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What Went Down In The Fox Business Undercard Republican Debate
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8:33 PM

Check out our live blog of tonight’s main-stage Fox Business Republican debate.

7:13 PM

I asked the FiveThirtyEight team for final thoughts on tonight’s undercard debate, and I was going to publish the responses here, but I basically got the thesaurus entry for “inconsequential” as a reply.

So maybe there’s nothing else to say. We’ll be launching our main-stage debate live blog in a little more than an hour; check back with us then. Thanks for reading.

7:09 PM
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7:01 PM

My earlier chart on declining male employment drew some good questions on Twitter:

Demographics do explain part of the decline, but not all of it. One easy way to see that is to focus just on men between the ages of 25 to 54, who have also seen a steep drop in employment.

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6:58 PM

The belief that economic mobility is declining — that it’s getting harder for Americans to move from poverty to affluence — is widely held. But the best evidence suggests it isn’t true. Research by Stanford economist Raj Chetty and co-authors has found that mobility has been fairly flat in the U.S. in recent decades. But there’s huge variation across different parts of the country; children in Baltimore, for example, are much less likely to escape poverty than those in Boston. And while rising inequality hasn’t led to less mobility, it has made the stakes higher.

6:57 PM

Why Santorum and Huckabee have so little support — I’m not saying I’d have expected them to win, but I’d have expected them to be polling at more than 1 or 2 percent — is one of the great unanswered questions of the caucuses. And I don’t think there’s any one simple answer.

It partly reflects the field being deep and any non-Trump candidate having trouble gaining traction. But also, it may be that the GOP conversation has mostly moved away from “family values” issues. And candidates like Trump, Cruz and perhaps Ben Carson have found more effective ways to demonstrate their cultural affinity to a certain type of Republican voter, without invoking “family values” per se.

6:56 PM

I think the simple answer is that they are not the evangelical Christian flavor du jour this year. Ted Cruz has taken the base of people who would have otherwise probably devoted themselves to Huckabee or Santorum. And that’s because in the years between election cycles, Cruz was in the news as the Right’s No. 1 instigator. In the simplest form, he’s riding that fresh (ish) wave of Green Eggs and Ham enthusiasm, while Huckabee and Santorum are trying to campaign on the fumes of the past.

6:55 PM

Huckabee and Santorum have spent more time in Iowa than anyone else; why haven’t they caught on there?

6:55 PM

For decades, the majority of Americans were in the middle class — or at least were in the middle tier of incomes. (Class can imply education and social status as well.) But while the middle class is shrinking, it’s not entirely true to say it’s dying off. As I wrote last year, American families have moved up into the wealthier class, not just down into the lower class. In fact, in recent decades the shrinking middle has been more about upward movement than down. But what is definitely true is that inequality is growing — there’s growth at the top and bottom and not in between.

6:53 PM

What a difference a year makes. Although Fiorina and Santorum never polled well in Iowa, Mike Huckabee was leading Iowa with 13.5 percent in the average of live-interview polls in January 2015. Today, the FiveThirtyEight polling average has him at just 2.5 percent in the Hawkeye State. Whether voters just found this campaign’s Huckabee to be less likable or they wanted something new, Huckabee’s campaign has fallen off the cliff.

6:51 PM

According to Google Trends, Donald Trump has received 6 times as much search traffic over the past hour as the three candidates on stage combined.

6:50 PM

Fiorina cited a favorite talking point of proponents of tax simplification: the supposed 75,000 pages of the tax code. Here’s a good explanation from Slate in 2014 about why that’s a major overestimate.

6:46 PM

Has the U.S. added manufacturing jobs, as Obama says, or lost them, as Huckabee just argued? Depends when you start the clock. As of December, the U.S. had 230,000 fewer manufacturing jobs than the month Obama took office. But we’ve added nearly 900,000 jobs since early 2010, when the job market hit rock bottom.

Over the longer run, though, the picture is clear. The U.S. has shed millions of factory jobs over the decades, and no set of policies is going to bring them back.

6:45 PM

We got a question about the national debt! Once a routine topic in Republican debates, it’s now rarely mentioned, as my colleague Andrew Flowers pointed out in an article today. Huckabee barely mentioned it in his response, instead focusing on economic growth.

6:44 PM

To the Fiorina question, it seems like a debate would be her last tango. She has no ad presence here in Iowa, as far as I can tell, and Harry’s right that there’s no apparent presence of a team on the ground. Her candidacy to me at this point is nearly as perplexing as Jim Gilmore’s. She mostly seems to be here for the Clinton jabs.

6:44 PM

Fiorina has no ground game. Heck, I can’t tell the difference between her campaign and her super PAC. There’s nothing else to move her numbers than a game changer in one of these debates.

6:43 PM

I agree. She’s drawn attention for doing well in debates, but her successes there weren’t enough to keep her in the varsity debate. If she can’t do anything to claw her way back, there’s little reason for voters, endorsers or donors to pay attention to her as they try to sort out their non-Trump options.

6:43 PM

Nate said earlier that this may be Fiorina’s last chance before Iowa to make a move (let’s ignore Huckabee and Santorum for a moment). Agree/disagree?

6:41 PM
The Biggest Primary Surprises In Modern Times

As Harry just mentioned, Rick Santorum, despite his dire-looking situation in Iowa, can at least remind himself that he came from way behind to win the Iowa caucuses four years ago.

In fact, Santorum’s win may have the most unlikely ever during the modern primary era. I looked in our database for cases during the last 60 days before primaries and caucuses when candidates recovered from the lowest number in the polling average to eventually win a state. Here were the biggest comebacks.

  • Santorum was down to about 3 percent in the polling average 50 days before Iowa in 2012, but went on to win the state.
  • Gary Hart was at 4 percent in New Hampshire 40 days or so before the primary there in 1984, but would go on to defeat Walter Mondale in an upset.
  • John McCain was polling at 9 percent 45 days before the Florida primary in 2008, but won the state.
  • Pat Buchanan was at 10 percent in the polls a month or so before New Hampshire in 1996, but upset Bob Dole there.
  • McCain came back from 10 percent in South Carolina polls to win there in 2008.
  • Dick Gephardt was at 11 percent in Iowa, 40 days before it voted in 1988, but won the caucuses.
  • John Kerry was polling at around 11 percent in both Iowa and New Hampshire in 2004, but won both states.

So there have been lots of impressive comebacks in primaries and caucuses, although nothing quite as dramatic as what Santorum would need right now: He’s at just 1.1 percent in the Iowa polling average with 18 days to go.

6:39 PM

Q: What are Santorum and Huckabee hoping for here? They both won Iowa, and Santorum had a late climb, but neither of them were this deep in the trenches in January. Are they looking to score political points? If so, from whom? — commenter I-Noah Guy

A: I-Noah Guy, the answer I think is Huckabee and Santorum hope to catch fire. Santorum did in 2012, jumping by 20 percentage points in the final three weeks of the campaign. Our models suggest, as you have, that it’s just not all that likely this time around. Still, I think Huckabee and Santorum figure that in the year of Trump they might as well hold out for another three weeks and see if something crazy happens.

6:37 PM

Huckabee’s citation of hate-crime stats is based on those reported to police agencies. According to victimization surveys, the vast majority of incidents never get reported to the police. It’s possible the proportion of unreported hate crimes that target Muslims is different from the proportion of those that do get reported to police.

6:32 PM

Huckabee is right that some gun-show buyers have to pass background checks — but not those from unlicensed dealers. Obama’s executive actions last week would expand the number of sellers who need to get federal licenses.

As for that salad comment? I have no idea.

6:30 PM

Despite the boos from the crowd and dismissal of the polls by the candidates, Fox Business’s Trish Regan isn’t just right when she says the majority of Americans support universal background checks. She’s understating the support. In some polls more than 90 percent of Americans back universal checks — and public opinion has been overwhelmingly favorable for decades.

6:26 PM

Earlier, I discussed Fiorina’s comments on the decline in male employment. Here’s a look at just how severe — and long-lasting — that decline has been:

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6:24 PM

When Fiorina was asked about the assaults on women in Cologne, Germany, she said that Americans have been “angry and frustrated and fearful because we’ve had an illegal immigration problem in this country for 25 years.” But that fear is misplaced. Immigrants to the U.S., legal and illegal, are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

6:24 PM

Micah, going back to your question about whether an angrier Santorum will be a more effective candidate: The problem is he needs to convince Iowans to like him and then to vote for him. There are two steps. Santorum’s favorable rating is only 52 percent. Compare that to other candidates appealing to religious voters, such as Ben Carson, who has a favorable rating of 73 percent in the latest poll by Ann Selzer. Carson has a jump on Santorum; Step 1 is complete. And Ted Cruz, who has a favorable rating of 76 percent, is already making progress on Step 2.

6:21 PM

Most Americans agree with Fiorina about keeping Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., according to a Quinnipiac poll last month. And an overwhelming proportion of Republicans — 82 percent — oppose accepting Syrian refugees.

6:20 PM

This undercard debate is on track to be pretty snooze fest-y. With Lindsey Graham’s A+ eye-rolling for the soul of the party gone, we’re just left with three candidates who are pretty much just spouting their stump speeches at the crowd and not really engaging with one another. I might disagree with Harry here, who said earlier that Rand Paul should have showed up for the debate. It’s seems a bit like an exercise in futility, and perhaps Paul’s righteous anger will play well with his people … or maybe not. But still, I can’t really see how participation in one of these pretty bleh JV debates is going to help him shine.

6:17 PM

I think Santorum’s angry mostly because of his lack of traction in Iowa, despite having spent as much time in the state as anyone else and doing mostly the same things that he did four years ago. He flashed some of the same anger when we saw him at an event in Des Moines earlier this week. Maybe it will resonate with voters to see some fire in his belly, but I don’t know that it’s a strategy so much as his wearing his own emotions on his sleeve.

6:17 PM

He’s doing terribly in our primary forecast, after winning last time around. I think he’s right to take a higher variance approach — by default he’s losing, so turning up the heat is unlikely to hurt him (though still not that likely to help). But, at this point, simply being memorable in this field is a small win for him.

6:16 PM

We’ve seen this more forceful/angry Santorum in Iowa this week, do you think it will help him?

6:15 PM

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama said the U.S. has “the strongest, most durable economy in the world.” Huckabee (and the other candidates on stage tonight) clearly didn’t think much of that line, but it’s true. Europe has been mired in a recession for years, China’s economy is slowing rapidly and much of the rest of the world is also struggling. The U.S. recovery, while disappointingly slow, has proven remarkably resilient — much more so than many experts expected.

But polls consistently show that voters don’t believe the numbers, and it’s no mystery why: Household incomes have been stagnant since the recession ended six years ago, and wage growth has been stubbornly slow. There are some signs that’s beginning to change, but voters have reason to be skeptical.

6:11 PM
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6:10 PM

Carly Fiorina came out of the gate with a long litany of complaints about the economy. One of the measures she mentioned was particularly telling: “We have a record number of men out of work.” That’s true. About 65 percent of American men were working in December, down from more than 80 percent in the 1950s. It’s been a long, steady decline, and it has many reasons beyond President Obama’s policies. But Fiorina is right that it’s a major challenge for the American economy.

6:03 PM

Here’s how popular the undercard debaters are with GOP voters heading into tonight:

How popular are the Republican contenders?
5:56 PM
The Missing Debater

As we get going here with the undercard debate, remember: Rand Paul has decided to take his ball and go home. He won’t be participating in tonight’s undercard GOP debate, which he has been relegated to because of low polling numbers.

I think Paul is making a mistake.

Sure, it’s true that far fewer people watch the junior varsity (JV) debate. And yes, Paul has generated some headlines by refusing to share the stage with Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum tonight.

But no one is going to remember that Paul refused to take part in tonight’s festivities over the long haul, and right now Paul needs … something. He’s projected by the FiveThirtyEight polls-plus forecast to finish in seventh place with less than 5 percent of the vote in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He doesn’t do any better according to the polls-only forecast. By sitting out, he’s forfeiting the chance to have some type of “moment.”

And while it’s difficult to have a moment in the undercard debate, you can improve your standing with a strong performance. Chris Christie and Fiorina have been able to improve their polling enough to jump from the JV debate to the varsity debate (though Fiorina fell back into the undercard). Christie dropped off the main stage and made it back, just as Paul would have to do.

Paul is giving up a national audience; he may be cutting off his nose to spite his face.

5:50 PM
Welcome

Welcome to our coverage of tonight’s Republican undercard debate. It might seem like there isn’t a lot to watch for: As much uncertainty as there is in how Iowa will ultimately vote, our forecasts give the three candidates on stage tonight less than a 1 percent chance of winning in Iowa.

And yet, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have overcome long odds before — Santorum came from well behind to win the Iowa caucuses in 2012, and Huckabee carried the state in 2008. Both candidates have been campaigning nonstop in Iowa this year too. They may be speaking more to an Iowa audience tonight than a national one.

As for Carly Fiorina: She’s good at these things, but well-reviewed debate performances haven’t helped her to sustain any momentum. Tonight may be just about her last chance to reinsert herself in the conversation before voting begins.

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