Probing the Ashes of the March 5 GOP Primaries
Written by commenter PatrickPu:
The ashes of the March 5 primary and caucus results have cooled and it is time to sift through the residue for clues to what happened and what may happen in the future. This effort is hampered because for the first time of this election cycle, there was no entrance or exit polling to assess. So one can only look at the pre-election polling data, the results, and outside factors that might have affected results.
Initial assessment of the results would appear to indicate that Cruz “won” this round of the nomination process. This would be based upon Cruz winning two of four states, and out-performing what was expected. In the same vein, Rubio was clearly the loser, under-performing significantly, and placing in the “winners position” of third once again.
For Trump, the results would appear to indicate that he was a lessor loser as well. This is based solely upon Trump having been expected to win at least three and possibly all of the states voting. Additionally, performance levels were down badly from pre-election polling suggesting some type of failure within the campaign.
How accurate is this assessment? Is it positive of a change in the direction of the election? An examination of the factors affecting the races must be taken to understand if a sea change is occurring.
Three key events happened in the days leading up to the Saturday primaries, Super Tuesday, the debate, and Mitt Romney. Each could have played a significant impact on Saturday’s outcome.
On Super Tuesday, Trump won the day, but not in the manner expected. He won 7 of 11 races, with 3 others going to Cruz and 1 to Rubio. Polling however indicated that he could win 9 or 10. Could this have played a part, stunting momentum?
1 Caucus Events
The Occam Razor’s answer is that three races in which Cruz won on Tuesday were caucus events. Caucus events impose a standard of unpredictability that does not exist in primary states. Polling is difficult because there are undeterminable variables at play that cannot be assessed from a statistical perspective.
Caucus events require that a person commit many hours of precious time to attend and vote. Time is spent waiting in line to enter, waiting while late arrivals enter and then two hours or more for the caucus to occur. This process alone enters a significant bias into the outcome.
Participating in a caucus is problematic as well, since one must usually re-register to vote if from another party.
Once in the caucus, everyone is grouped together in one room, divided into supporter groups. Candidate nominee representatives speak to the assembly to present reasons for voting for their candidate. But most important of all, the process “allows” for candidate forces to team up and try to peel off voters for other candidates, since there is no “secret ballot” prior to the actual voting.
The best prepared candidate with a strong ground operation will usually win the caucus. They manage to get out the vote and produce positive results for the candidate though the results are often in opposition to what the electorate actually believes. For the winner, it offers bragging rights that they can win, but as Huckabee and Santorum can attest, no future predictive ability about what is to come.
2 Mitt Romney
On Thursday, March 3, Mitt Romney came out with his attack on Trump. Romney’s message was a repetition of Rubio’s attacks on Trump. Additionally, Romney urged voters to not vote for the candidate of their choice, but for the candidate best positioned in each state to defeat Trump.
This was a deliberate effort by Romney and the GOP to blunt the momentum of Trump. At this time, there has been significant blowback to Romney. Whether it will change the course of future primaries is unknown at this time.
3 The Thursday Debate
The Fox debate on Thursday, just hours after the Romney, was the third key event of the week. Once again, Fox moderators went into an aggressive Trump “take-down” mode, setting up both Rubio and Cruz to go after Trump with leading questions, and then failing to enforce debate rules that further harmed Trump’s performance.
36 hours after the debate, it is unknown how the debate affected the March 5 primaries. There exists anecdotal evidence that some people have changed opinions and leaving the Trump camp, but these may not be “hardened” supporters. But the Romney blowback may counter any loss of support from the debates.
Any analysis of March 5 must take into account these events of the week.
4 Kansas Primary Results – Cruz Wins
|Turnout 100% increase|
Viewing the results of the Kansas caucus versus the polling prior to the caucus offers a look at what external forces MIGHT be in play. From the polling data there is a definite trend line of support moving to all four candidates. The increase in support appears to be a direct result of the other candidates dropping out of the race. Additional increases in support likely come from late deciders making up their minds for which candidate to support. This has been reported in other races, but most often the beneficiary has been Rubio.
Of critical notice is that Cruz was steadily closing the gap between him and Trump. Trumps lead had been decreasing by March 2. Continued trend lines would suggest that by the caucus, support for both Cruz and Trump could be nearly equal.
The actual caucus results provide for an entirely different scenario. Cruz has easily bested Trump by a 2-1 ratio, yet the Rubio and Kasich support levels are either equal to or dropping from the March polling data. What can account for such a change in the spread between Cruz and Trump?
- With the shifting vote in the final days, it is unreasonable to believe that either Kasich or Rubio did not materially increase their percentage of voters. In fact, support for each dropped, a minimal amount for Rubio but for Kasich, 3%. An external influence had to be the only reason for the drops in support from the trend lines. Was this the debate or the Romney effect?
- For Trump, a drop in support of 12% clearly indicates an external force at play. This may be the effect of a closed caucus event since Trump draws a huge amount of cross over voters that were not otherwise in play. With a closed caucus, these supporters would not be present, so there could be a significant drop for Trump. Such a drop would increase the Cruz support levels significantly.
- The 100% increase in voter participation could also have played a role. If there was a significant increase in Cruz voters, it would also drive down percentages for all other candidates, Trump included.
- The Cruz ground game has certainly play a key influence in Kansas. It appears to have brought out Cruz supporters in significant numbers. Since the Trump ground game was not expected to be of significance, this could account for the remaining difference.
- Kansas is a heavily evangelical state. It would be expected to have a large turnout for Cruz. Add in the proximity of Texas and Oklahoma to Kansas, a more favorable environment for a Cruz victory would exist.
To summarize, it is not possible to accurately determine what caused the results in Kansas. However, the confluence of a strong ground game for Cruz, high evangelical and conservative base, and the closed caucus system likely accounted for the difference in vote total. These factors served to depress Trump turn out, and to increase the percentages of support for Cruz. A victory for Cruz would have been almost inevitable.
5 Kentucky Primary Results – Trump Wins
|Turnout 45% decrease|
Kentucky was another unique scenario for this election season. In prior years, it was a Primary State, but Rand Paul initiated a change in the election process turning the state into a closed caucus state. The purpose was to allow him to run for President, while at the same time, to run for the Senate in the event that he was not the nominee.
Voter participation in Kentucky for 2016 was down by 50% over 2012. This reflects the turnout problems associated with Caucus States. The rules and time consumption serves to suppress voter turnout and ultimately can provide a huge advantage to the incumbent who is well funded.
Analysis shows Kentucky caucus results are consistent with the polling results from two weeks previous. Each candidate was within 2% of their previous totals suggesting that external “noise” may not have been introduced from the week’s events.
It would appear that the closed nature of the caucus prevented a large contingent of Trump cross over voters from participating in the election. If so, this kept the results in line with the February poll. If the caucus had been open, then it is likely that Trump would have observed a larger spread between him and Cruz.
Based upon the Primary returns, a case could be made that neither the debate nor the entry of Romney into the nomination process made any difference in how voters would select their candidate. If there was a difference, then the Trump totals would be much higher lower and the other candidate totals higher. Without exit or entrance polling, that assumption would be speculative only given that the totals matched the polling.
A final consideration must be given some thought. Though turnout was down by 50% from 2012, the novelty of the “new caucus” event might have kept turnout higher than would occur if a caucus was the norm in Kentucky. If turnout had been lower, it might have benefit Cruz more than Trump. But this is also speculative only, and not backed up by any evidence.
In the end, one must look to differences in the Kansas electorate and the Kentucky electorate to make any determination of the differences in the outcome.
Louisiana Primary Results – Trump Wins
|Turnout 35% increase|
MISC POLLING RESULTS
|Turnout 35% increase|
Louisiana was the only actual primary among the 4 states on March 5. It was a closed primary and did not allow for non-registered Republicans to vote in the process.
Extensive polling was done in the state prior to the actual primary. Support levels for Trump were a spread from 38% to 48% with Cruz experiencing spreads from 21% to 31%. Rubio and Kasich were more consistent in result. For analysis the high and low polls will be discarded, and the two polls in the middle, most consistent with each other are considered.
Actual election results indicate that Trump performed to expectations. His 41.4% fell between the 41-44% projected by the polls. Cruz over-performed by almost 10%, and Rubio underperformed by about 4%. Kasich, dependent upon the poll, either met expectations or underperformed significantly.
The results of the election suggest that in the final three days, there may have been a movement of voters from Rubio to Cruz with a much smaller movement from Kasich to Cruz. Undecided voters appear to have broken for Cruz as well.
Another large dynamic was the lack of the cross over vote. Since the primary was closed, Trump did not experience the boost that could have been expected otherwise with crossover voters.
The last minute breaking of the electorate to Cruz could have very well been the result of the Trump Debate Performance and also the Romney interference in the process. However, only future primaries can validate this observation.
All in all, this was an expected result.
MAINE PRIMARY RESULTS
Turnout 300% greater than 2012
There was no polling done from which to compare poll data to the primary results. What can be observed was that once again, Maine was a caucus state, so the ground game would have played a significant part in any results generated.
Going forward, the results of the March 8 primaries will be very telling as to the direction of the coming primaries leading to the convention. The results will offer glimpses into:
- Did the latest debate do harm to Trump, and if so, how significant the harm was which will reflect a drop in Trumps support?
- Did Romney have any effect upon Trump, to be evidenced by Kasich or Rubio support levels dropping significantly and Cruz increasing significantly?
- How much the crossover vote will increase Trump’s performance in the general election?
- Can Trump “close the deal” before the Convention?
These next primaries will provide many of the answers we seek.