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For those who are worried that there is no hope of avoiding a Trump victory, I offer the following graph of opinion polls leading up to the South Carolina Republican primary. This is hardly ideal data, but it is the best we have, and it does seem to reflect what happened in the final vote.
The magenta line is Rubio; the dark blue line near the bottom is Kasich; the black line is Cruz; and, most importantly, the blue line at the top is Trump. I’ve put a vertical line on February 11, because it was clearly an inflection point with sudden shifts in many of the candidates’ slopes. And, beautifully, you can see that the Trump blue line near the top starts sloping down.
So what happened immediately after February 11? There may be other factors that I don’t know about, but I can think of two.
First, there was a Republican debate in South Carolina and Jeb Bush (bless him, and may I be smitten for every negative word I’ve ever said about him) showed that you can successfully attack Trump in a debate. He got Trump to say several damaging things that could be used to turn voters. In South Carolina, people really don’t like Planned Parenthood, and his praise for them changed the minds of previously committed Trump voters. And the 9/11 and Iraq War trutherisms also helped. Rubio’s recovery from the New Hampshire debate undoubtedly contributed to his improving numbers. But while that might explain a recovery to a previous level of support; it does not explain how his support rose higher than it had ever been before.
So that brings me to my second observation: the inflection point corresponds with when the ground game really got started in South Carolina. And ground game really matters in primaries. Relatively few voters vote in primaries, and they often make their decisions based on personal contact. Ground game means going out and talking to voters. It’s a technique that works best with volunteers with sincerity and enthusiasm, and I think that Rubio’s late start ground game — dwarfed by a professional ground game run for weeks out of Cruz’s SuperPAC with paid workers — probably made a difference. (I am biased here, but the wisdom that ground game matters in primaries is widely accepted. Disclosure at the bottom to say how I formed this opinion.)
Let’s look at some of the other lines.
Kasich rose. Why? That’s obvious: the strong showing in New Hampshire led a few voters to think he was the best Trump stopper. I am desperately hoping that no one thinks that any more.
Jeb Bush was slightly up, but not by much. Why? He attacked Trump, but everyone otherwise thinks he is just not a strong candidate.
Carson dropped. Why? I think we can all guess that everyone is figuring out that he is not a serious candidate.
Finally, there was Cruz. He’s got a drop, but it’s shallow, and it’s easy to say that that’s “error of measurement,” except for the fact that Rubio ended up beating Cruz in the final vote tally. This is where this post is going to make some people angry, and I apologize for that. Maybe Cruz advocates can come up with a better explanation than mine for why that happened. But I believe that there is one other factor that made a difference, and that is the quality of the candidate. The third thing that changed at around that time is that, of course, all the candidates arrived in South Carolina and voters got to see them. And many voters just do not like Ted Cruz.
I’m no Majestyk, but I hope that some of you who have been discouraged will take heart, and perhaps take action.
Disclosure: I woke up after the New Hampshire primary, took stock, decided that the Trump candidacy was far too dangerous for me to stand by and do nothing, and concluded that it was time for my family to make some sacrifices. So I packed my husband up and he went off to South Carolina to volunteer.
Adding on February 28, as of yesterday I am told that I am now to refer to my husband as “with the campaign,” rather than as a volunteer. I have absolutely no idea what that means, but I know I sent him off as a volunteer with no thought other than that we were going to have to do something to save the Republic, and it was going to cost us something.