In an election that has been dominated by the antics of Donald Trump, it would be outlandish to propose that John Kasich, arguably the least consequential candidate in the race, has changed the field. However, looking at the data that completed caucuses and primaries have yielded, it seems as though Kasich might have had a bigger role than expected in the election. John Kasich, with 144 delegates (still less than Marco Rubio), mathematically cannot get the nomination unless he wins a contested convention. By many measures he is probably the least significant candidate in the Republican primary and should probably drop out. Both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have called for his exit claiming that he is stealing votes from each of them. John Kasich, while garnering only a small share of the vote, has had a profound impact on this primary. This leads to the question: What would the primary have looked like without John Kasich?
He has helped Trump…
To ruin the ending of this story, most political analysts agree that John Kasich has helped Donald Trump gain popularity. Perhaps the most significant way in which he has done this is by cutting off Marco Rubio’s path to the nomination. Rubio and Kasich’s support come from the same demographic. Kasich and Rubio supporters have two major things in common: they are rich and better educated. When districts had over 60% of the population college-educated Kasich and Rubio together won almost 60% of the vote. As the share of people with College degrees goes down, so to does their vote share winning only 17% of the vote in areas with less than 10% of the population college educated. Similarly with income, New York Times Exit Polls from New Hampshire, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Ohio found that both candidates did better amongst richer voters.
This split means that they have eaten into each other’s delegate count. Super Tuesday is perhaps the best example of this. By Super Tuesday, Rubio had emerged as the establishment choice. He had the most endorsements, was doing well on the prediction markets and Jeb Bush had dropped out of the race. His only problem was that he was not actually winning anything. Super Tuesday turned out to be a failure for him when he won only 112 delegates. Kasich’s supporters could have made all the difference. According to FiveThirtyEight estimates, had Rubio and Kasich supporters coalesced around one candidate that candidate would have won 203 delegates compared to 208 for Cruz and 301 for Trump. Of course this is based on an extreme alternative. The same fivethirtyeight article noted that even if Rubio had gained a third of Kasich’s support he would have likely won Virginia and Vermont by a more significant margin. The split also results in a close regional overlap between the two candidates which is a game changer in Republican primaries in which delegates are awarded based on congressional districts as well as popular vote. While Kasich’s presence might not have caused any change to the Republican race, there is little doubt that a Kasich-free Republican Primary would have seen a completely different narrative emerge out of early voting states.
The Contrarian Argument
Of course, some (Donald Trump included) argue that Kasich’s presence in the race has been detrimental to Donald Trump’s rise. Looking at the three candidates remaining it should come as no surprise that Ted Cruz is by far the most socially conservative of all of the candidates. Kasich comes of as the most moderate and Donald Trump’s ever-changing positions make him hard to place. Voting data from completed primaries show, however, that Cruz has done significantly better in districts which have in the past been “redder,” while Trump and moderate establishment candidates like Kasich do better. Another proposed theory suggests that a coalition of the two candidates could halt Trump if the two candidates would work together and strategically target states. But even the proponents of this model admit that it is a tenuous claim that depends on a lot of judgments that cannot be backed up by data.
Does Kasich Matter?
At this point in the race does it even matter if Kasich is taking votes from either candidate? Depends on what you believe Kasich’s goals are. If he is attempting to stop Trump from winning the nomination, well he doesn’t really matter. If we examine the expert projection, and adjust it for Trump’s loss in Wisconsin, Trump still has a clear path to the nomination. In this projection he is only 58 delegates away from clinching the nomination, but considering that there are 112 unbound delegates, trump can easily swoon the necessary delegates to support him and avoid the much dreaded brokered convention.
But what if the “experts” are wrong? What if we are forced into a brokered convention? Well first of all, it appears to be more rational that Trump can still collect the remaining 56% of delegate’s necessary, as opposed to Cruz collecting 81% or Kasich collecting 123%. But, if Trump doesn’t clinch the nomination, then he still enters the convention with a large amount of delegates, at least 740. If you believe that Kasich is taking voters from Cruz then they would each have a lot less delegates than Trump. Taking all of this, and rule 40B, into account, Trump should have a pretty easy time collecting the few remaining delegates that he needs and should be well on his way, ready to debate the democratic nominee.
Regardless of the path, Trump still wins the nomination and Kasich fades away. At least until 2020…
While Kasich will inevitably drop out of the race, he might have had a profound impact on the 2016 Presidential election and as a consequence American History. His persistence in the race has unintentionally contributed the fall of party favourites like Rubio and the rise of Donald Trump. In doing so has radically changed the narrative of the Republican primary. It can only be assumed that he is staying in the race in the hopes of a vice presidential nomination, or perhaps in the hopes of being chosen in a brokered convention when the establishment could take back the reigns. Regardless, there is no doubt that once this election is over we will look back and try to unravel the political mystery that is John Kasich.