How Trump Could Be in Trouble

There was much speculation on Saturday night about how the GOP can stop Donald Trump.

The agreed upon solution was that so-called “establishment” candidates would drop out and coalesce around a single candidate, thereby pooling their support and overtaking Trump’s current plurality.

It is true that, based on the first three states, roughly 66% of the GOP electorate does not support Trump. That, when concentrated around one — or even two — candidates will obviously render his ability to win the nomination difficult.

But that seemed to be called into question on Saturday. Many pundits wondered if Bush and Kasich supporters might bleed into Trump’s camp, effectively handing Rubio and Cruz a net zero in new support.

Well, good news, we can figure that out — sort of. Based upon polling data, actual primary data, and entrance poll data, a clear picture of Trump’s support begins to emerge.

Let’s start with Saturday night’s victory in South Carolina.

By comparing the RealClearPolitics average for South Carolina to the actual vote, we can get some idea of which candidates lost support and which candidates scooped up those shedding voters.

Looking broadly at the RCP average, Jeb Bush was the largest under performer of the night, losing roughly 3% of his support in the actual election. Kasich as well under performed, shedding roughly 1.5% of his support.

Meanwhile, the RCP average tallied about 4.3% of voters undecided prior to the election.

The greatest over performers were Cruz and Rubio, each boosting their support by over 3.5% versus the RCP average. Trump performed as expected, outpacing his average by under 1%.

The full differential between actual returns and the RCP average looks like this:

Trump: +.7% (5,165 voters)
Rubio: +3.7% (27,302)
Cruz: +3.8% (28,040)
Bush: -2.9% (21,399)
Kaisch: -1.4% (10,330)
Carson: +.4% (2,951)

Exit poll data indicated that Rubio was the beneficiary of late deciders, and that seems to hold up in the data above. What is also telling is that Bush and Kasich’s supporters clearly deflected to either Rubio or Cruz. If any did find their way to Camp Trump, it wasn’t many.

But maybe South Carolina was just an anomaly. Fair enough, let’s do the same analysis on New Hampshire — a state Trump handily won. Once again, the polls suggested 4.6% of voters were undecided (or were supporting lower tier candidates):

Trump: +4.1% (11,444)
Rubio: -3.5% (9,770)
Kaisch: +2.3% (6,420)
Cruz: -.1% (279)
Bush: -.5% (1,396)
Christie: +1.6% (4,466)
Fiorina: -.7% (1,954)
Carson: -.5% (1,396)

These numbers are bit more nuanced. While Trump did out perform his poll numbers by over 4%, you can make a strong case that nearly all of it came from the undecided pool.

For starters, Trump won the late deciders vote. Secondly, for Trump to achieve that number without dipping most of his toes in the undecided pool, he would have needed a good portion of Rubio’s 9,770 voters that switched.

But look for a moment at Christie and Kasich’s numbers. They out performed by a combined 3.9%, and based on the New Hampshire GOP debate, it can be reasonably assumed that a lot of those voters were previous Rubio supporters. Kasich also commanded 24% of voters who decided “in the last few days” and performed well with voters who made their decision based on recent debates.

Finally, the exit poll data suggests that most of Trump’s supporters have been around for quite some time. In South Carolina 56% of his supporters claimed they made up their mind a month ago or earlier. In New Hampshire that number was 58%.

Trump’s voters are not fluid, they are set in stone. He may sway some from the undecided pool into his camp, but by and large he’s coasting with the voters he’s got.

Based on this data, it’s very reasonable to assume that Bush’s supporters (and money) will fall into the laps of Rubio or Cruz. Right now, it’s unclear to me exactly what that split will look like.

If Kasich were to drop out, I would suspect his supporters would get behind either Rubio or Cruz as well. Carson’s, admittedly few, supporters, are a toss-up. I could make a good argument they may go to Trump based on Carson’s attractiveness as an “outsider” candidate. However, I could also make an argument that Carson’s supporters appreciate his calm, pleasant demeanor, which is not exactly a highlight of Trump.

Either way, for the GOP to stop Trump’s train — er, jet — they need to get Kasich out of the race and line up his and Bush’s supporters behind Rubio. The key is how they split between Rubio and Cruz.

If the split it mostly even, it’s likely not enough warm voting bodies to overtake Trump. If the split falls largely to one candidate, it is mathematically possible for that candidate to begin out performing Trump and catch up in the delegate race.