He has defied all expert opinion and conventional wisdom since the beginning of this race six months ago. One by one, rivals that challenged him have been abused and ended up worse for wear. He has the media dancing to his tune and gives the impression that he could be rewriting the rules of political campaigning. Even betting markets have, finally, jumped aboard his bandwagon. Nevertheless, I still cannot buy into Donald Trump and believe now is the perfect time to take him on.
The final, much-respected Des Moines Register poll records him 5% ahead of Ted Cruz for Monday’s Iowa Caucus. Cruz, 10% up in the same poll last month and rated an 80% chance in the betting, has slipped badly. Weeks of relentless character assassination from Trump and the GOP establishment have taken their toll. Yet look deeper into the numbers, then consider the nature of caucus voting, and these numbers are not great for Trump either.
First, remember that caucuses are not the same as the standard, straightforward secret ballot that most of us are used to. This is a time-consuming, complex process that may involve having to argue the case for your vote in front of friends and neighbours. Typically for this time of year, there is a snowstorm forecast for either Monday night or Tuesday. No wonder turnout is expected to be well below 20%.
That is bound to favour the most organised, committed activists and usually blindsides the polls. On that score, there is near universal consensus that Cruz is best equipped. I saw some of it first hand yesterday at his event in Ames. His supporters are passionate, organised and, critically, registered. Twice as many households acknowledge contact with the Cruz campaign compared to Trump.
In contrast, the big question mark hanging over Trump is that so much of his support comes from groups less likely to turnout or be registered Republicans. Again, speaking to political activists and insiders across the country, there is near universal doubt over Trump’s ability to convert his poll share into votes.
That may not matter in some of the open primaries, with easier registration and secret ballots, where Trump currently holds huge poll leads. In Iowa though, 5% looks extremely fragile.
Even more so when considering the numbers in depth. More than one in three poll respondents didn’t declare support any of the top-three, (also including Marco Rubio). 9% were still undecided. Expect plenty of these to switch on Monday to somebody with a chance of winning. Even if they all turn out, Trump’s 28% may not be enough to win, and he badly trails Cruz and Rubio in terms of second choices. Here Rubio gets 20%, Cruz 17%, Trump just 7%. In a head-to-head, which is how this is being framed and reported, Cruz wins 53-35.
Furthermore, Trump remains toxic with a substantial portion of the GOP base. 47% view him unfavourably, meaning a net rating of just +3, compared to +49 and +37 for Rubio and Cruz. It bodes ill for Monday and terribly for the wider race, when the field is whittled down to a handful in a few weeks.
This is precisely why I recommended backing Marco Rubio to be Next President last night. I will blog shortly in depth about this.
— Political Gambler (@paulmotty) January 31, 2016
Eventually, I believe this will realistically boil down to a three runner race between Trump, Cruz and Rubio. We are already on Cruz for the nomination, so it must make sense to get Rubio on side. It will be an upset were he to win Iowa, but he is booked for third and will at least come away with momentum.
Rather than backing Cruz in Iowa, it makes better sense to just lay Trump at 1.6 (63%), therefore keeping the late Rubio run onside. Just to clarify, I already advised a lay of Trump at these odds on Twitter earlier in the week, but cashed out for a tiny profit after Cruz’s poor debate night. I’ve since gone back in at the shorter odds.
The Democrat race, for which Hillary Clinton is rated 3% ahead, makes less appeal from a betting perspective. I think she’ll win, on the same grounds that Bernie Sanders’ supporters are less likely to be registered. However, 9% remain undecided and supporters of third-placed Martin O’Malley tend to break more towards Sanders. However the market rating of 70% for Clinton looks only fair and certainly not a betting proposition. Especially given the history of upsets in these races.