(UPDATE, Feb. 4, 5:45 p.m.): This article has been updated with a new CNN poll.
MANCHESTER, N.H. — The FiveThirtyEight political team has just landed in New Hampshire, where we were hoping to get a clearer picture of the post-Iowa polling landscape. Instead, there are mixed signals. The signs generally show upward movement for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and downward movement for Donald Trump, but the magnitude of the shift differs from poll to poll and Trump remains favored to win here.
You also might notice that the pollsters who have weighed in so far are not the most highly rated group, as measured in our rankings. That happens sometimes; the first pollsters in the field after a big event aren’t always the best ones. But here’s what we have to work with:
- The most dramatic result is a Public Policy Polling national poll, which shows a near three-way tie between Donald Trump (25 percent), Ted Cruz (21 percent) and Marco Rubio (21 percent). Trump is down 9 points from PPP’s previous poll in December, while Rubio is up 8 and Cruz is up 3.
- Another national poll, from Morning Consult, doesn’t give the same impression. Trump is well ahead at 38 percent, although that’s down 3 points from a poll the firm conducted just before Iowa, while Rubio is up 4 and Cruz is up 2.
- What about polls from here in New Hampshire? The only one conducted entirely after Iowa1 is from American Research Group. It shows Trump at 34 percent, unchanged from the firm’s final pre-Iowa survey, and well ahead of Rubio, who at 14 percent gained 3 points from the firm’s previous poll.
- Two other New Hampshire polls contain a mix of pre- and post-Iowa interviews. The UMass Lowell tracking poll has had Rubio steadily gaining in each edition of the surveys, from 8 percent on Monday to 15 percent now, but he’s still way behind Trump at 36 percent. A Harper Polling survey, conducted Monday and Tuesday, has Trump at 31 percent and Jeb Bush in second at 14 percent.
- A new post-Iowa poll conducted by CNN, WMUR-TV, and the University of New Hampshire showed Trump in the lead at 29 percent, unchanged since before Iowa, but Rubio moving into second place at 18 percent, a big jump over his previous showing of 11 percent before Iowa. Cruz, who had been in second place in the pre-Iowa poll, fell to third, getting only a 1 percentage point increase since Iowa. The biggest loser was Chris Christie, who fell from 9 percent pre-Iowa to 4 percent afterwards.
In terms of non-polling indicators, Rubio has picked up quite a few endorsements. And the post-Iowa media environment seems changed. Rubio and Cruz are now much closer to Trump in Google search volume, especially in New Hampshire where the three candidates have become almost equal in search traffic. The empirical value of Google search data is something that we haven’t studied fully, but in Iowa it may have been a leading indicator that Rubio and Cruz were gaining ground.
So while we’re mostly taking a wait-and-see approach — there’s not a lot of post-Iowa polling data and certainly not a lot of highly reliable post-Iowa polling data — I feel reasonably comfortable with the following three conclusions:
- Trump remains the favorite in New Hampshire. Even if you expect Trump’s numbers to decline further and for him to underperform his polls on Election Day, he starts with a pretty big cushion. Our polls-plus model gives Trump about a two-in-three chance (66 percent) of winning here.
- Rubio is the most likely candidate to knock Trump off. That’s the conclusion of polls-plus, which gives Rubio a 16 percent chance of winning New Hampshire. Rubio has gained more ground than Cruz in the polls we’ve seen so far, and he’s better-suited to New Hampshire. He could also potentially gain votes from Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie, who together have 26 percent in our polling average, if they no longer appear viable by Tuesday.
- Volatility remains really high. Like Iowa, New Hampshire is a hard state to poll. For one thing, the post-Iowa bounces may not be fully “priced in” yet. Our 2008 study of polling “bounces” after the party conventions found that they sometimes take several days to show up fully in the polls. That may be because polling shifts tend to produce feedback: A candidate declines in the polls, which leads to negative media coverage, which in turn makes the decline worse. However, there have also been times when a candidate declined in the polls only to rebound by Election Day. Howard Dean did so in 2004, recovering from a post-“Dean Scream” low of 19 percent in the New Hampshire polling average to wind up with 26 percent of the vote instead2.
There can be huge differences between the polls and the actual results, as we saw before with Hillary Clinton’s upset New Hampshire primary win in 2008 or (even more dramatically) Gary Hart’s in 1984: Hart took 37 percent of the state’s Democratic vote despite polling at just 21 percent. Finally, there’s the potential for late-breaking news, with a Republican debate set for Saturday night and 2012 New Hampshire winner Mitt Romney reportedly considering a potentially needle-moving endorsement. We’ll have a lot more for you over the course of the next six days.
Check out our live coverage of the Democratic debate.