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Making sense of the polls

Trump, Sanders win New Hampshire primary crushingly

At the New Hampshire (NH) primary held today, Donald Trump won 35% of the vote in the Republican contest, winning over twice as many votes as his next challenger, Ohio Governor John Kasich with 16%. Ted Cruz followed with 11.7%, Jeb Bush had 11.0%, Marco Rubio 10.6% and Chris Christie 7%.

After Trump’s disappointing second place finish in Iowa, many expected him to fade quickly now that voting had begun. By winning NH so emphatically, Trump has proved the sceptics wrong. Trump is back as a credible chance to win the Republican nomination.

After a surprisingly strong 23% in Iowa, Rubio was thought to be on track to win the Republican nomination. Polls taken after Iowa in NH showed Rubio surging to a clear second. However, Rubio slumped after last Saturday’s Republican debate, in which he repeated the same statement about Obama several times despite Christie’s criticisms.

The NH results are a disaster for the Republican establishment. While Kasich finished second, he has virtually no presence beyond NH and his home state of Ohio, and is seen as too moderate for conservatives to support. Rubio was the great Republican hope, as he can potentially appeal to both conservative and establishment voters, but his fifth place result in NH means that the establishment still cannot coalesce around a single candidate.

Cruz is a religious right candidate, and he won Iowa because that state has many evangelicals who are more likely to caucus than other voters. NH has far fewer evangelicals, and it was always likely that Cruz would struggle there.

Trump did better than polls anticipated in NH after doing worse in Iowa. The Trump fadeout in Iowa was partly explained by a late swing, but also by a poor turnout operation. However, Iowa is a caucus state, while NH is a primary state. In primary states, voting is managed by the state electoral authority, and takes place just like at a general election. Caucuses are managed by the party, and require voters to appear at a location by a pre-set time. It is thus much easier to vote in primaries than caucuses, so Trump’s organisation mattered less in NH than in Iowa. Most states use primaries to allocate their delegates.

The next Republican contest is the South Carolina (SC) primary on Saturday 20 February, followed by the Nevada caucus on Tuesday 23 February. Trump was well ahead in SC before Iowa, but no polls have been released since Iowa, and there have been few Nevada polls.

Sanders smashes Clinton 60-38

After Hillary Clinton squeezed out a narrow win in Iowa last week, she has been hammered in NH by Bernie Sanders. Along with Iowa, the demographics of NH make it a strong state for Sanders, as it is overwhelmingly white and the Democratic electorate is more left wing than elsewhere. Sanders also benefited in NH by being from the neighbouring state of Vermont, something that may help him in other contests in the New England region.

The question is whether Sanders’ big win in NH gives him enough momentum to overcome Clinton’s advantages with black and Hispanic voters. In the Democratic calendar, the Nevada caucuses are next on the 20 February, followed by the SC primary on the 27 February. Hispanics will make up a large portion of the Democratic electorate in Nevada, and blacks will have a large share in SC.

A telling statistic from the NH Democratic exit polls is that 42% thought the next president should pursue more liberal policies than Obama; Sanders won this group 81-18. Clinton won the 40% who said the next president should continue Obama’s policies 62-37. However, other states’ Democratic electorates will not be as liberal as NH, so this could be a problem for Sanders.

Note that “liberal” in the US is effectively left wing in Australia. US liberals are not classical liberals, let alone the Liberal Party of Australia.

Australian state polling

A SA Galaxy poll, conducted 3-5 February with a sample of 860, has the Liberals ahead by 51-49. However, the two party estimate is rubbery because of the very high other party vote in this poll; on primary votes, the Liberals lead with 33%, with Labor on 28%, the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) on 24%, the Greens on 7% and Family First on 5%. If the NXT polled this high at an election, they would win many seats by beating one major party and then overcoming the other major party on the excluded major’s preferences. In seats where the NXT finished third, their how to vote cards would be crucial.

Morgan has conducted SMS state polls from the 29 January to 1 February; comparisons are with similar polls in December. In NSW, the Coalition leads by 59.5-49.5, a 1% gain for Labor. In Victoria, Labor leads by an unchanged 53.5-46.5. In Queensland, the Liberal National Party (LNP) leads by 52-48, a 3.5% gain for the LNP. In WA, the Coalition leads by 54.5-45.5, a 5% gain for the Coalition. In SA, the Liberals lead by 53-47, a 1% gain for Labor. Sample sizes ranged from 750 in SA and WA to 1290 in NSW.

Morgan’s SMS polling has been volatile, and the swings in WA and Queensland are probably exaggerated. Unfortunately, there is little other state polling that could be used to corroborate Morgan.

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