Monday, November 13, 2023

Oh, Nikki, you're so fine, you're so fine, you blow my mind...

In the horse race coverage of GOP primary, the big story over the past few days has been the stunning rise of Nikki Haley, suggesting that Trump is not only vulnerable, but vulnerable to a traditional Republican.


This certainly is exciting news. Let's check in with 538 to see how much she has narrowed the gap.

Hmmm... That doesn't seem t be much to write home about. Perhaps we need to drill down further. After all, in her Nov. 8th NYT piece ("Nikki Haley Is Gaining Ground"), Katherine Miller tells us "[Haley] is gaining in the places that matter." As an example, Miller links to this story about polls in New Hampshire.

 Funny thing about that USA Today article, it was over a month old when Miller posted her piece. That doesn't really support the narrative that recent gains show growing momentum behind Haley.

Let's take a closer look.

A new poll from Suffolk University, The Boston Globe, and USA TODAY found that likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters overwhelmingly favor former president Donald Trump as their party’s nominee for the 2024 presidential election.

Respondents also weighed in on issues like climate change, immigration, and Trump’s legal woes. The poll of 500 likely New Hampshire Republican presidential primary voters was conducted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2., with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.


Given that even a month ago, Haley had already spent enough time in New Hampshire that she might legally be allowed to vote there, a distant second is not all that impressive. Trump, by comparison, had been focusing most of his campaign on a golf course in Florida, but that appears to be changing

Trump’s rally on Saturday is one of several trips he’s making to New Hampshire this month as part of a strategic effort by his campaign to ensure he doesn’t lose momentum heading into the early months of 2024 as his rivals campaign relentlessly in the first-in-the-nation primary state, his advisers told CNN. 

Nonetheless, Miller argues, "A win in Iowa or New Hampshire for Ms. Haley would reset the entire primary contest" and it was a recent Iowa poll that set off this latest round of Nikki-mania. The next day the NYT ran another pro-Haley piece, this time without the cover of the opinion section, focused more on Iowa.

 A close second-place finish — or even capturing the biggest vote share in Iowa after Mr. Trump — could catapult Ms. Haley into New Hampshire and the contests that follow, attracting fresh support and prompting some rivals to bow out, her aides and surrogates argued.

 "[C]apturing the biggest vote share in Iowa after Mr. Trump" would include a distant second, which is unlikely to do a great deal  of catapulting, regardless of what aides and surrogates tell gullible reporters from back East, but putting that aside. Let's take a closer look at that Iowa poll. 

From the Des Moines Register:

Also from the Register:

The one place Iowa does have a potentially important and useful role is with politicians who don't yet have a big national presence. The state functions, in a sense, as a search committee, looking over candidates who may not have been on our radar. If Asa Hutchinson were to significantly outperform his polling numbers and come in third or even fourth, that could indicate that he has real potential, but Nikki Haley has been a prominent figure on the national stage for years and is currently experiencing a wave of coverage.

As we've talked about before, there is a certain ebb and flow you expect to see in a primary, particularly among alternatives to a controversial front runner. Voters unhappy with their party's likely choice will look around for a broadly acceptable candidate to converge on. This can produce some rapid and in some cases surprisingly large surges which tend to go away as quickly as they came. If you go back and look at the 2012 and 2016 Republican primaries, you will see this happening repeatedly and far more dramatically than what we're seeing here.

There are certainly scenarios where Haley could get the nomination (almost all involving Trump's health or legal issues), but with this story as with so many we've seen over the past eight years, the main driver of political journalism seems to be wishful thinking.

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