Noah Finberg, Roy Tsao, and Dante Moussapour
Donald Trump has been the Republican frontrunner thus far in the 2016 presidential campaign, polling in first place and winning three primaries. Early primary wins may predict how regions of the nation will vote, leading people to believe Trump will be the nominee. However, according to history, candidates who are initially ahead in the competition have gone on to lose the nomination. In this critical time in the race right before Super Tuesday, we are wondering whether Trump will actually win the nomination.
Why Trump will be Nominated:
With wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada–and a close second place finish in Iowa–Donald Trump appears to be the inevitable Republican nominee. In order to win the nomination, Trump will need 1237 delegates. Otherwise, he risks a brokered convention and being pushed out by the party establishment. The question is: how clear a path does Trump have to the magic 1237 number?
Currently, Trump sits at 85 delegates. By Tuesday, it’s possible he could be nearly halfway to the nomination. According to the latest Real Clear Politics Polls, Trump had fairly significant leads in all Super Tuesday states except Texas (Cruz’s home-turf). Should he win all those states, he could pick up a large portion of the 595 delegates up for grab.
After Super Tuesday, the next (and perhaps final) test of Trump’s inevitability occurs on March 15 when Florida and Ohio‘s (Ohio is winner-take-all) primaries occur. Barring significant developments in the race, Trump looks poised to take Florida (and is in a close race with Governor Kasich for Ohio’s delegates).
In addition, there is reason to believe that Trump will continue to dominate in all regions of the country. In South Carolina, Trump won huge with evangelical voters. While this doesn’t ensure him the nomination, it suggests that his appeal transcends the divide in the Republican party between moderates (like those in New Hampshire) and the religious right. As a result, it’s not surprising that, according to Nate Silver’s projections, Trump is likely to dominate in both Massachusetts and Georgia on Tuesday.
One criticism often levied against those who predict a Trump nomination is his lack of endorsements from members of the Republican Party. Citing The Party Decides by Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller, the New York Times notes that “Since 1980, the single best predictor of a party’s nominee is the number of endorsements from party elites — elected officials and prominent past party leaders — in the months before primaries begin.” Until recently Trump had no major endorsements. However, that too has changed: Gov. Christie (New Jersey) and Gov. Paul LePage (Maine) endorsed Trump just this week.
Finally, perhaps the best evidence that Trump will be the nominee is that people are putting money on it. According to PredictWise (a well-known prediction market), Trump has an 80% chance of winning the Republican nomination–and that is the highest probability of victory Trump has had to date (see chart below).
Why he won’t:
With a smaller and smaller pool of Republican candidates, Trump has remained on top of the polls. He is a clear favorite to win the Republican nomination, yet, I do not believe he will do so. It is not uncommon for someone to come out of the rough and secure the nomination over the frontrunner. In the 2008 Democratic race, Hillary was a favorite over Barack Obama. In January of that year, Hillary had a 20 point lead over Obama. Obama won the Iowa caucus (even though Hillary had more support at the time) and went on to secure the nomination.
Trump currently averages about a 12-17 point lead over his competitors. In 2012, Romney was polling 7-8 points behind Santorum. However, he was gaining supporters almost daily. On super Tuesday of that year, he had a good showing and his ratings boosted, thus giving him the nomination.
Marco Rubio is currently emulating the direction that Romney took. In February he’s gone up from 10 points to almost 17. There is no reason why Rubio cannot see similar jumps to those done by Obama in 2008 and Romney in 2012. Cruz has seen an almost linear increase in support, compared to the larger, more volatile jumps that Trump and Rubio have seen.
With Trump apparently holding 33% of the Republican polls, there is 67% left (obviously). Most Cruz, Kasich, Carson, and Rubio supporters often bash Trump. If they were to combine their votes, then we could definitely see an increase in support for either Cruz or Rubio (especially if/when Carson or Kasich drops out). If most non-Trump Republican supporters find Trump’s lead alarming, they may rally to support another candidate.
Trump’s nomination by the Republican Convention essentially boils down to whether his initial polls and wins will predict how the remaining 1,152 delegates will vote or whether a candidate such as Rubio currently behind Trump will gather the remaining votes (and pull an Obama or Romney). Using a strong assumption that nothing will go south for Trump and that he will gather the votes of moderate Republicans, Trump is likely to be the Republican nominee. However, history has shown that candidates can win the nomination with an initial loss. Thus, although data driven predictors say Trump will be the nominee, we must realize that this nomination process is not an entirely numbers based and that history has shown that people can gain the nomination out of left field. The nomination process is not based in predictions, but is a human process where the current popular belief will ultimately decide the final result. So, Trump should not get too comfortable, and needs to keep his campaign running optimally if he wants to actually gain the nomination.