The Republican candidates who played strong in Iowa have pivoted their message to the radically different Granite State, where voters are more independent and less evangelical. These same voters are also prone, and seem to enjoy, making up their minds at the last minute. They’ve been hearing from the candidates for months, but now they’re making their choice.
At Trendency Research, we’ve been continuously gathering opinions from likely New Hampshire voters for the past several months. As we mentioned in our previous article, after several months of little change, we’ve begun to see movement in our data as we get closer to Feb. 9. With a few days to go before votes are cast, we thought it would be helpful to share our three big takeaways from our New Hampshire research.
Donald Trump leads, but isn’t as strong as he once was.
When Trendency Research initiated our first survey of New Hampshire voters last October, Trump was dominating the field. In October, and continuing through December, Trump maintained huge leads among strong voters, taking 50-60 percent of the vote at the 90 and 75 Thresholds (strong supporters who don’t change their preferences much). Every other candidate was mired in the single digits. New Hampshire voters appeared to be caught up in the Trump phenomenon similar to the rest of the nation.
Now, a quick bit of background on Trendency Research for those who haven’t read our previous articles. Unlike most standard polling, Trendency Research doesn’t ask for binary responses to questions. Instead, we allow users to allocate their choice of candidate on a sliding scale. They can apportion all their support to one person, or divide it among several if they haven’t made up their mind.
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.
Moving into the New Year, however, Trump’s numbers have been weakening. As it currently stands, he still enjoys a healthy lead on the field. In fact, a recent Monmouth Poll has him 16 points up. But voters have started looking in other directions. Trump now wins 27 percent of the vote at the 90 Threshold and 33 percent at the 75 Threshold. Stronger numbers than his competitors, but nothing like he once had. Who might rise up to challenge Trump leads to our second takeaway.
We might have a three-way tie for third place.
Behind Trump, a crowded field has struggled to separate itself from each other. Candidates like John Kasich and Chris Christie all but ignored Iowa to focus on the first primary. Right to Rise, the Super PAC allied with Jeb Bush, spent mightily in Iowa (about $14 million) but the candidate has placed all his chips on New Hampshire. While Ted Cruz looks to gather every evangelical vote he can in the state (about 20 percent of voters), Marco Rubio hopes to use his “dominant” third-place finish in Iowa to become the establishment hope.
As we discussed in our previous article, we feel the biggest story coming out of New Hampshire will be if one of the establishment candidates can indeed separate themselves enough to be viewed as having the best chance to win versus Trump or Cruz. After Iowa, there’s also a new wrinkle: if a candidate can separate themselves and Rubio isn’t the candidate who succeeds in doing this, does the winner of the establishment race win by enough to push Rubio to the backburner? Or do we move on to South Carolina with no clarity on who the establishment frontrunner is?
In our Trendency data we have recently seen strong numbers from Cruz, Rubio, Bush and Kasich. All of those candidates have increased their strength of support over the past several weeks. Cruz now enjoys a moderate level of support across all Threshold levels, meaning he has established both strong supporters and those who are giving him a new look. Rubio never registered on Trendency until just this week, when his strong showing in Iowa increased his support at the 90 and 75 Thresholds by 9 and 8 percent respectively. Kasich jumped up in support two weeks ago, but has since lost about half of that gain, putting him potentially on the wrong path.
Meanwhile, Bush has remained surprisingly strong throughout the month of January, somewhat belying the near constant ridicule he endures in the press. His support has strengthened at the higher Thresholds and weakened at lower ones. Bush’s broad base of support has been diminishing, but his small core of supporters has grown. Should these numbers hold until Tuesday — a tall task — an expectation defying finish in New Hampshire would be sure to confound pundits.
Independent Voters will once again hold the key.
If our first two take always haven’t convinced you that New Hampshire is a mess, now we will throw in the fact that Independent voters can choose which primary to cast their ballot, meaning they could, for example, be deciding between Bernie Sanders and Trump, not just Kasich and Christie. This phenomenon, combined with late deciding voters, has always made New Hampshire a nightmare to poll accurately. This year is no different.
Over the past two weeks we have seen a distinct uptick in the number of people saying they’re planning on voting in the Republican Primary. Indeed, Independent voters were more likely to say they were going to vote in the Democratic Primary last year and in early January, but now the Republican primary is winning out.
We saw this phenomenon in the 2008 primaries, which ultimately helped Hillary Clinton and John McCain secure victories in their respective contests. The potential for the same effect is apparent. On the Democratic side, it could be enough to make it close, but hard to see how it would put Clinton ahead of Sanders. On the Republican side, we’re seeing these Independent voters split between many of the candidates, which isn’t ideal for any of the establishment candidates, although it could be good news for Trump and Cruz in the long run.
What does all this mean? Grab the popcorn and pull up a chair, it’s going to be a fun few days before Tuesday.
Stefan Hankin is founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based public opinion firm. Follow him on Twitter at @LPStrategies.