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Making sense of the polls

Will Donald Trump win the US Republican Presidential nomination?

The US Presidential nominations are not decided by a national vote, but rather by a series of state by state contests that are held between February and June this year. These contests elect delegates to the national conventions in July 2016, at which the presidential candidates for both major parties are formally selected. The general election will be held in November 2016.

Donald Trump has retained a big national lead in the polls since July 2015, and this lead has increased over the last two months. The Huffington Post Pollster aggregate currently has Trump at 37.0%, followed by religious right winger Ted Cruz at 19.3% and current establishment favourite Marco Rubio at 11.3%. Ben Carson once threatened Trump’s lead, but has collapsed to 7.5%, and former favourite Jeb Bush now only has 5.0%. All other candidates are at 3% or less.

However, early state polls are considered more important than national polls. In Iowa, which will on 1 February be the first state to vote, Trump is tied with Cruz on 28% each with 13% for Rubio and 8% for Carson. However, the highly regarded Des Moines Register/Selzer Iowa poll gives Cruz a slight 25-22 lead over Trump, with Rubio on 12% and Carson 11%; Cruz’s lead is down from 31-21 in the December Selzer poll.

In New Hampshire (NH), which votes on the 9 February, Trump leads with 29% to Rubio’s 14%, but four establishment candidates (Rubio, Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie) combined have 44%, 15% higher than Trump’s current vote. If one of the establishment candidates could consolidate this establishment vote, that candidate would probably beat Trump in NH.

An important distinction is that Iowa is a caucus, while NH is a primary. Primaries are managed by the state electoral authority, with polling places open all day, and absentee voting allowed. Caucuses are managed by the state’s party organisation, and usually require voters to go to a local caucus site by a specified time. There is then some attempt at persuading voters before they can actually cast votes. As a result, caucus turnout is much lower than primary turnout, and good ground organisation is regarded as essential in caucus states. Cruz is reported to have a stronger organisation than Trump in Iowa.

A Trump win in Iowa could allow him to win the nomination quickly. If Trump wins Iowa, where a religious right candidate like Cruz or Carson would be expected to do well, it is likely that Trump will then easily win NH and South Carolina, the next two states to vote. Trump would then roll into the March states with some momentum, and be very hard to stop even if the establishment has unified around a single candidate by that stage.

However, a Trump loss in Iowa would be bad for him, particularly if establishment favouring voters in NH can use the Iowa results to consolidate around a single candidate, most likely to be Rubio. If Rubio wins NH and Cruz wins Iowa, it would be hard for Trump to get back in the race for the nomination.

The reason why Trump is in a position to win the nomination is not because Republican voters like his personality, but because they like his positions on the major issues. According to a December CNN national poll, 57% of Republicans think Trump is the best candidate to handle the economy, 55% think he is best able to handle illegal immigration, and 47% think he is best able to handle ISIS.

I think that a Trump nomination is now a realistic possibility, but the result in Iowa will be very important. There is still time for Iowa polling to change radically; at this stage in 2012, Newt Gingrich was the clear leader, but finished fourth. However, 73% of Iowa Trump voters are firmly committed to him.

Sanders closes on Clinton in Democratic nomination contest

A month ago, the Huffington Post’s Pollster gave Hillary Clinton a crushing 56-30 lead over Socialist Democrat Bernie Sanders in the national Democratic polls, but now this lead has been reduced to a 52-39 margin, and two recent polls only give Clinton single digit leads. In Iowa, Clinton’s lead has been reduced to a 47-42 margin, with two recent polls giving Sanders the lead. In NH, Sanders’ lead has widened somewhat to 50-44.

It is still likely that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination. Both Iowa and NH are overwhelmingly white, and Clinton will do better in more ethnically diverse states, as Sanders does not appeal to blacks in the way Obama did in 2008. Clinton also has massive support from the Democratic party establishment.

Sanders represents the Democratic stronghold of Vermont in the US Senate. While he is very popular in Vermont, I do not think the US as a whole is prepared to vote for a socialist. Currently Sanders performs about as well as Clinton in head to head match-ups against the various Republican candidates. However, he has not been exposed to the full vitriol of the Republicans and their supportive media in the way that Clinton has. If Sanders did become the Democratic nominee, his favourability numbers would crash when exposed to this vitriol.

My opinions of the general election options are: if it is Clinton (Dem) vs either Trump or Cruz (Rep), Clinton will win easily. If it is Clinton vs Rubio (Rep), it will be a tight race. If it is Sanders (Dem) vs Rubio, Rubio will win easily. If it is Sanders vs Trump or Cruz, I have no idea what will happen.

Australian state Newspolls

The Australian has now released the Newspoll results for the five mainland states. The fieldwork for these polls was conducted over the last two or three months of 2015. The table below summarises the results, with details for each state after the table.

state polls early.
  • In NSW, the Coalition leads by 56-44, unchanged on the August-September Newspoll. Primary votes are 48% for the Coalition (up 1), 33% for Labor (steady) and 10% for the Greens (down 1). Premier Mike Baird’s satisfied rating is down two points to 61%, and his dissatisfied rating is down one point to 22%, for a net approval of +39. Opposition leader Luke Foley falls to a net approval of -8, down from -2.

  • In Victoria, Labor leads by 52-48, a 6% gain for the Coalition since the May-June Newspoll. Primary votes are 43% for the Coalition (up 8), 39% for Labor (down 2) and 12% for the Greens (down 2). Premier Daniel Andrews has a satisfied rating of 43% (down 8) and a dissatisfied rating of 39% (up 7) for a net approval of +4. Opposition leader Matthew Guy has a net approval of -13, down from +6 in the prior survey. The fall for Labor is probably due to the post-election honeymoon wearing off.

  • In Queensland, Labor leads by 52-48, a 1% gain for the Liberal National Party (LNP) since August-September. Primary votes are 41% for Labor (steady), 39% for the LNP (up 1) and 8% for the Greens (down 1). Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has a satisfied rating of 50% (down 3) and a dissatisfied rating of 35% (up 2) for a net approval of +15. Opposition leader Lawrence Springborg has a net approval of -15, down six points. If 2015 election preferences had been used in this poll, Labor would be further ahead, but Newspoll is using a combination of previous elections for its preference flows.

  • In WA, Labor leads by 53-47, a 1% gain for Labor since the April-June Newspoll. Primary votes are 42% for Labor (up 9), 42% for the Coalition (up 2) and 10% for the Greens (down 4). Premier Colin Barnett has a satisfied rating of 33% (down 3) and a dissatisfied rating of 54% (down 3) for a net approval of -21. Opposition leader Mark McGowan has a net approval of +15, down one point.

  • In SA, Labor leads by 51-49, a 3% gain for the Liberals since the April-June Newspoll. Primary votes are 38% for the Liberals (up 5), 36% for Labor (steady) and 9% for the Greens (down 1). Premier Jay Weatherill has a satisfied rating of 37% (down 8) and a dissatisfied rating of 46% (up 3) for a net approval of -9. Opposition leader Steven Marshall has fallen to a net approval of -14, from +2 in the prior survey.

Essential also has amalgamated state polling from October to December. The Coalition leads by 56-44 in NSW and 51-49 in WA. Labor leads by 53-47 in Victoria and 54-46 in SA. In Queensland there is a 50-50 tie.

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