this high Threshold.) The same story continues at lower Thresholds. Forty-eight percent of voters at the 75 Threshold believe in Trump’s eventual chances — a sizable increase of 21 points.
Opinions on Cruz’s chances, on the other hand, haven’t moved significantly in the last month. At the 90 and 75 Thresholds, 14 and 12 percent of voters respectively think Cruz will end up with the nomination. Not until the lower Thresholds do we see Cruz rise above 20 percent.
So while the strongest Trump supporters in Iowa may be weakening slightly in their support, there also exists a growing contingent of Iowa voters who are resigned (or excited) to the prospect of Trump winning the nomination. Whether this newfound belief has any impact of the vote next month is unclear.
There are many factors involved in vote choice beyond the candidate’s viability of winning the nomination. But it does imply that increasingly Trump isn’t seen as a fringe candidate. Instead, he’s one with a strong chance to be left standing alone in Cleveland at the GOP convention.
Stefan Hankin is founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based public opinion firm. Follow him on Twitter at @LPStrategies.