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That’s it for our live blog, but how much of an effect will this debate have on the Iowa caucuses? We may never know. Most pollsters have conducted or are concluding their final polls in Iowa. If any candidate ends up greatly outperforming their final poll numbers, it could be because of the debate — or maybe the polls were never an accurate portrayal of what was going on in Iowa.
Take Ted Cruz. The polls have indicated that his support in Iowa has fallen over the past few weeks. Most of the chatter on Twitter and among the FiveThirtyEight staff is that Cruz’s performance in the debate tonight didn’t help him. If he ends up doing worse than his final poll numbers, will it be because of the debate or just a continuation of his downward trajectory? If Cruz, in fact, does better than his final poll numbers, does that mean he actually did better in the debate than many people are giving him credit for? Or is it that Cruz was able to overcome a poor performance thanks to a strong ground game?
The point is that in the fog of a campaign’s final few days, a lot of things can change, and it’s difficult to know why they do. We’ll see where we are when all the votes are counted.
At the start of the night, I noted that the economy has been very much in the news over the two weeks since the last GOP debate. The stock market has tumbled, and some commenters are now talking openly about the possibility of another recession.
So it was a bit of a surprise that the candidates hardly mentioned the economy tonight. Much of the debate focused on national security issues and ISIS, but even when the subject turned to domestic issues, there was little discussion of jobs, income or related issues.
As someone who’s skeptical of recession predictions, maybe I should applaud the candidates for choosing not to give into fear-mongering. But it was surprising to see so little time spent on an issue that voters still rank at or near the top of their list of concerns, especially at a time when economic anxieties are rising.
With Trump offstage, tonight belonged to Rubio and Cruz. They both got plenty of questions from the moderators, and other candidates’ attacks won them more speaking time, as they got the chance for rebuttals. Ultimately, Rubio got nearly three times as many chances to talk as poor Kasich.
Rand Paul ends the debate pledging to reduce the federal budget deficit. That’s an issue that used to be a core Republican talking point, but as my colleague Andrew Flowers recently noted, it has largely disappeared as an issue in this election cycle.
Ben Carson mentioned the geopolitical implications of America’s oil and gas boom. It’s certainly true that the U.S. “fracking” boom has played a major role in the plummeting price of oil, which has destabilized the Russian economy (though so far hasn’t loosened Putin’s grip on power). It’s also true that the U.S., which was once on track to become a major importer of natural gas, is now exporting liquefied natural gas from the lower 48 states for the first time.
We’ve been assigning grades to candidates at the end of each debate, and if you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed that the range of grades has tended to narrow over time. In recent debates, most all candidates have finished somewhere in the B-plus to C-plus range, with few performances that struck us as really great or really awful.
That may be a reflection of the fact that as a campaign reporter, you hear way more from the candidates than regular voters do. In many respects, that makes it harder to hear the debate as the audience does and harder to guess what will move the polls. A line that seems tired or stilted because you’ve heard it in a stump speech or in a previous debate may seem perfectly fine to a voter at home hearing it for the first time.
Ethanol! The elixir of the Iowa gods! A pointed question here from the moderators — in the past couple of weeks, Cruz has been getting hammered by Big Corn and Gov. Terry Branstad, who said of Cruz:
“He is the biggest opponent of renewable fuels. He actually introduced a bill in 2013 to immediately eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard. He’s heavily financed by Big Oil, so we think once Iowans realize that fact, they might find other things attractive but he could be very damaging to our state.”
Nabela Noor, submitting a video question through debate partner YouTube about anti-Muslim attitudes in the U.S., provoked an answer from Bush that turned into an attack on Trump — pivoting from his speech about Muslims to attacks on women, the disabled and Mexicans. This is one point in the debate where, to me, The Donald was missed. He almost certainly would have made a rebuttal to Bush’s statement — or perhaps the YouTube question would have been directed by moderators to Trump, had he participated.
Meanwhile in the real world, Japan’s central bank just cut interest rates to -0.1 percent. That’s right: negative. Japan will become by far the biggest country to experiment with negative interest rates in an effort to jump-start its foundering economy.
This may sound like a wonky issue (OK, it is a wonky issue), but it’s a huge decision that will reverberate across the Pacific Ocean. Japan was once a major driver of the global economy, but it has been unable to escape a generation-long spell of weak growth. A growing number of economists worry the U.S. could be headed in a similar direction.
Republicans like Rand Paul think it’s a good idea to go after Bill Clinton. I’m not sure I agree with that strategy, but I can say that Clinton is becoming less popular. A January 2016 CBS News/New York Times poll pegged his net favorability rating among registered voters at just +11 percentage points. That’s down from +27 percentage points in April of last year.
Ben Carson seems to have disappeared into the scenery during this debate, which seems like the perfect metaphor for his campaign. Carson’s 8.5 percent average in Iowa caucus polls is right around his low point over the past six months. It’s a far cry from the mid-20s that he was polling at in the fall of 2015.
Speaking ill of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a recurring theme at debates, and no wonder: Americans’ views of him and of his country are very unfavorable, far more so than they were a decade ago.
Rubio asserted that the U.S. is the most generous country in the world. But the U.S. is tied for the top spot with Myanmar, which has a fraction of the U.S. GDP. Ninety-one percent of citizens of Myanmar give charitably.
Donald Trump usually dominates his rivals in search traffic — and tonight is no exception, despite Trump not being on stage. Through the first hour and 20 minutes of the debate, Trump has been searched for slightly more than the seven men on stage combined, according to Google Trends:
If it’s any consolation, the other Republicans have closed the gap with Trump somewhat in the second half of the debate, which has included a lively series of exchanges on immigration.
There are 13 million uninsured Americans living in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. States that did expand, including Kasich’s state of Ohio, have much higher rates of health insurance across the board — not just for people who qualify for Medicaid.
Now that Trump has wrapped things up at Drake University, which program did better, his rally or the GOP debate? According to Google Trends, more people overall searched for the live stream of the debate.
Rubio praised America’s record on immigration, saying: “Every single year, close to a million people immigrate to the United States legally. There’s no nation on Earth that comes close to that number.” But we’re a big country! When you rank countries by what share of the population is foreign born, we’re No. 65.
Jeb Bush said he’s regularly beating Hillary Clinton in head-to-head polls. Perhaps these are internal polls: HuffPost Pollster has collected 14 polls posing the hypothetical — and, incidentally, currently irrelevant — Bush-Clinton matchup to Americans over the past two months since the last one showing Bush in the lead.
Which Republican is actually most “electable”? That’s a tricky question, but we can say which ones are the best liked — or to be more accurate, the least disliked — among general election voters right now. That distinction belongs to Ben Carson and Marco Rubio, who have breakeven favorability ratings — as good as anyone in the GOP field can manage for now. Donald Trump has the worst net favorability ratings, although Jeb Bush’s and Rick Santorum’s are nearly as bad.
Chris Wallace just mentioned that some Republican leaders worry that Ted Cruz would hurt Republicans down-ballot. History suggests that while there should be some concern if Cruz were to get blown out in the general election, I have found that it’s not always the case that the presidential result funnels down to the U.S. House.
Donald Trump has wrapped up — “Just to sum up, we have an amazing country” — but not before he asked his pregnant daughter to stand up. He shared with the crowd that Ivanka is going to give birth in two weeks — “we have the hospital all lined up” — and that he really wishes she would give birth in Iowa, because, well, that would be great press!
And that, ladies and gentleman, is that. A variety show of a rally — Fox News-baiting, a team of rivals moment, some serious talk about veterans issues, and an almost admirably shameless play for votes vis a vis his unborn grandchild. Fun stuff.
The YouTube questioner is right: Immigrants are much more likely than native-born Americans to start their own businesses. According to the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants account for almost 28.5 percent of all new entrepreneurs and have an entrepreneurship rate almost twice as high as that of native-born workers. Meanwhile, the overall U.S. startup rate has been falling for decades.
It’s interesting that this debate over immigration is centering so much on Rubio and Bush, because Florida — where both men are from — has also been at the center of the academic debate over the effects of immigration on the wages of American workers. It turns out, it’s a tricky question.
There is widespread agreement among economists that immigration helps the overall economy and boosts incomes for Americans on average. But there’s much less agreement about how immigration affects the low-skilled, blue-collar American workers who compete most directly with immigrants for jobs.
A famous 1990 study by economist David Card used the “Mariel boatlift” (the massive influx of Cuban migrants into Miami in 1980) to study the question and concluded that even a sudden surge of immigration has virtually no effect on the wages of low-skilled American workers. But a recent paper by Harvard economist George Borjas, a longtime immigration skeptic, called Card’s findings into question. There have been two more rounds of back-and-forth on the question in just the past two months.
For policy wonks, this kind of real-time research battle is great fun. But for journalists, it makes it hard to fact-check candidates’ claims. The safest thing we can say is this: If candidates say immigration is bad for wages, they’re wrong. If they say it’s bad for wages of certain groups, they may be right, but no one knows for sure.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth about the specifics of the candidates’ stances on immigration, but a December AP-GfK poll found that immigration wouldn’t be a decisive factor in Republicans’ pick for president. Of those surveyed, 4 in 10 conservative Republicans and 3 in 10 tea party Republicans favored a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the country illegally.
Cruz mentions that the immigration bill he’s being questioned about was 1,000 pages long. Citing a big number of pages is a favorite debate tactic. But lots of important bills have that many pages or more. “Bills are getting longer because they’re getting harder to pass,” Slate reported in 2009.
John Wayne Walding has been speaking at the Trump rally for the past few minutes, telling his story about what it’s like the be “a barrel-chested Green Beret” who lost his leg in Afghanistan. At the top of his speech, he said that his talk wasn’t political — he’s mostly confined his remarks to veterans issues, recalling the way that American soldiers returning from Vietnam were sometimes treated and citing the stat that 22 veterans commit suicide per day. The Washington Post noted that this widely cited figure is usually given within the context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but that it undercuts the fact that a fairly high number of these suicides are committed by older veterans. The Post pointed to a study that showed “the suicide rate for veterans who served in recent wars is much lower than 22 a day.”
“We are not going to round up and deport 12 million people,” said Rubio, while defending his record on immigration and having a testy exchange with Bush about when and how each man decided to support a path to legalization. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has recently begun so far limited — but hotly contested — immigration raids targeting families who crossed the border illegally in recent years.
There’s a perception that Marco Rubio is locked into third place in the Iowa caucuses, behind (in some order) Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. But that’s not necessarily true. Rubio’s pretty clearly in third place in the polls now, but the polls are often pretty far off in Iowa, and a lot can change at the last minute, especially with so many candidates still in the running. Our primary forecast models estimate not just the chance of a candidate winning, but also finishing in second or third. According to the polls-only version of our forecast, Rubio has a 41 percent chance of finishing in third place. But he also has a 25 percent chance of finishing higher than third, and a 33 percent chance of finishing fourth or worse. (These numbers don’t exactly sum to 100 percent because of rounding.)
You may not have heard Carson complain tonight, but you haven’t heard him do much of anything. He got two questions in the first hour, while nearly every other candidate got four (except Kasich and Paul, with three each).
Referencing the Flint water crisis in Michigan, Kasich said government should listen to the people. In Flint, the residents knew for months that there was something wrong with the water after the city switched its water source. But government officials wouldn’t listen and instead relied on faulty data gathered by state and city officials, poisoning thousands of residents with lead in the process. The details of what happened, and how many government agencies didn’t listen to their concerns, are astounding.
Jeb Bush was asked about Puerto Rico statehood. While Puerto Rico doesn’t have any electoral votes, people of Puerto Rican ancestry may play a major role in the 2016 election. Not only do Puerto Ricans lean heavily Democratic, but more than a million of them now live in Florida. That’s 10 times as many who lived in the state in 1980.
Fox News built a question around Google search data for repeals of policies and emphasized that Obamacare led the list. But Google search data is relative, and it’s not clear how many people are searching for any kind of policy repeal.
For instance, far more Americans over the past few years have searched for “sign up for obamacare” than for “obamacare repeal.”
Cruz talks about wanting to de-link health insurance from employment. That’s an idea most economists would support. The U.S. approach to health insurance — an outlier among developed countries — makes it harder for workers to change jobs, which ultimately makes the economy less efficient and dynamic. In fact, this is one thing “Obamacare” was designed to change; because people can now get health insurance through government-run exchanges, it’s theoretically easier for workers to switch jobs or quit altogether to start companies. There’s some evidence that’s happening, albeit in a limited way: More people are choosing to work part time voluntarily, possibly because they no longer need to work full time to get health benefits.
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Rand Paul mentioned that Ferguson, Missouri, got a huge share of its budget from traffic violations and other fines. When I visited Ferguson in 2014, I spoke to a local pastor, Bishop Timothy Woods, who talked about how those fines can feed into a cycle of poverty and joblessness:
Woods, the peacekeeping pastor, laid out a common scenario: A low-income worker fails to pay personal property tax on a car. Aggressive policing makes him more likely to get pulled over and ticketed for that offense. Poverty makes him less likely to pay the fine. Pretty quickly, a minor offense turns into a warrant, then jail time. A criminal record makes it harder to find a decent job, which leads to continued poverty.
The question about body cameras is a good one, but it’s worth remembering that just equipping police departments with cameras doesn’t ensure that they’ll record interactions with the public. The cameras have to be maintained and turned on, with microphones enabled. The Cook County (Illinois) state’s attorney’s office reviewed 22 police-involved shootings last year. The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that none had audio and only a few of them had dashcam video.
Mike Huckabee is a lot more comfortable than Rick Santorum with being at this rally — he’s being pretty over-the-top thankful about Trump inviting them to speak, and he’s talked for a whole lot longer than Santorum. And this picture on the stage right now, of these three guys, is actually pretty crazy: Two of them have won the Iowa caucuses, one is a former governor, one is a former senator, and they’re now riding the coattails of a guy who, a year ago, was most famous for his hair.
It’s a two-man race, judging by who’s getting attacked. Candidates get to reply when one of their rivals mentions them, and Cruz and Rubio have both gotten three additional chances to speak this way. Only one other candidate (Rand Paul) has merited an attack and a reply, and he’s only gotten one so far.
This Trump event is … rambling. He invited one of his donors up on the stage — Las Vegas billionaire Phil Ruffin — to say a couple of words; he sort of breezily talked about a good deal-maker that he knows who during a Trump presidency would deal with China (nothing more specific than that); he’s talked about how he hates being referred to as a politician now.
And Huckabee and Santorum have just taken the stage, while Trump encourages the crowd to start a “USA! USA!” chant.
A lot of people in my Twitter feed seem to think that Ted Cruz can’t take the heat that comes with being in the top-tier of the Republican race. I don’t know if that’s true, but it does seem that likely Iowa caucus voters haven’t loved Cruz during his time in the spotlight. Take a look at the latest Monmouth University poll, which found that Cruz’s net favorability rating in Iowa has dropped by 20 percentage points from December to now.
I usually really like how Fox News moderates debates. But the fact that the first 15 minutes were spent entirely on “process” questions is another indication of the split between the political “professional class,” including the media, and the activists and interest groups who give a party its ideological moorings and are more interested in the issues. The fact that these groups sometimes have contradictory incentives is a big part of the reason that “party elites” within the GOP are having so much trouble reaching consensus on a candidate right now.
Trump has mostly just spoken about his new foundation that will benefit veterans — he announced that he gave $1 million to it. And he then proceeded to reel off the names of (mostly New York-based) contributors.
… And now he’s been interrupted by a heckler, and the crowd began chanting “Trump, Trump, Trump” — when we were in Iowa at a Trump rally, the organizers directed the crowd to do just this when a protester took the floor, since it’s been a frequent enough occurrence.
As Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio tangle over anti-terrorism policies, it should be noted how much the Republican voters have changed over the past few years, according to the Pew Research Center. In July 2013, 43 percent of Republicans thought the government had gone too far in restricting liberties. That dropped to just 30 percent in January 2015. At the same time, the percentage of Republicans who thought anti-terrorism policies did not go far enough to protect the United States rose from 38 percent to 57 percent.
Interesting to hear Cruz respond to Chris Wallace’s question about carpet bombing by repeating stats on reduction in U.S. military strength. Wallace and Cruz had almost the exact same exchange on Fox News earlier this month, although that time Wallace questioned Cruz’s description of air strikes in the first Gulf war as carpet bombing. This time, Wallace left it to other candidates to respond.
Trump’s opening remarks at this
debate event: “When you’re treated badly, you have to stick up for your life. … This is one of the worst deals ever negotiated [the debate].”
He goes on to say that Fox called him a couple of hours ago, asking him to participate.
“Look at all these cameras! This is like the Academy Awards. We’re actually told we have more cameras than they do by quite a bit.”
Ben Carson just said, “I will gladly confess that I’m the only one on this stage with no political title.” It’s a smart move to tout that difference, especially after all the discussion about Jeb Bush’s and Rand Paul’s political legacies. An October Pew poll found that “by more than two-to-one (65% to 29%), Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters said it is more important that a candidate have new ideas than ‘experience and a proven record.’”
Kasich likes to brag about his role balancing the federal budget when he chaired the House Budget Committee. PolitiFact rates that claim “mostly true.” But he’s on shakier ground when he claims credit for balancing the budget as governor of Ohio. That’s something he, like most governors, is required to do under the state’s constitution.
You have to give John Kasich credit for staying on message. He knows that his one chance of winning the nomination is to do well in New Hampshire and mentions the state often. So far, his persistence has somewhat paid off. Kasich hit his height in the New Hampshire polls this month and is currently at 12.1 percent in the FiveThirtyEight polling average. That’s still well behind Donald Trump’s 31 percent, however.
TRUMP UPDATE: Trump has arrived: “We had about 24 hours to prepare this. … I didn’t want to be here.”
Eight questions were asked before someone was asked about a specific policy issue. And the first two questions were on Trump.
Rand Paul made the case that the National Security Agency’s formerly unfettered access to cell phone metadata has not prevented terrorist attacks. This 2013 report by ProPublica on the issue was cited in the court case that eventually made the NSA data collection program illegal.
Jeb Bush said his father, former President George H.W. Bush, is the greatest man alive. It’s not exactly the same thing, but he hasn’t gotten more than 1 percent of respondents to name him as the most admired man alive in Gallup’s annual poll in any of the last seven years. Neither has Ron Paul, the father of Rand Paul and whom Rand named as the person in the country he respects the most. Jeb Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, polled better, but well behind the leader in each of the last eight years, President Barack Obama.
It died, Micah. It died. Christie is down to his lowest point in the polls this month. I guess that’s what happens when you have any sort of surge. The other candidates attack, as they did with Christie. It turns out that he couldn’t take the heat.
Harry, what happened to your Chris Christie surge?
Nate, there’s still time.
Should I take the blame for a failed prediction that I never made publicly? I thought that Donald Trump might eventually show up tonight for the following reason: He loves to brag about how important he’s been to the high debate ratings. But what if this debate actually gets pretty good ratings without him? True, as my colleague Carl Bialik points out, debate ratings have been falling. But this debate comes at a critical time, on a Thursday night when there’s not a hell of a lot else going on, and it’s on highly rated Fox News. We’ll see later if Trump proves to be right.
Yeah, possibly Jeb — he has managed to lose his exchanges with Trump in popular perception.
Jeb Bush could be the person who benefits the most, though not likely in a dramatic way. Rather, most of the time when he goes head to head with Trump, Bush gets flustered. Perhaps he will come across as more confident without Trump on stage.
Who benefits the most from Trump not being on stage?
One more economy note as we get going: Tomorrow morning at 8:30, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will release its first estimate of economic growth for the final three months of 2015. Chances are it won’t be pretty. Economists expect the report to show that gross domestic product grew at a rate of 1 percent or below.
Preliminary GDP reports are based on incomplete data and are notoriously unreliable. But you can bet that GOP candidates will be happy to point out the slowing growth rate all the same.
It’s only been two weeks since the last GOP debate, but the economic narrative has changed dramatically in that time. Two weeks ago, we were coming off a strong jobs report and a State of the Union address in which President Obama bragged that the U.S. economy was the strongest in the world. Since then, the Dow Jones industrial average has dropped more than 400 points, China has announced its slowest growth in a quarter-century and economic commenters have begun talking openly about the possibility of another recession.
I’m on the record saying to chill out about the stock market and to be skeptical that a recession is imminent. (The Federal Reserve, for what it’s worth, agrees.) But there’s no question that the economic outlook feels less certain now than it did just a few weeks ago. That likely means that after a couple of months in which national security issues dominated the campaign, the economy is likely to make a comeback as a leading topic of debate.
The irony is that the events that have brought the economy back to center stage — China’s slowdown, plummeting oil prices, investor fears about the Fed’s plans — are largely beyond the control of any president. Candidates may accuse China of currency manipulation or rail against the Fed, but it’s doubtful that they could (or should) do much about either issue.
Voters are likely aware of the tumbling stock market, but when they cite the economy as a top concern, they’re likely focused on longer-run issues — stagnant wages, rising student debt, insufficient retirement savings. Those challenges defy pat political narratives because they have emerged over decades, across both Democratic and Republican administrations. But unlike the stock market, those are issues the president might be able to do something about.
According to my (unscientific) Twitter poll, 45 percent of you think the media will declare that Donald Trump — a man not on the debate stage tonight but instead holding a competing event in Des Moines — has had the best night. Among the candidates who will actually show up, you expect Marco Rubio’s performance to be the most praised:
Q:Kasich VP pick? — commenter Bansi Jones
A:Bansi, that seems very unlikely to me because Kasich has come across as too liberal during this campaign. For instance, his strongest group right now is moderates in New Hampshire. In addition, he’s a long-time politician in the year of the outsider. He’d be poison with the base.
What is the optimal size for a debate that allows for robust conversation? Tonight we had four candidates in the undercard debate, including Rick Santorum, who argued the case for everyone being on the stage.
In September 2003, I co-moderated the first Democratic debate of the 2004 campaign season. There were nine candidates on stage, and the conversation was if anything overly polite and a bit stilted. With that number of candidates, it was almost impossible to have productive cross-talk between candidates without depriving others of speaking time. We’ve seen some significant differences between the candidates getting the most and least talk time in each of the GOP main-stage debates so far.
With bait-the-moderator becoming an increasingly common game during this debate season, it’s all but impossible for me to imagine a full cohort of the GOP candidates on one stage. As the February and March primaries winnow the field, we could see some interesting shifts in group dynamics. A smaller cohort will more likely have more freedom to maneuver — whether they use the time to explain their positions or attack their opponents.
There’s a running joke in my Twitter feed about how Marco Rubio is constantly proclaimed to have momentum, only to find himself still stuck at 12 percent in the latest poll. So I cringe a little bit while asking this question: Now that the hour of the Iowa caucuses is almost upon us, is there any sign of improvement in Rubio’s numbers?
Well, maybe. In Iowa, the last three polls show Rubio at 14 percent, 16 percent and 18 percent of the vote, which works out to 16 percent on average. That compares to an average of 12 percent in Iowa surveys released at some earlier point in January.
That could reflect noise, but Rubio has had a few things go right for him for a change. The Des Moines Register’s endorsement, which Rubio received last weekend, has historically been worth a 3-point bounce in the polls. Correlation may not be causation, but the timing is interesting in that the three polls I mentioned are the only ones conducted wholly after the endorsement was made.
It’s also possible that Rubio has picked up some support from other “establishment lane” candidates who aren’t really in the running in Iowa. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich have a combined 8 percent in the three most recent Iowa polls, down from 10 percent in polls conducted earlier this month.
It could be that Rubio is picking up a few votes from Iowans who have been driven away from Ted Cruz. It could be that his ad blitz is finally making some difference.
There’s also a conspicuous sign that Rubio doesn’t have momentum. Despite being the sort of candidate who should have appeal to “party elites,” Rubio hasn’t received any endorsements from current governors or members of Congress since Sen. Jim Inhofe endorsed him on Jan. 9.
Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be worth sweating a few points here and there. But my guess is that relatively minor differences in Rubio’s performance in Iowa could have big implications for the rest of the race. If Rubio finishes at, say, 12 percent, in a distant third place or perhaps fourth behind Ben Carson, the so-called establishment might look for another savior, like John Kasich or Bush, in New Hampshire. If Rubio finishes at, say, 18 percent, in a strong third place or perhaps even second, he’ll probably be perceived as having beaten expectations, which could create some momentum for him in the Granite State, perhaps even breaking the logjam between Rubio, Kasich, Christie and Bush.
For the same reason, Rubio might have more on the line tonight than any other candidate — or at least more than any of the candidates actually on stage.
If the audience for tonight’s Fox News debate is smaller than the 24 million who tuned into the Aug. 6 debate on the network and Donald Trump makes good on his promise not to show up, it’s a good bet he’ll claim that his absence cost his new nemeses at Fox ratings. He might be right, but there’s been a general decline in viewer interest in Republican debates. Just 11 million people tuned in to the Fox Business debate two weeks ago, down more than 50 percent from the first debate.
Comparing Fox Business to Fox News is somewhat apples-to-oranges, because the business spinoff channel is available in fewer homes. But we do have apples-to-apples data: Two debates apiece have aired on Fox Business and CNN, and on each network, the second debate had about 20 percent fewer viewers than the first one. (The numbers are still much higher than for primary debates in the past few presidential campaigns.)
It’s possible that voters in states with upcoming caucuses and primaries have bucked the trend and tuned in more as their chance to vote nears. It’s hard to tell, because few of Nielsen’s 56 metered markets are in those states, including none in Iowa or New Hampshire. St. Louis was the only one of the metered markets with higher average ratings for the last two Republican debates than for the first four. And the picture is mixed for the early votes in South Carolina and Nevada. Ratings fell by less than average in the market that includes Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina, along with parts of North Carolina. But ratings fell by more than average in Las Vegas. (Also, many of the people watching the Republican debates are Democrats who might be barred from voting in the Republican primary of their state or simply opt out.)
One thing that hasn’t changed across debates: Viewers are, on average, older, whiter and wealthier than the country as a whole. Each one of the Republican debates — and the Democratic debates, for that matter — has been watched by viewers with a median age of 60 or older.
Welcome to our live blog of Fox News’ main stage Republican debate. Lots of viewers may be disappointed that they won’t get to see Ted Cruz and Donald Trump duke it out on the main stage tonight. But the debate won’t be without conflict: Cruz and Marco Rubio have reason to tear each other down. The gap between Cruz and Rubio in Iowa seems to be closing.
Cruz, at 25 percent, is now at his lowest point in FiveThirtyEight’s Iowa polling average since the beginning of 2016. Rubio, meanwhile, is at his highest point — 14.2 percent. And that 11-percentage-point difference might be underestimating how close the two will be when the caucus results are tallied: The two most recent live-interview polls of Iowa, from Marist and Monmouth University, found Cruz up by an average of only 7 percentage points over Rubio. In fact, the 18 percent that Rubio registered in the Marist poll is the highest he’s received in any live-interview poll in Iowa in the past year.
Moreover, Rubio may benefit if the 30 percent of voters currently supporting no candidate or candidates outside the top three begin to coalesce. According to Monmouth, Rubio’s net favorability rating is more than 10 percentage points higher than Cruz’s and nearly 30 percentage points higher than Trump’s. He has broader appeal.
Of course, none of this means that Rubio will come in a surprisingly strong third or even second. It does mean, though, that Cruz and Rubio are more likely to tussle tonight.
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