A computer projection which takes the latest polls and the results of the Iowa Caucus into account now identifies Marco Rubio as the leader to win the Republican Party nomination. An algorithm designed to weight both the polls and the endorsements received by the major candidates gives Rubio a 35.2 percent chance of winning the Republican primary, compared to 34.0 percent for Donald Trump and 30.7 percent for Ted Cruz. The algorithm takes into account polls released from a variety of sources, including a new polls of the New Hampshire Primary by UMass Lowell/7 News and Harper Polling.
The algorithm works by giving a certain weight to a number of factors in calculating the odds that each candidate will eventually win the Republican Party nomination. The heaviest weight, 30 percent, is given to the New Hampshire primary, which has tended to be the most predictive contest over the last 20 years. Other factors included are polling of the Iowa Caucus (20 percent), South Carolina primary (10 percent), and nationwide polling (20 percent). Finally, to account for the effect of the party establishment and super delegates a 20 percent weight is given to the number of endorsements candidates have received using FiveThirtyEight’s measurement of official endorsements for each candidate.
At this time only Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio are included in the calculations, as all other candidates finished poorly in Iowa and are polling too low in New Hampshire, and the general electorate to be considered a serious threat for the nomination.
So what do the polls say?
A Real Clear Politics average of six New Hampshire primary polls gives Trump the lead with 33.0 percent support. Ted Cruz comes in second with 11.7 percent of the vote, and Marco Rubio places third with 10.7 percent support. While Ted Cruz benefits from his first place finish in Iowa, the winner of Iowa ends up failing to win the Republican Party nomination. In 2012 Rick Santorum won Iowa and in 2008 it was Mike Huckabee. Both men were eventually overcome by the winners of the New Hampshire primary, Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008. Unless challengers can chip into Trump’s lead in New Hampshire over the next two months there is a good chance he will win the state, and with that victory carry a great deal of momentum into South Carolina and Super Tuesday. Trump’s lead in New Hampshire in the number one reason for his status above Cruz.
The benefit from the Iowa Caucus is not the delegates themselves, which is relatively minor in the overall total, but instead in the positive media coverage which comes from finishing above or below expectations. The results of the Iowa Caucus are now well known. Trump dramatically underperformed compared to his poll numbers while Ted Cruz’s ground game turned out a superior vote total allowing him to place first. Marco Rubio also exceeded expectations by finishing third. Since both Rubio and Cruz exceeded expectations and received positive media coverage each was given 50 percent credit for the Iowa Caucus, while Trump received zero percent.
The Real Clear Politics average of nationwide polling currently has Trump leading with 28.6 percent support, compared to 23.9 percent for Cruz and 16.9 percent for Rubio. Trump has undoubtedly benefited from the tremendous amount of free media coverage he has received over the last few months and it shows in the current state of nationwide polling. At this time, Trump and Cruz have clearly distinguished themselves from the field nationally. Marco Rubio will need to gain national coverage in the coming two months to make up the gap on Cruz and Trump, which only increases the importance of New Hampshire for Rubio.
Finally, the reason Marco Rubio is now considered the leader is the party establishment factor. As documented at FiveThirtyEight.com, citing a study done by four prominent political scientists, significant endorsements from members of the party tend to cause success in primary states. In previous elections the party elites tended to favor one candidate ahead of the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary, and that candidate tended, with few exceptions, to go on to win the party nomination. Using Silver’s measurement of endorsements, which gives more weight to endorsements from U.S. Senators and state governors than U.S. Representatives, Marco Rubio currently leads the endorsement race among the top three contenders with 59 endorsement points. Coming in second is Ted Cruz with 19 points. Donald Trump currently has no endorsement points..
Some may be surprised that Trump is not more of a favorite to win the Republican Party nomination given his lead in many polling areas, and his lead in nationwide polling.
The reason Trump is not even more of a favorite at this point is that polling tends to fluctuate wildly in the months before and after the Iowa Caucus. As Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out, many voters still are not paying attention to the 2016 presidential race, and may change their mind in the coming months. Indeed, exit polls from previous elections show that many voters in the New Hampshire primary likely have still not made up their mind on the candidate of their choice. In early January of 2012 Newt Gingrich was leading nationwide polling of Republican voters, and in 2008 the leader at this point was Rudy Giuliana. Victories in Iowa and New Hampshire tend to change the narrative and give new candidates free and favorable media coverage which can change the nationwide polling numbers dramatically. For all these reasons other candidates, including Rubio, are still given a good chance of overtaking Trump in the polls in the coming weeks months.
Right now when putting in the numbers and weighting each contest to the best of our knowledge Rubio is the favorite, but other candidates still have more than a fair chance to grab the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.