Less than a month away from the opening of the primaries and caucus season (beginning with the Iowa caucus on February 1, and the New Hampshire primary on February 9), NBC News partnered with Survey Monkey to release their first tracking poll of 2016. The raw data of the tracking poll reveals a predictable separation of poll respondents from political reality within the Republican camp, and a far more sobering touch of realism from potential Democrats.
Despite Ted Cruz‘s recent surge in Iowa, and Donald Trump‘s continuing inability to get any Republican establishment endorsements (historically a key indicator of success in winning the party nomination), poll respondents leaning towards the Republicans still doled out more support for Trump than for any other candidate (with 33.7%; 39% among men and 29% among women). Cruz and Marco Rubio were Trump’s principal challengers (with 16.8% and 13.5% respectively). Those describing themselves as Trump supporters were also largely “absolutely certain” that they would vote for that candidate (51%); whereas Cruz and Rubio’s supporters are less committed, with a “large chance” that they would vote for their candidate (49% of both candidates’ supporters answering so). Interestingly, despite largely avoiding traditional conservative platform issues and promising substantial increases in government spending, Trump also polled the highest among those considering themselves “very conservative,” with 33% of that group (the far more conservative Cruz got 30%; and all other Republicans polled in the single digits). As a second choice candidate, Cruz gained the largest share of other candidates’ supporters (with 22%). Trump and Rubio finished neck and neck as a second choice (with 14% and 13% respectively), while Ben Carson tied at 11% with that old Republican favorite, “Don’t Know.”
The Republican results in the poll clash dramatically with the picture from within the party machinery, where the actual nomination process will largely take place. While the bulk of the decision will be made through the primary and caucus process, a reliable indicator of nomination potential is endorsement by the “superdelegates” (major Republican leaders in the party, state governments, and Congress). Trump has yet to gain a single endorsement (out of the sum total of over 180 committed thus far). Bush, faring meagerly in the polls, is still at the top of the machine’s food chain, with 46 endorsements; Rubio is running second with 38, and Cruz is down in seventh place with 12. If either Cruz or Rubio pulls out of Iowa in strength, they can leave with both state party delegates and further superdelegate endorsements in their pockets. Ultimately, tracking polls show who is winning the struggle for the American sitting at home. The primaries will determine the victor in the struggle for the American going out to vote.
Meanwhile, back in the Democracy, Clinton got 53% of her party’s supporters; with Sanders running at 36% and Martin O’Malley running a consistent 2%. While overall Republican “certainty” about their candidate for the primary ran 38% (with “large chance” respondents at 40%), Democrats were somewhat more stalwart about their chosen favorite; with 48% “absolutely certain,” and 33% in the “large chance” group. While Sanders supporters largely looked to Clinton as their second choice (30% of the party seeing her as such), Sanders’s result at 31% (barely beating “Don’t Know,” who so far seems to be running a strong campaign in both parties) indicates that many Clinton supporters are looking to O’Malley as the horse to back at the convention if Clinton flames out.
As with the Republicans, the endorsements picture shows an even simpler reality. With almost 460 party “superdelegates” having endorsed a candidate, Clinton has a virtual monopoly on the party machine, with 456 endorsements. Sanders has only two; and O’Malley has but one.
Looking overall at both parties, poll respondents generally favored the Democratic Party over the Republican Party, despite a marginally conservative-leaning respondents pool. Asked to identify as either “very” conservative or liberal, or conservative or liberal, or moderate, the mean response put the audience at just over the conservative side of the moderate range. Nonetheless, asked to rate the parties from 0 (worst) to 10 (best), the respondents gave the Democrats an edge with 4.26 over the Republicans’ 3.71. The Democrats showed further strength in that of the 3,700 respondents, Clinton supporters were the largest group (830, or 22.4%), and Sanders ran a strong second place (558, or 15.1%). Trump was obviously the top-scoring Republican, with 497 (13.4% of respondents), while Cruz and Rubio together had slightly more (13.6%, with 282 and 221 supporters respectively). The two main Democratic candidates got 37.5%, to the top three Republicans’ 27%. This, of course, leaves out the 35.5% who either supported other Republican candidates (and O’Malley’s roughly 2%), or favored the always popular “not sure.”
Ultimately what this poll shows is that, without any endorsements, primaries, or caucus votes being considered (the actual mechanism by which candidates will use to win – or lose – the nomination), the poll respondents at least expect a Clinton-Trump race; with Clinton holding a strong edge over the erstwhile Republican front-runner.
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