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I have no idea who will win the Indiana primary 72 hours from the time I write. But the people inside Ted Cruz’s campaign seem to have an idea. And it’s not good for them. Cruz’s top team expects their candidate to lose. And Senator Cruz seems to have accepted that outcome.
Expectations Matter More Than Preferences
Regular readers know that polls that ask “who do you think will win” trump polls that ask “who do you intend to vote for” or even “who did you vote for?”
Social psychologists and pollsters give several reasons for this, but the one that seems most likely is sample size. When I think about who will win, I do a quick mental poll of the people I know and how they intend to vote. Late in 2015, I realized that most of my friends said they were voting for Trump. I wrote in Trump: Good, Bad, and Ugly:
It’s important because expectations are far better predictors of actual winners than preference polls. From a 2012 NY Times story by David Leonhardt:
“Over the last 60 years, poll questions that asked people which candidate they expected to win have been a better guide to the outcome of the presidential race than questions asking people whom they planned to vote for, the study found.”
That study, by David Rothschild of Columbia University and Justin Wolfers of University of Michigan, is worth a read. The reason “who do you expect to win” beats “who do prefer to win” is because the former question effectively broadens the survey by a factor of 20 as respondents mentally poll up to 20 of their friends and family.
Additionally, late deciders usually break for the candidate they expect to win by about 60/40, consistent with studies of other animals.
Then on August 24, 2015, I came across this poll: 57 percent of Republicans expected Trump to become the nominee. It’s possible that the whole nominating process was already finished last August. If race wasn’t over then, it’s over now.
Slouching Toward Indiana
Inevitability has crept into Ted Cruz’s mind, too. He’s behaving like a man who knows he’s lost. I watched his rally speech in Jeffersonville, Indiana, last Friday, just four days before the Indiana primary. Cruz’s demeanor and even his words reminded me of Senator Marco Rubio’s speeches in the days before the Florida primary. The anger was gone. The energy was there, but it was a different kind of energy. In Jeffersonville, Cruz showed the sort of energy we see in a man who shrugged a great weight off his shoulders. The word “acceptance” comes to mind.
If Trump wins Indiana on Tuesday, expect Cruz to speak early, thank his supporters, congratulate Donald Trump, and set the stage for the next act in his political career. Just like Marco Rubio the evening of the Florida primary.
As explained in this Politico story, Inside the Cruz Campaign, Confidence Crumbles:
Within the campaign, some are turning to the question of what’s next. One senior aide said there had been no discussion about dropping out before the final primary contests are held on June 7 but noted that Cruz wouldn’t be eager to prolong a campaign he was convinced he couldn’t win.
I realize that strong Cruz supporters will see his Jeffersonville performance differently. That’s okay. They’re supposed to keep the faith. The most likely outcome–almost inevitable at this point–is that Donald Trump will leave Indiana without a major opponent to the nomination.
Yes, I’ve seen the reports that Cruz intends to continue his campaign even if he loses Indiana. But before Florida, Rubio said he’d continue on even if he lost his home state.
To detect a difference in Cruz’s demeanor, I compared two speeches. One from Iowa just a week before the Iowa caucuses. The other from Jeffersonville, Indiana, the Friday before the Indiana primary. I looked for tone, volume, tempo, body language, and facial expression. I also looked at language.
In Iowa, Cruz was fired up and combative. In Indiana, Cruz was almost apologetic at first, in the theological sense of the word. He was explaining his campaign rather than prosecuting it. Again, the polls could be wrong. But Cruz seems to believe the polls showing Trump in charge in the Hoosier state correct. A CNN source revealed those Cruz internal numbers:
But earlier in the week, Cruz allies and people close to the campaign described a budding sense of gloom, with internal polls diving as Trump mounted even stronger than expected showings in his native northeast. In Indiana, which Cruz backers once believed they were favored to win after his strong defeat of Trump in Wisconsin, Cruz’s numbers have fallen precipitously: Once leading, Cruz now trails in the state by eight to 10 points, according to a person who has seen the numbers, with Trump over the 40% mark. Cruz’s campaign did not respond when asked about those figures.
Remember the fish study. People want to go with the winner.
We See What We Want to See
Of course Trump haters and Cruz lovers will see things a little different. What I saw in Iowa was a man on the ascent, fairly confident of victory. In Indiana, I saw a man who has accepted defeat but soldiers on to fulfill a commitment to his supporters. In between, Cruz passed through several stages including denial and anger. But that anger has gone away now.
Senator Cruz probably knows what I know, that expectation polls trump preference polls. And the latest poll of Republican expectations came out on Friday. Here’s how Rasmussen described the results:
Belief that Donald Trump is the likely Republican presidential nominee has soared to its highest level ever and matches perceptions that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic standard-bearer in the fall.
The latest Rasmussen Reports weekly Trump Change survey, taken following Trump’s five state primary wins on Tuesday, finds that 89% of Likely Republican Voters now think the billionaire businessman is likely to win the GOP nomination. Two-out-of-three (67%) say Trump’s nomination is Very Likely, up 18 points from 49% last week and up from 38% two weeks ago before Trump’s fortunes turned around with his mega-win in New York State.
It’s still possible, of course, that Trump could stumble, but he’ll have to fall fast and hard to lose the nomination. Cruz knows this and indicated on Friday that his campaign is dead if he loses badly in Indiana. And the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that the Cruz internal numbers were right: Trump is surging in Indiana. Via WSJ.com:
Donald Trump holds a 15-point lead in the Republican presidential primary in Indiana, and a majority of GOP voters disapprove of the effort by underdogs Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich to coordinate a strategy to block him, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist Poll finds.
For the record, I have not endorsed Donald Trump or any of the candidates still campaigning. (I supported Ben Carson.) I have warned that Trump is not a conservative, but I’ve also pointed out that a Trump presidency probably won’t be as bad as many people think. And I prefer Trump to any Democrat because Trump will likely appoint more reasonable federal judges and Supreme Court justices. You know how important the courts are.
Time to Start on Hillary
When asked about national head-to-head polls against Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump likes to say, “I haven’t even started on her yet.”
It’s time. Everyone expects Trump to be the Republican nominee, and expectations matter.
The good news: the civil war on the right probably ends Tuesday when Senator Cruz suspends his campaign. Better news: if Senator Cruz can get his new friends in the US Senate to pass some of the legislation he’s campaigned on, President Trump will sign it.
Finally, I’m a strategist, not a pollster. I am less concerned with what will happen than what people should do about what happens. If Cruz loses Indiana, the best outcome would be for Cruz to suspend his campaign and focus on influencing his fellow Senators to send great legislation to President Trump’s desk in 2017. On the other hand, Cruz could win Indiana in a landslide and make me look like a terrible forecaster.
So don’t place any $17.99 bets on what you read on my blog. Instead, spend that $17.99 on the hardcover edition of my latest book.