Last week in Iowa, even vaunted pollster Ann Selzer got it wrong, missing Ted Cruz’s win over Donald Trump, and nearly getting hung with an L in the Democratic caucuses as well. It just goes to show that polling remains an unreliable guide.
This is the key lesson I take from Iowa as I look ahead to New Hampshire tomorrow. Yes, all polling shows Trump way ahead on the GOP side, and Bernie Sanders way ahead on the Democratic side. Both are clearly likely to win, but that isn’t going to be the key story.
On the Democratic side, the key question is the final margin. Hillary Clinton has unquestionably been cutting into Sanders’s lead. I suspect the final margin will probably hover right around 10 points–a good, solid win for Sanders, but compared to his huge polling margins, a win that might feel a bit like a loss.
On the GOP side, the key question is who places second and third. If it’s Trump, Rubio, Cruz, in any order, that’s significant, because that’s probably the end for everyone else. But after Marco Rubio’s disastrous debate performance on Saturday, the door is now open for John Kasich to run strongly. Kasich probably doesn’t have the persona or the raw ability to make a real run, but the longer he, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie can delay Rubio’s consolidation of the vaunted GOP establishment, the better it is for Trump and Cruz.
Given the fact that the most interesting action is on the GOP side, I expect the bulk of independents and moderates to vote in the Republican primary. That probably benefits Sanders, who will benefit from a more liberal Democratic electorate, and also Kasich.
Therefore, I expect Sanders to defeat Clinton by about 10 percentage points, and Trump to win a closer-than-expected victory over Kasich, followed by Cruz and Rubio. I expect Bush, Christie, Carson, Fiorina and Gilmore to fill out the field, in that order.