Can Ted Cruz Weather a Loss in Iowa?

After being considered the favorite to win Iowa for close to a month, Ted Cruz has suddenly suffered major reverses in his poll numbers. Under increasing attack from Donald Trump on the birther question and the Republican establishment for his conservative orthodoxy and ‘holier than thou’ attitude, his lead in Iowa has slipped. He also had to endure a bad night in the last Republican debate where he came under concerted attack from all his rivals as well as the moderators. The result is that he has now trailed Donald Trump in the last nine major polls taken (according to the Fivethirtyeight website) in a state which was considered a lock for him for a long time.  The final Des Moines Register poll which is considered one of the best polls in Iowa has him losing Iowa to Donald Trump by 5 percentage points.

This naturally leads to the question – can Ted Cruz survive a defeat in Iowa? Iowa is one of the states which should be favourable to Ted Crux, considering that close to 60% of the Republican voters in the state are evangelicals, a group which is a natural constituent of Cruz. He also has assiduously built a strong grass root infrastructure in the state, perhaps the best among the Republican contenders. While a defeat would not be cataclysmic to the Cruz candidacy, there are signs that Iowa is an extremely crucial state for him and a defeat there may severely limit his chances, more so than other leading Republican candidates.

What does the prediction market say?

Predictwise is a website that aggregates the odds on various events from various betting websites and assigns probabilities to the same. We looked at the variation of the odds of winning the Republican nomination for the three leading candidates i.e. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio from this website. The change in the odds of the three candidates since November 18th, 2015 and their polling averages in Iowa according to RealClearPolitics have been mentioned in the following charts:

Candidate Odds

RCP Average

If we plot the odds of each candidate with the difference between their polling numbers and the polling number of the leading candidate in Iowa (or the second placed candidate in case that candidate is leading), the following graphs are obtainedfor Cruz, Trump and Rubio respectively:

Cruz Chart

Trump Chart

Rubio Chart

Ted Cruz’s prospect of winning the election is very much dependent on his Iowa poll performance. The R-squared of the regression is 83% indicating that around 83% of the variation in his odds in the betting market can be explained by variation in his poll numbers in Iowa. On an intuitive level also, this makes a lot of sense. As mentioned above, Iowa was always expected to be friendly state to Ted Cruz. In fact, his strategy has all along been to use the momentum from winning Iowa to end up with a strong finish in New Hampshire (perhaps in the top two or three) and then win in South Carolina as well as a host of other southern states slated to vote next and build up a formidable lead in the delegate count. As a result, losing in Iowa would be far more debilitating to Cruz compared to a candidate like Trump who is polling well in other states as well or Rubio who has never polled well in Iowa.

For Trump and Rubio though, it is more of a mixed bag. One can argue that Rubio’s odds do have some relationship with his poll numbers in Iowa; but, for the most part, his poll numbers is Iowa has been steady, holding at around low double digit numbers. In fact, Rubio’s relatively high odds have been reflective of his potential rather than his actual polling numbers which have never been high. And as time left till the Iowa caucus has gradually ran out and Trump has continued to maintain and solidify his lead in polls while Rubio’s numbers have remained stubbornly low, Rubio’s prospect of winning the nomination has also accordingly diminished. In fact, if we do a regression of Rubio’s odds against time, we get the following graph which rather succinctly sums up the story.

Rubio Chart Time

Note: this trend may be expected to reverse in the coming days, especially if Rubio does better than expected in Iowa.

Cruz’s SEC Firewall:

In certain ways, Ted Cruz is different from last campaigns’ Iowa wonders like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. Unlike the latter two, Cruz has built a strong organization with large presence in the states which are slated to vote later in the primary calendar. He has backed it up with impressive fund raising machinery, a large network of small donors and cash in hand of around 19 million which is expected to be higher than other candidates. As a result, it will be foolish to write off Cruz after the loss in Iowa.

A large part of the argument rests on the idea that Cruz shall do well in the southern states which are scheduled to vote early in the primary calendar. Like Iowa, these states also have a larger percentage of evangelical and more conservative voters; most of these states had either voted for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum in the 2012 primary elections. Further, Cruz is from the same region, serving as the junior senator from Texas. These states shall effectively serve as a firewall for him and help him recover in case of a poorer than expected showing in Iowa.

Around a month back, Civis Analytics, a Democratic polling firm had released a map showing the leading candidate in each of the congressional districts (CDs) of the country, dating back to August, based on their internal surveys. Although the map only showed the leading candidate in each district and had a large margin of error (of around 8.3%), we can glean some information from these data on the preference of states voting subsequently in the calendar

The information released by Civis Analytics includes 20 data points, based on weekly surveys taken between 16th August, 2015 and 27th December, 2015. Here is a brief summary of the results of the survey in the early voting states:

Date of Voting State/Territory No. of CDs Delegates Percentage of Surveys Led by Trump
February 1, 2016 Iowa 4 30 CD 1 – 45%

CD 2 – 50%

CD 3 – 55%

CD 4 – 60%

February 9, 2016 New Hampshire 2 23 CD 1 – 100%

CD 2 – 100%

February 20, 2016 South Carolina 7 50 CD 1 – 100%

CD 2 – 100%

CD 3 – 100%

CD 4 – 100%

CD 5 – 100%

CD 6 – 80%

CD 7 – 100%

February 23, 2016 Nevada 4 30 CD 1 – 45%

CD 2 – 100%

CD 3 – 100%

CD 4 – 50%

March 1, 2016 Alabama 7 50 CD 1 – 100%

CD 2 – 100%

CD 3 – 85%

CD 4 – 95%

CD 5 – 100%

CD 6 – 100%

CD 7 – 100%

Alaska 1 28 Not Available
Arkansas 4 40 CD 1 – 75%

CD 2 – 40%

CD 3 – 70%

CD 4 – 0%

Colorado 7 37 CD 1 – Not Available

CD 2 – 35%

CD 3 – 0%

CD 4 – 40%

CD 5 – 25%

CD 6 – 30%

CD 7 – 5%

Georgia 14 76 CD 1 – 100%

CD 2 – 70%

CD 3 – 100%

CD 4 – 50%

CD 5 – 70%

CD 6 – 100%

CD 7 – 100%

CD 8 – 100%

CD 9 – 100%

CD 10 – 65%

CD 11 – 100%

CD 12– 65%

CD 13– 60%

CD 14 – 65%

Massachusetts 9 42 CD 1 – 70%

CD 2 – 100%

CD 3 – 100%

CD 4 – 100%

CD 5 – 100%

CD 6 – 100%

CD 7 – 100%

CD 8 – 100%

CD 9 – 100%

Minnesota 8 38 CD 1 – 85%

CD 2 – 100%

CD 3 – 100%

CD 4 – 100%

CD 5 – 70%

CD 6 – 100%

CD 7 – 60%

CD 8 – 100%

North Dakota 1 28 CD I – 15%
Oklahoma 5 43 CD 1 – 95%

CD 2 – 65%

CD 3 – 100%

CD 4 – 100%

CD 5 – 100%

Tennessee 9 58 CD 1 – 100%

CD 2 – 100%

CD 3 – 100%

CD 4 – 100%

CD 5 – 100%

CD 6 – 100%

CD 7 – 100%

CD 8 – 100%

CD 9 – 100%

Texas 36 155 CD 1 – 20%

CD 2 – 45%

CD 3 – 15%

CD 4 – 60%

CD 5 – 10%

CD 6 – 70%

CD 7 – 15%

CD 8 – 60%

CD 9 – Not Available

CD 10 – Not Available

CD 11 – 30%

CD 12– 15%

CD 13– 65%

CD 14 – 65%

CD 15 – 20%

CD 16 – 15%

CD 17 – 65%

CD 18 – Not Available

CD 19 – 100%

CD 20 – 30%

CD 21 – 65%

CD 22 – 15%

CD 23 – 30%

CD 24 – 20%

CD 25 – 15%

CD 26 – 55%

CD 27 – 15%

CD 28 – 5%

CD 29 – Not Available

CD 30 – 0%

CD 31 – 15%

CD 32 – Not Available

CD 33 – 70%

CD 34 – 5%

CD 35 – 10%

CD 36 – 0%

Vermont 1 16 CD 1 – 25%
Virginia 11 49 CD 1 – 85%

CD 2 – 95%

CD 3 – 70%

CD 4 – 60%

CD 5 – 10%

CD 6 – 70%

CD 7 – 15%

CD 8 – 60%

CD 9 – Not Available

CD 10 – Not Available

CD 11 – 30%

Wyoming 1 29 CD – 30%

Primary polls are volatile and subject to wild fluctuations, particularly depending on the outcome of the states that voted earlier. For whatever it is worth though, it shows that Trump’s support is broad, cutting across geographies. But he is especially strong in the southern states which are scheduled to vote on March 01st. Trump has led 100% of the time in six of the seven congressional districts of South Carolina, five of the seven congressional districts of Alabama, seven of the congressional districts of Georgia, three of the five congressional districts of Oklahoma and all the congressional districts of Tennessee. His numbers are less impressive in Arkansas (partly because of the presence of favourite son Mike Huckabee on the ballot) and Texas where Cruz may have a much better chance. But otherwise, the Southern states appear to be leaning more towards Trump than Cruz.

In fact, as per the results of this survey, Iowa is one of the weaker states for Trump. He is especially strong in North-east and South and is relative weaker in parts of Mid-west and the West (states like Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota). So, if Trump in fact manages to win Iowa, it means Cruz will have to make up a lot of ground, pretty quickly, to win in South Carolina and the other SEC states. And he does not probably have an SEC firewall which may revive his campaign in the case of a poorer than expected showing in Iowa (unlike say Clinton).

Plus, there is, of course, the factor of establishment support. When Cruz was leading in Iowa, the prospect of him emerging as a nominee spooked a number of party actors so much that they went after him, almost in unison. This kind of combined, concerted action is what the establishment avoided when Trump was leading, indicating that a Cruz candidacy for them would be an even worse outcome than a Trump one. Incidentally, when Gingrich was leading in December, 2011, this kind of collective push back from the Republican Party actors contributed to his swift fall in poll numbers. So, even if Cruz manages to revive his campaign later on, it is likely that a number of party actors, especially his colleagues in the Senate who seriously loathe him, shall again come after him with all guns blazing.

Of course, it is difficult to forecast a primary campaign where things change at the last moment and quite unexpectedly. Nobody in their right minds had predicted one year back that Trump would be leading in Iowa going into the caucus day. And Cruz may very well spin a narrow loss in Iowa as a better than expected performance – after all, in Iowa, managing expectation is crucial and the conventional wisdom now is that Cruz shall lose. However, even with this caveats in order, it looks likely that a loss in Iowa shall prove to be debilitating to Cruz’s campaign.

 

 

 

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One Response to Can Ted Cruz Weather a Loss in Iowa?

  1. Pingback: Five Takeaways from the South Carolina Primary – hohokum

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