Numbers don’t lie, but they may deceive. Pundits don’t lie either (if they are any good), but they can most certainly deceive.
Clearly the pundits have crowned Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio the winners last night. I would agree with those assessments.
The numbers from last night, however tell a far different story. While not a fan of “instant polls” and a believer that “unscientific poll” is an oxymoron, they can still be instructive. And last night those numbers spoke loud and clear – there is Donald Trump and then there is everyone else, and the two are really not even close.
CNBC has Trump winning 46%, Cruz at 20% and Rubio at 15%. Time magazine has Trump at 46% and no one else in double digits. Drudge puts Trump at 53%, Cruz at 22% and Rubio at 11%.
These observations clearly overstate Trump’s strength, but also underline both his appeal to voters and everyone else’s difficulty in winning over voters. As our last Presidential Consideration Survey showed, this race remains wide open and the electorate is still very much sorting out and evaluating the candidates. However, this sorting out period is going to begin to end sometime around Thanksgiving and the candidates making up the field have a lot of work to do.
Rubio has long been the most liked candidate in the field, but has not yet convinced those voters to love him and vote for him. Those conversions have to start happening well before the December 15 debate in Las Vegas.
Cruz appears to be laying in wait for voters to flock to him after their preferred candidates drop out or fade away. This puts his fate in other’s hands, which is always a scary place to be.
Carly Fiorina has yet to find a way to capitalize on the buzz she creates with fine debate performances. She has got to find a way to sustain attention and build out a real infrastructure of support.
Christie is going to get a second look from the electorate. He is far too talented and charismatic for voters to not open a window of opportunity for him, but he will need to be ready to seize that opportunity and throw the window wide open. It may not be open for long.
Jeb Bush is in a tough spot, but he has a combination of record, experience, campaign team and resources that are unmatched in the field. Like everyone, his margin of error is shrinking and his timeline tightening, but if any campaign can steer through stormy waters, it is this campaign.
Ben Carson operates almost in a different universe and can sustain support in the 15% – 20% level based off the many who truly seem to love and admire the man. His twin challenges will be expanding beyond those with sheer admiration and to keep from hearing the dreaded words of “I love you, but…” from core supporters.
The other candidates all have far more difficult paths and I will save discussion on those for another time.
So who is right, last night’s numbers or last night’s pundits? If it’s the numbers, we need to prepare our cars for Trump 2016 bumper stickers. If it’s the pundits, we have a very exciting and unpredictable final few months ahead of us before Iowans begin to assemble in their caucuses.
Our next Presidential Consideration Survey will help to provide some insights into who is right and of course there is the dissection of perhaps more important EARLY state numbers and EARLY state pundit opinions, but again we will save those for another time.