The GOP Field

[ Posted Thursday, August 20th, 2015 – 17:09 UTC ]

Since I've spent so much time this week examining the Democratic presidential race, I thought I'd balance things out today by taking a look at how the Republicans are doing. It's been enough time since their first debate for any effects to gel in the poll numbers, so we can now answer the question of who was helped most by their debate performance and who saw their support go down as a result. I should mention that all of the data below comes from the Real Clear Politics tracking page.

Overall, of course, Donald Trump continues to dominate the field. He's got twice the support of his nearest competitor, in fact (22.0 percent to Bush's 10.7 percent). His numbers slipped a little due to one outlier poll, but they should bounce back up again when it drops out of the rolling average. He seems to have a ceiling of about 25 percent support in the Republican base, at least for the time being. Can he break through to 30 percent support or more? Or will he just plateau where he is now? We'll have to wait and see.

Comparing everyone else's numbers both before and after the debate shows the big winners and the big losers of the night. On the winning side, Ben Carson made the most impressive move in the rankings, and is now in third place, behind Trump and Bush with 9.7 percent support. Due to his debate performance, he moved from fifth place to third, which is pretty impressive indeed. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz also moved up and are now tied for fifth place with 7.3 percent (Cruz moved up from sixth place, Rubio up from seventh). The biggest move in the rankings came from the candidate most people said made the best first impression, though: Carly Fiorina. She only participated in the "kids' table" debate, but she did so well in it that they ran a clip of her later on, in the main event. Fiorina moved up to seventh place, all the way from her previous ranking of being tied for thirteenth place -- the biggest jump anyone saw, post-debate. She's still only at 6.3 percent support, but she's likely going to be on the next main debate stage, where she could have an even bigger impact. And finally, John Kasich had a fairly good night, and moved up to a tie for eighth place from tenth. However, he's still only at 4.3 percent, so he's still got a ways to go.

There were three big losers coming out of the first debate. Jeb Bush used to be leading the field, and now he's struggling to even stay in second place. He's seeing individual poll numbers in the single digits, and his average is down to 10.7 percent. His super PAC just announced they're spending millions on some early ads, which seems like a good idea at this point. If Jeb slips any further, he may not be able to recover. His weak and play-it-safe debate performance certainly didn't help.

The second big loser from the first debate was Scott Walker. Walker's slide is even more pronounced than Bush's, in fact. He fell to fourth place (down from third), and is now polling at only 7.7 percent. He was solidly in double digits before the rise of Trump, and was duking it out with Bush for first place. Those days are gone. Walker is also in trouble in Iowa, which was supposed to be an easy win for him (since he's from a nearby state himself). Look for him to try to out-Trump Trump to win back the ultra-conservative vote.

But probably the biggest loser of the first debate was Mike Huckabee. I personally didn't see anything from Huckabee during the debate which would have turned off Republican voters, but apparently they did see something they didn't like. Huckabee fell from being fourth to being tied for eighth place -- a monumental collapse. He's now polling at only 4.3 percent, and may even have trouble making it to the main debate stage next time around (if the trend continues).

Many of the candidates didn't really move much at all after the first debate, either in standings or in poll numbers. Rand Paul continues to slide slowly downwards, but he stayed in eighth place and is still polling about where he was before the debate. The rest of the field -- Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore -- all stayed at the back of the pack. Most fell in the rankings, but this wasn't due to them slipping in the polls, but rather as a result of Fiorina's rise. All but Christie were polling below 3.0 percent both before and after the debate. Chris Christie could really be called one of the losers of the night, as even though his polling only went from 3.5 percent to 3.3 percent, he slipped from ninth place to eleventh -- meaning he likely won't be at the "adults' table" in the next debate round.

One final thing worth mentioning is that the groupings of the candidates have shifted. There used to be a clear top tier, middle tier, and bottom tier. There still is a bottom tier, and it didn't change all that much. Ten candidates were polling below 5.0 percent before the debate, and ten are polling below 5.0 percent after the debate. Fiorina escaped this group, and Huckabee took her place. But what happened to the middle tier and the top tier is more interesting. There used to be three frontrunners, who were all regularly seeing polls in the double digits. Now there is really only Trump, way out in front of the rest of the pack. The fall of Bush and Walker means they now have to be seen as merely the top of the middle tier, and even Bush is struggling to remain in double digits. The middle tier itself is where all the action is happening, as the candidates jockey to be the next one in line, should Trump's numbers ever fall back to Earth.

This really sets the stage for the next debate. Whether anyone goes after Trump or not is an open question. But I expect a lot more exchanges between those in the middle tier -- Bush, Carson, Walker, Rubio, Cruz, and Fiorina -- the next time around. Now that Bush has shown he's vulnerable, there's going to be a big fight for who can emerge as the "anti-Trump." Each middle-tier candidate is going to try to be seen as the real alternative to Trump, whether they take him on directly or not.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


7 Comments on “The GOP Field”

  1. [1] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    "If Jeb slips any further, he may not be able to recover."

    JEB has cornered the market on stupid, but he thinks everyone else is stupid. He really only has one strategy that would work and that is to admit that the idiot King George W started the fire and stop trying to blame it on somebody else. The rest of us are all painfully aware of what actually happened. Then he needs to pledge not to start any fires of his own. He should admit that he is a terrible person for using private email and promise to never speak Mexican again.

  2. [2] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    "Rand Paul continues to slide slowly downwards"

    This weekend, the KY GOP makes its decision about whether or not to ditch their primary in favor of a caucus so that Paul could run for both senator and president. They want him to pay for the caucus upfront and he hasn't done so. Everybody knows about the Paulcult's bribery scandal, so it probably hurts their feelings that he's holding out on them.

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:


    There were three big losers coming out of the first debate. Jeb Bush used to be leading the field, and now he's struggling to even stay in second place. He's seeing individual poll numbers in the single digits, and his average is down to 10.7 percent. His super PAC just announced they're spending millions on some early ads, which seems like a good idea at this point. If Jeb slips any further, he may not be able to recover. His weak and play-it-safe debate performance certainly didn't help.

    Ready ta pick out yer T-Shirt?? :D


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    Well, I think one thing has been made clear..

    Ya'all have completely and unequivocally under-estimated the appeal that Trump has to Joe and Jane SixPack...

    I said from the start that Trump is touching a nerve with everyday Americans who are fed up with Democrat incompetence..

    Now, I am not one to toot my own horn....

    But.... Beep, Beep :D

    Seriously, though.. Trumps ascension has only been made possible by the utter incompetence of the Democrats and their intransigent insistence on pushing their agenda at the expense of the American people..

    Trump is THE candidate of the WE'RE PISSED OFF AND WE'RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!! group


  5. [5] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Of all the poll categories over at RCP, I find the poll averages the least interesting....especially in large fields. Not worthless, it gives some idea of voter identification/passion, but primary and general election voters also consider a candidate's electability. They make strategic decisions, and will trade a bit of passion for a bigger chunk of electability.

    Favorable /unfavorable polls are much more informative IMHO, because they capture the strategic decision element better. If you contrast Trump and Bush, you find both candidates score roughly the same: about 1/3 favorable and 2/3 unfavorable. In other, most words, voters don't really like either choice all that much.

    If you ask Republicans to rank order their first and second choices, Trump is first choice for 24% and second choice for 13%. Bush is first choice 14% and 10% second choice. Given a margin of error +/- 4.5%, Bush can take some comfort in knowing he is a fairly 2nd choice, maybe.

    Interesting, but here's something more definitive.

    If you specifically ask who has the better chance of winning the presidency, Donald Trump, or someone else as the GOP nominee, it's 38% Donald, 58% some other candidate and 4% no opinion. Party affiliation makes no difference! Trump has a real electability hurdle. This is going to play out in the primaries. Bush's best gambit is to stress his electability as second favorite as opposed to a Trump who is much less likely to win. As weaker candidates drop out, Bush may find it easier to make this case to voters.

    In closing, the above is something to think about, and yes, you can and should apply the same reasoning to the Clinton/Sanders contest.

    All numbers cited are from the CNN/ORC poll of Aug. 18th.

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    One more point, the RCP site is a bitch navigate. Overheard at a meeting of political operatives..."we lost six good analysts in that jungle - God help them!

  7. [7] 
    Mopshell wrote:

    Oh I knew Trump would do well and he will continue to do well, in spite of everything the Republicans throw at him! It's hilarious to watch! I like the woman who, when asked why she believed Trump would make America great again, replied "It's on his hat." That sums up his followers right there!

Comments for this article are closed.