2016 Presidential Primary Season: Do The Polls Have It Right?

Here we are, just days from the first caucus/primary for the 2016 Presidential election. The candidates have provided us with an overwhelming amount of politicking (some of it pretty good), mountainous volumes of material requiring fact-checking, and a fair amount of thespian-like antics. Since last July, we have seen the field shrink, if only slightly; but after Iowa and New Hampshire, it is likely we will find out who the real contenders are in the G.O.P. and just how close the Democratic race will be. Current polls show Donald Trump and Ted Cruz leading in the Republican race, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both looking strong. However, it is probable that March 1st (a.k.a. Super Tuesday) will bring us a very different looking contest on the Right side of the aisle. By the time the candidates leave South Carolina and Nevada, the field should be whittled to two or three serious contenders per party (plus the possible wild card, Michael Bloomberg).  And then, the real melee begins; Small Victories can turn the tide and carry the day.

The contenders have had 6-12 months (or more…Hillary) to make us aware of their stances on various policies as well as beliefs and occasionally solutions concerning: social issues, the economy and related matters (unemployment/underemployment rates, wages and wage disparity (household incomes, taxes), GDP, TPT,  the housing market, the stock market & Wall Street reforms, and the importance of small business in America), global warming, health care/ACA/Obama-Care, criminal/social justice, religious beliefs, the V.A., and even a little about the environment and education.

They have also told us, more or less, about their thoughts on DOD spending, the DEA, DHS, DOJ, DOT, EOs, EPA, FRB & FRS, INS, JCAT, NNSA, ORR, OWH, SEC, SSA, USCCR, WHO, and the WTO. Which is to say, we’ve learned a lot about who they are (or who they say they are for the sake of votes). But they’ve also told us a lot about what matters to them based on what they haven’t talked about.

We didn’t hear much, if any, discussion surrounding: cyber-securityECA, ECIE, EOWS, FEC, HUD, MBDA, OSERS, VTO, OCTAE, ONAAPHA, PLLI, RBS & RECD, SDWIS, USIP, VAWO, WIC, youth employment/training programs, or WNET. So it’s probably safe to assume that policy ideas concerning: replacing old voting machines; marijuana legalization; affordable housing and urban development; employment & training programs for youth & adults; and rural economic development; will not be front and center on any candidates updated websites next week.

Policy matters aside, the Democratic nomination is shaping up to be much more of a contest than most pundits thought twelve short months ago. Secretary Clinton still has an edge, nationally, but Senator Sanders has shown how his youth movement can have a substantial impact, already doing yeomen’s work in Iowa and New Hampshire. Governor O’Malley is simply raising his profile in hopes of having a better outcome in 2020 or 2024, depending on what happens this November. The Republicans, conversely, look like they will be engaged in a much greater competition and may end up getting into some of the back-room deals that were more common in the politics of yesteryear.

But look at what the polls tell us…

I don’t put a lot of weight in the polls that have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz with big leads (which would be the vast majority). This is not to question the veracity of their methods but to highlight the realities of modern polling. Here’s the scoop. Polls have the uncanny ability of being able to tell pollsters whatever they want to hear (not saying this is the intent of the aforementioned survey firms). Good polling outfits design a survey using tightly structured methods, within set parameters, and scrutinize every angle prior to the final product being rolled out. That said, even when the best in the business believe they’re doing everything right, sometimes it all goes to pot. The potential snafus are illustrated in many instances and there are various reasons for results coming out the way they do (Dewey defeats Truman; Landon-vs.-Roosevelt; Bevin (R)-vs-Conway (D)). Additionally, people forget that these polls reflect the beliefs of those who are still answering their phones when an unknown # (or a “known” #) comes up. It’s unlikely that a broad swath of our nation is taking part in such antiquated methods (which is to say a lot of phone calls are being placed in order to reach the magic number of responses); rather, it may be that the most extreme constituents, on both sides, Left & Right, are completing many of the phone questionnaires. Moreover, how many of the folks who support Trump on the phone are going to bother showing up on primary day? He might have a lot of backing from the “all talk – no action” crowd; who knows?

Many political polls are done well and are valuable because the time was taken to ensure accurate results. Additionally, when multiple polls are considered in a forecast, along with in-depth analysis and common sense, the odds are definitely in one’s favor. But, it’s still difficult to imagine Donald Trump & Senator Cruz being the big winners in the 1st (3) states (or the remainder of the primaries for that matter). Why? you ask. Because; Trump is still not running a serious campaign (more like buffoonery on planet clown) and Cruz is about to learn just how serious the Republican gate-keepers are. When the old guard talks about finding a candidate who can draw interest from hard-line Conservatives, along with the more socially moderate Republicans and Independents who lean Right, they’re not endorsing a firebrand like Cruz.

As for the remainder of the Republican field, Governor Christie and Governor Bush still have an outside shot but their odds are just a bit better than the chance our national flag will get a 51st star (for the State of Superioranytime soon—not great. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson did well to garner the support they did, neither being particularly astute politicians. Rand Paul and Jim Gilmore (wait, who?) will always have their supporters, regardless of how small their fraternities may be. And Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee should have followed their friend, Scott Walker, in a stage-left-exit, prior to the holiday gatherings; it would have saved them the embarrassment of having family members ask, “How is Donald Trump beating you?” while sipping BouRye and wearing a sarcastic grin.

But What Do I Know?

So, which candidates will come out of wintertide’s donnybrook with a crown & cape and a road map to the nominating conventions, in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Well, on the Republican side, Marco Rubio and John Kasich wouldn’t be bad bets. They’re both fairly level-headed and don’t offend a majority of the party elite. And for the Dems—as hard as it is to imagine, the presumptive nominee, Clinton, could be a two-time runner-up; it wouldn’t surprise me. Nor would I be surprised if she suddenly surged on Super Tuesday. The nation’s voters (to include the so-called Independents) have seen a number of changes in their demographics in the past 10 years and we could be in for a surprise, or three.

Amongst Republicans, Rubio has a slight edge as he is better known amongst likely voters. And between his youth, his heritage, his home state (Florida), and his measured responses to most questions, it is realistic to think the majority of the party royalty will support his nomination. The opposing side (Dems) may not shake out a candidate until June, after California and New Jersey announce the winners in their primaries. It looks as though we might be in for a spirited six-month skirmish, on both banks of the the District’s aisle. Whatever ends up happening, it’s good to know that come the morn of  9 November, we should know what it all means.