US primaries #7: Nevada part 2

by Jackie_South on February 23, 2016

NV iconAfter Saturday’s Democratic primary in the Silver State, it is now the Republicans’ turn. Hot on the heels from victory in South Carolina, will this be three wins in a row for Donald Trump?

The result from South Carolina

Donald Trump did not just win in South Carolina. His victory there was overwhelming. He took every one of the fifty delegate places on offer and won in 44 of the state’s 46 counties.

SC GOP primary counties 2016
The two exceptions though are not unsubstantial ones: Marco Rubio won in Charleston County (based around the city of the same name) and Richland County (based around the state capital, Columbia), the third and second most populous in the state respectively. The margins were not large though in either case: a 2% lead in Charleston, 5% in Richland County. In contrast, Trump won by 31% in Horry County (the fifth-most populous, based on Myrtle Beach).

33% of all voters in the primary backed Trump: not an overwhelming victory but sufficiently greater than the 22% secured by his two nearest rivals – Rubio and Ted Cruz – to give him that spread of victories across the state. The pie chart below shows the votes in full.

SC Rep pie 2016

Fourth-placed Jeb Bush has now bowed out of the primaries. John Kasich, who did almost as well as Bush despite a far lower profile, remains as the last non-very right-wing candidate and Ben Carson continues too, despite coming last in a state that should have been one of his best chances.

So if Trump only took a third of the votes, why did he win all the delegates? After all, Trump took 35% of the vote in New Hampshire but only 11 of the 23 delegates there?

The reason is that South Carolina distributes its delegates differently. For each of the state’s seven congressional districts that a candidate wins, they are awarded three delegates. 26 more delegates are then awarded to the candidate that wins the state as a whole. Finally, there are three further delegates decided by the Republican National Committee, who decided to award their votes to the winner of the state. The map below shows that Trump won the vote in all seven districts, with his percentage lead indicated in each case.

SC GOP primary CDs 2016

Nevada

Like Iowa and New Hampshire, and unlike the Palmetto State, Nevada distributes its delegates arising from tonight’s primary on a proportional basis. As it is a smaller state, there are 30 delegates in total to be awarded rather than the 5o South Carolina had. So, the stakes here are lower than on Saturday.NV county map

That said, a Trump victory and how well his opponents do are important to the narrative of the contest and set the scene for the crucial test next Tuesday – Super Tuesday.

For more detail on the state itself, read our post on the Democratic primary in the state.

Caucuses are notoriously difficult to poll for – although the last Democrat poll for their Saturday caucus in Nevada was pretty much spot on. All the polling since he entered the race though has shown a significant lead for Donald Trump in the state and so it is unlikely that he will not win. After all, Trump owns a casino and hotel in Las Vegas and so is a significant employer in the state.

NV Rep poll 2016

As the polls show, the real battle in the Silver State is for who comes second. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio appear to be a neck-and-neck race to do so – whichever is successful will use that to portray himself as the viable stop Trump candidate.

The state has a sizable Latin American vote, that both will want to appeal to. Cruz may be helped by the fact that those Latino voters are most likely to be of Mexican heritage and that the state has some very evangelical voters in the areas of the state outside of its urban centres. Rubio will be hoping to capitalise on the departure of Jeb Bush by garnering much of his fellow Floridian’s support.

The most recent two polls though suggest that it might be John Kasich that attracts some of that Bush support. Whether this falls away again in caucus meetings, switching to Rubio, could therefore be critical in deciding who finishes second.

Can Trump win the nomination?

There is an argument that whilst Trump can win a third of votes so far in the primaries, he won’t be able to appeal to much more support in the party. As a result, as other candidates drop out their support will go to others best placed to stop him winning the nomination. He may win New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada but as the field thins out, so will his victories going forward.

Trump is certainly a polarising figure in the Republicans. But it remains to be seen whether he really is stoppable because it remains to be seen whether there really is a candidate that enough anti-Trump Republicans can agree on.

A fascinating question was asked in the New Hampshire exit poll (sadly, it was not asked in Iowa or South Carolina): Would you be satisfied if (candidate) won the nomination?

As Trump has had his best vote share so far in the Granite State, it is perhaps unsurprising that the figures for this question when his name was used was fairly close: 51% of all voters said yes, 46% said no. So a narrow majority that might turn into a deficit in approval in less Trump-aligned states and suggesting that even there that there was a strong level of anti-Trump support.

The problem for those picking an alternative is the scores that the two other candidates polled for received. Marco Rubio had 41% of primary goers saying that they would be satisfied if he won, and 57% who said that they would not. The figures were even worse for Ted Cruz: 38% would be satisfied, 59% would not.

The reason for these levels of dissatisfaction with both senators perhaps in another question to those Republican primary voters: “Do you feel betrayed by Republican politicians?”

Pretty remarkably, 47% of Republican primary-goers in New Hampshire said yes to this question, to 51% who said no. The same question was asked in South Carolina: this time 52% said yes to 45% who said no.

Given that level of not only dissatisfaction but sense of betrayal by politicians, it is clear that the assumption that primary-goers might fall in line behind a current senator might not hold. Primary-goers currently appear as likely to be motivated to go out to vote for someone who feels like a break from politics as they are for someone in elected office, whatever their Tea Party credentials.

The lack of clarity on who the anti-Trump candidate is is also problematic, not least given that some figures of the Republican establishment seem more hostile to the idea of a Ted Cruz candidacy than that of Trump. Both Bob Dole and Iowa governor Ted Branstad have both said that whilst they would rather have neither, they would pick Trump over Cruz.

Andrew Neil has tweeted that Republican strategists are saying that if Trump beats Cruz and Rubio in their home states (Texas next Tuesday and Florida on 15 March) then he will become the nominee.

The problem with that though is him winning both currently seems unlikely. There have been three polls in Texas this year and Cruz has led in them all.

Florida looks better for Trump (he has led in every poll there in each of the 17 polls since August) although Rubio is likely to benefit from Jeb Bush pulling out. But only one of the Floridian polls held this year shows that the total of Rubio’s and Bush’s support could catch Trump.

Conclusion

Trump wins Nevada.

Who comes second shapes the rest of the contest: if this is Cruz, he should do well in Super Tuesday (not least in Texas) and remains in strong contention. A second place for Rubio probably makes him the anti-Trump candidate but he then needs a strong showing in Super Tuesday to maintain that.

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