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That does it for us tonight, folks — I’m going to sleep on tonight’s Republican results in Wisconsin before having anything too grandiose to say about them. It’s a weird case where there might be a danger either of underreacting (“it’s just one state!”) or of overreacting (“this changes everything!”). Neither of those reactions quite feels appropriate until we see how the candidates, polls, delegates and media behave in the coming days.
Clearly tonight’s results were problematic for Trump in terms of his delegate math. A few weeks ago, we’d projected Trump to win 25 delegates in Wisconsin. It looks like he’ll only get 3 to 6 instead. After also accounting for Trump’s failure to get any delegates in Utah last month, our estimate would now project him to get 1,179 to 1,182 delegates total, or somewhere between 55 and 58 short of the 1,237 he’d need to clinch the nomination. Trump could potentially make up the difference by persuading uncommitted delegates to vote for him, although given how poorly Trump’s doing in the delegate-wrangling business, that might not be easy.
But the more immediate question — the one I’m not quite ready to answer — is what tonight tells us about how Trump might perform in subsequent states. Are we overestimating him in Indiana? (Probably.) Underestimating him in New York? (Possibly.) And what about California?
In some ways, though, this misses the big story in Wisconsin. What was really different about tonight is not how poorly Trump did, but how well Cruz did.
Trump will win around 34 percent of the vote tonight. Compare that to his previous results in the four states that border Wisconsin. His results were a bit worse for Trump than in neighboring Illinois and Michigan — not a good sign for him since Rubio dropped out after those states voted. Trump got a higher share of the vote in Wisconsin than he did in the early caucuses in Iowa and Minnesota, however. Overall: 34 percent of the vote was mediocre-to-poor for Trump, but not terrible for him.
But it’s Cruz who had the breakthrough, getting 49 percent of the vote as compared to between 25 and 30 percent in the four Wisconsin border states. Cruz also won all sorts of demographic groups that he doesn’t usually win.
Maybe that means Cruz has finally emerged as the singular alternative to Trump and that Kasich — who’s won only his home state of Ohio — will fade further into the background. Or maybe it means that Republican voters are behaving tactically in order to stop Trump, and could vote for Kasich in states and congressional districts where he runs stronger later on. Neither is great news for Trump, whose Achilles Heel has always been that he gains fewer votes than other candidates as the field winnows. Still, the permutations of how everything plays out from here are complicated even by FiveThirtyEight’s detail-loving standards.
Sanders had a very good night. He’ll likely end up winning by around 13 percentage points over Clinton in Wisconsin, which is a bigger margin than all the polls had it. He won in almost every county in the state (except Milwaukee). This is the type of night that Sanders needs to replicate going forward if he is going to have a shot at the Democratic nomination.
My colleague Nate Silver estimated last week that Sanders needed to win Wisconsin by 16 percentage points to be “on track” to tie Clinton in the pledged delegate count. He didn’t quite reach that level, but he came close enough that he stays in the hunt. Of course, if Sanders cannot replicate this type of overperformance in the bigger primary states of Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania coming up later this month than this win was for naught.
That’s why it’s key that Sanders picks up some momentum from these wins. He’s still well behind in the polls in the big delegate prize states coming up. In particular, Sanders needs to do better with black voters, a group he lost by nearly 40 percentage points tonight, which is about on par for his performance so far in northern primaries. That didn’t hurt Sanders in Wisconsin given that just 10 percent of Democratic voters were black in the state, but black voters will probably make up at least 15 percent of Democratic primary voters in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and — although it has fewer delegates — Delaware.
In the delegate race, Sanders will likely remain somewhere in the neighborhood of 210 pledged delegates behind Clinton. That’s a very high hill to climb with delegates awarded proportionally, but tonight made that hill just a little less steep.
Sanders is the projected winner in Wisconsin and he might have a double-digit margin. Even if he’s still behind Clinton in the delegate count, this victory will look significant. Can Sanders eventually claim some sort of election mandate – even if he doesn’t win the nomination?
Recent scholarship on mandates (some of which was written by me) suggests that mandate claims are most powerful when the election result comes as a surprise. This is, of course, generally supposed to be a time when there’s a surprising victory. But a surprisingly strong challenge to a powerful figure is likely to pack a strong punch – to bolster a story that the election meant something. The other factor that seems to drive politicians to claim mandates in the first place is the existence of distinct policy positions. Although Clinton and Sanders may share substantial common ground, the differences between them on foreign policy, economic issues, and campaign finance have been reasonably clear. In the wake of this extended string of victories, Sanders is likely to claim a wave of support for his vision.
It’s hard to really know what elections mean. Voters have a whole range of reasons why they make decisions. But the signs suggest that conditions are ripe for Sanders to get some mileage out of his 2016 victories, whatever happens between now and the convention.
The final GOP delegate breakdown in Wisconsin looks almost certain to wind up at 36-6 or 39-3 for Cruz over Trump. But it all depends on what happens in the remaining precincts of the 3rd Congressional district, which takes in La Crosse and Eau Claire. Trump leads in most of the 3rd District’s counties, but Cruz leads in Eau Claire by 47 percent to 38 percent with only 18 of 84 precincts reporting.
Fun side note: The first time I ever met Nate, he visited my Cook Report office in DC while he was conducting research for “The Signal and the Noise” in 2010. We spent the afternoon chatting about analyzing congressional districts, and I invited him to sit in on a candidate meeting with a Republican running for Wisconsin’s 3rd District to get a sense of how we size up congressional hopefuls.
I introduced Nate to the candidate and his consultants as “our intern Nate” and hilariously, none of them had a clue who he really was. The candidate happened to own a minor league baseball team, the La Crosse Loggers. Towards the end of the discussion, Nate asked a few questions about the team’s up-and-coming player prospects. They still didn’t bat an eye – ha!! And, oh, the candidate, Dan Kapanke, lost.
Democrats award most of their delegates by congressional district in Wisconsin and in other states. Usually that doesn’t matter much because the share of delegates each candidate gets in a state winds up closely matching their statewide share of the vote anyway. Sometimes, however, a candidate gets lucky or unlucky because of rounding.
Right now, Sanders looks to be getting a bit unlucky in Wisconsin. There are six delegates available in each of the 1st, 6th, 7th and 8th congressional districts. He leads Clinton in each one, but is splitting those delegates 3-3 with her in each case because his lead isn’t quite large enough for a 4-2 split. That could change as more votes are reported, of course.
A small little slice of the demographic in exit polls that might indicate just how strategic voters are getting as the race moves along: Cruz won voters with a postgraduate degree in Wisconsin, a group that Kasich has traditionally done very well with. Cruz got 54 percent of these voters in Wisconsin, while Kasich got only 18 percent. By contrast, in Michigan, another upper Midwestern state, Kasich won voters with postgraduate degrees, getting 37 percent of the vote, while Cruz only got 19 percent support.
Coincidentally, after tonight both Trump and Sanders need 58 percent of remaining delegates to reach a majority (in Sanders’s case, this refers to pledged delegates only). But only Trump has a realistic path to a delegate majority, because the remaining Republican calendar is heavily winner-take-all. No such luck for Sanders on the Democratic side, where proportionality rules all.
Of course it’s dumb not to do your own polling, especially when you’re as rich as Trump claims to be, but I can’t really fault him for spending a lot of time in Wisconsin. Even if he loses the state, he could have potentially salvaged a few delegates from congressional districts by spending more time there; keeping the margins closer might also matter a bit for how the media frames the result. Still, Trump relies so much on the perception of being a “winner” that I wonder if his ego would allow him to concede a state. If he wins the Republican nomination, is he spending a bunch of time campaigning in New York and New Jersey, for instance?
Nate, this was interesting:
Is there any reason to think Trump has been hurt by his campaign not doing its own polling?
The good news for Sanders is that unless something funky happens, a double-digit victory looks likely for him. That would be meaningful — a possible sign that he’s picked up strength. The question is whether he can get to the 16-percentage-point margin we think he needs to be on pace to catch Clinton in the pledged-delegate count. That may be a tougher hill to climb.
“We can change the status quo when we think big and when we have a vision,” Sanders said during a long victory speech tonight, touching on topics that included business taxes and “the corporate media.” (Some Sanders supporters recently staged a “Bern the Media” campaign, boycotting some news outlets).
Sanders also said that Clinton was “nervous” about his ability to appeal to voters in New York. He’s not quite as gloves-off as Trump, but Sanders has arguably been ratcheting up his attacks on Clinton. One analysis in The New York Times cited current and former members of Sanders’s team making the case he should have hit Clinton verbally harder and sooner.
Trump’s campaign is looking ahead to New York, where he’ll be a very heavy favorite when voting takes place in two weeks. The thing to watch, however, is whether Trump gets 50 percent of the state’s vote. New York’s 14 statewide delegates become winner-take-all for a candidate who hits that threshold. Congressional districts in New York also become winner-take-all for a candidate getting 50 percent.
Trump has 51.4 percent of the vote in New York in our current polling average. Ordinarily, that would make him pretty safe to hit 50 percent since the polling average doesn’t include undecided voters, and we’d expect him to pick up at least a few of them. As Harry notes, however, Trump hasn’t been a typical candidate in this regard. Instead, he’s tended to hit his polling averages right on the nose without winning many undecideds. I’d bet on Trump to win 50 percent in New York if offered even money, but it’s not a slam dunk, especially if (gasp) he has unfavorable “momentum” after tonight.
In case anyone is interested, the re-weighted exit polls have Cruz winning by 14 percentage points and Sanders by 12 percentage points.
Gone are the Iowa days of Trump the graceful loser. After losing Wisconsin tonight, his campaign put out a statement saying that Trump “withstood the onslaught of the establishment” and that “Lyin’ Ted Cruz had the governor of Wisconsin, many conservative talk radio show hosts, and the entire party apparatus behind him.” The statement went on in that manner, with Trump calling Cruz a “Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump.”
We can gather two things from this statement: 1) Trump is feeling Cruz’s hot breath down his neck in the fight for delegates and 2) Trump is a fan of the serial comma (long may it reign).
It’s still early in the night, but we already know a lot, thanks to the contours of the votes reported so far. Cruz looks poised to win at least 33 delegates out of Wisconsin: he’s won the18 statewide delegates by winning the state, and is clearly on track to win 15 more in five congressional districts: the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Districts.
Meanwhile, Trump looks likely to avoid a shutout because he’s leading Cruz fairly consistently across the 7th District (he trails in Wausau, but by just 29 votes). Cruz is currently leading in the 2nd District thanks to a 2,645 vote margin in Madison’s Dane County. Relatively few votes have been reported in the western 3rd District, but it looks very close.
I asked earlier in the evening if Trump could win any of the undecided voters. The average poll in the last three weeks had him at 34 percent. Right now, he’s at 31 percent. Even if he picks up an additional 3 percentage points on his vote total (which I think is quite possible based on the remaining area), it’ll be another state where Trump gets exactly what he polled or worse.
Gov. Walker left the race early, and unlike the two other contenders who were assumed to be in the top three (Rubio and Bush), he didn’t even stick around for the early primaries. Would he have prevailed in a field that stayed wide and muddled until well after New Hampshire?
When Walker joined the race in early 2015, I expressed doubts that he would be able to effectively position himself as the anti-Obama, citing the importance of drawing such a contrast after a two-term presidency. Like Obama, Walker is a young Midwesterner without a lot national experience. And Walker’s rise to political prominence has happened at the same time as Obama’s – a period of intense polarization and what I’ve called an “age of mandate politics.” Both entered office with solid legislative majorities behind them, and acted on their agendas, to strong backlash.
Earlier this week I wrote about electability and noted that governors who win the presidency tend to be a bit ideologically ambiguous – Bill Clinton’s “third way” politics, George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” It seems unlikely that Walker would have been able to pull this off. (Check out this piece by Jason McDaniel about Walker’s relative ideological position.)
But perhaps 2016 is different (are we over that trope yet? I hope not). The ideological ambiguity lane is occupied by Trump. And with Trump’s unexpected dominance of the race, there seems to have been more focus on being the anti-Trump than being the anti-Obama. It’s not entirely clear to me why Cruz has been the most successful in this anti-Trump role, but part of that might be his solid credentials as a principled conservative. Walker could have filled this role, too, and without some of Cruz’s baggage.
This might be a lesson about the importance of individual candidates, as Walker seemed to really fall apart in debates and other off-the-cuff settings. But it also might illustrate the impact of the early focus of the race. If Walker had been able to survive the earlier part of the race, later conditions might have been more favorable for him.
As a sign of Cruz’s potentially expanding base of support, he won 43 percent of the non-evangelical vote tonight in Wisconsin, according to exit polls, beating Trump (37 percent) and Kasich (17 percent).
Sanders is beginning to speak in Laramie, Wyoming, in front of his supporters. Laramie is where a gay 21-year-old university student, Matthew Shepard, was brutally murdered in 1998. Shepard’s death sparked a national conversation about anti-gay hate crimes, and also inspired a play based on interviews, The Laramie Project, which is still performed by students as well as professional groups. More broadly, Sanders’s visit to Laramie ties in with his strong pursuit of the college vote in the Saturday caucus.
I’m not sure I buy this, but given the Democrats’ heavy advantage in general election polling, Sanders (at 9.6 percent) is almost as likely as Trump (11.4 percent) to become the next president, according to betting markets.
Lotta spousal support going on in Cruz’s victory speech — Cruz put his wife Heidi on center stage tonight, hugging her several times, probably because he loves her (duh) but also because Trump said some nasty things about her lately. Cruz took the opportunity to talk about how his wife was a force to be reckoned with (she has a hella high-power job at Goldman Sachs) as well as a doting mother. The woman note was one that Cruz was hitting hard — “Strong women can accomplish anything,” he said — and this is in no small part, one imagines, because Trump has not been winning the hearts and minds of women lately, given his ugly smears about the physical attractiveness of his wife vs. Cruz’s and some remarks to the effect that women who have abortions ought to be punished, a position not widely held by those on the right.
Of the 31 states to hold some type of presidential preference vote — I don’t count Colorado, Wyoming or North Dakota in that group — Trump has yet to receive a majority in any of them. Cruz could win a majority tonight in Wisconsin; he’d also previously done so in Utah. (And in Wyoming, if you want to count county convention results.)
On most primary nights, Cruz has had to wait long into the evening to get his first victory. Tonight, he clearly didn’t, but it’s more than that. His margin over Trump is likely to fall as more votes come in from the northern and western parts of the state. But if you’re looking for momentum (whatever that exactly means), Cruz is getting the results reported in the right order. On the East Coast (where primaries are taking place later this month) viewers are seeing big Cruz margins march across their screens.
An American Research Group poll conducted last Friday through Sunday showed Trump leading Cruz by 10 points in Wisconsin. Every other poll after February showed either Cruz ahead or Trump up by two points. With Cruz the projected winner, and possibly headed for a double-digit win, that’s looking like another big miss by ARG. The firm also showed Clinton ahead of Sanders by a point, and he may win by double digits, too.
Even the best pollsters have the occasional miss — and sometimes a whole bunch of them do at the same time — but ARG has had more than its share of misses so far in this election. It showed Cruz ahead in Texas by a point; he won by 17. It showed Trump losing by two points to Kasich in Michigan; he won by 12 points. And it showed Kasich finishing ahead of Cruz in South Carolina; Cruz beat there by 15 points. Results like these in past races helped earn ARG a C- in the last version of our pollster ratings.
So far, Sanders seems to be beating expectations in Wisconsin and has the potential to rack up a double-digit margin of victory tonight. He’s now leading 54 percent to 46 percent, but over half of Milwaukee County (where most of the state’s African-American voters live) and Ozaukee County (high-income suburbs north of Milwaukee) are reporting, compared to less than a quarter of the rest of the state. So Sanders’s lead should grow as the night goes on.
“Four very different states — Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, Wisconsin. Four victories.”
That was Cruz’s boast in his victory speech just now (along with endless web-callouts for his website, and a claim he has raised $2 million today alone). Interestingly, he added that “before Cleveland, or in Cleveland” he would get all the delegates needed — acknowledging the growing possibility of a contested convention.
Obligatory sanity-check post: I know that the details matter, and that we’re interested to see whether Trump can take a congressional district in Wisconsin despite his poor night statewide. But it bears repeating that he’s having a really bad night and Cruz is having a really good one.
Cruz currently leads Trump by 23 points with about a quarter of Wisconsin reporting. The Upshot expects that lead to eventually narrow to about 15 points. Still, that would be a larger margin of victory than predicted by any poll. And even if Trump ekes out a handful of delegates from congressional districts, he’ll be well behind the 25 delegates we expected him to win Wisconsin a few weeks ago.
The exit polls in Wisconsin are asking Republican voters who should decide the nomination if none of the candidates win the required 1,237 votes before the convention. (I gotta say, work with me here, people – how about asking that question everywhere and of all voters!?!?!) The story that the exit pollsters might have hoped to be told by the answer to this question is the difference between Trump voters (who overwhelmingly favor letting the candidate with the most votes win), and Cruz/Kasich supporters. But a majority of the latter group also favor nominating the candidate with the most votes, rather than allowing the delegates to pick the best candidate.
In the absence of more systematic comparison data, we can consider these answers about process in light of Wisconsin’s political history. Our readers have been calling for some discussion of “Fightin’ Bob” LaFollette, and this might be the place to consider this iconic Progressive. In addition to LaFollette, there’s also Theodore Roosevelt, a Progressive Republican who took a bullet campaigning in Milwaukee in 1912. We often think of this movement in terms of policies – expanding government protections, pushing back against the industrial capitalism. But this was a movement against party bosses as much as anything. LaFollette was concerned about corruption. Both Roosevelt and LaFollette broke away from the Republican Party to run for president on the Progressive label. Wisconsin was one of the first states to adopt primaries – we had a non-partisan one earlier this year. Direct democracy is also something we owe to the Progressive roots here – big issues find their way to the ballot, as in 2006, when the state voted to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the state Constitution.
Given the state’s historical suspicion of party elites and fervor for direct democracy, it’s possible that Wisconsin voters are less amenable to letting convention delegates decide. Then again, skepticism about parties and a preference for the direct will of the people has really caught on in the past 100 years.
ABC News has just called Wisconsin for Sanders. No surprise there. The question is the margin, which we’ll be keeping an eye on.