The Battle For Iowa: Trump Vs. Cruz

Maggie, you reported earlier today that Quinnipiac released a poll showing that Iowa is now a three candidate race: Donald Trump leads with 31 percent, Ted Cruz is in second place within the margin of error at 29 percent, and Marco Rubio, who is currently saturating the air waves in Iowa, is showing a respectable third place with 15 percent.

I combed through the crosstabs of that poll and found a few additional nuggets of information:

1.) Conservatives love Ted Cruz. Moderates love Donald Trump.

  • Among “strong conservative” GOP voters:
    • Ted Cruz: 44 percent
    • Donald Trump: 26 percent
    • Marco Rubio: 11 percent
  • Among “somewhat conservative” GOP voters:
    • Donald Trump: 31 percent
    • Ted Cruz: 28 percent
    • Marco Rubio: 15 percent
  • Among “moderate” and “liberal” GOP voters:
    • Donald Trump: 37 percent
    • Marco Rubio: 21 percent
    • Ted Cruz: 7 percent
Cruz’s base is entirely made up of people who identify as “conservative.” Meanwhile, both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio seem to perform much better with voters in the “moderate” wing of the Republican Party.

2.) Trump voters are really excited to vote.

  • Among Trump voters, 66 percent are “more enthusiastic than usual” to attend the Iowa Caucus, 32 percent are “about as enthusiastic as usual,” and NO ONE IS “less enthusiastic than usual.”
  • Among Cruz voters, 57 percent are “more enthusiastic than usual” to attend the Iowa Caucus, 40 percent are “about as enthusiastic as usual,” and 2 percent are “less enthusiastic than usual.”
  • Among GOP voters, 52 percent are “more enthusiastic than usual” to attend the Iowa Caucus, 40 percent are “about as enthusiastic as usual,” and 5 percent are “less enthusiastic than usual.”
This question seems to indicate that Trump voters are not only likely voters, but they appear more likely to vote than anyone else. It’s hard to make the case that Trump is somehow being overrepresented in the polls when his supporters display enthusiasm like that.

3.) Cruz beats Trump on nearly every critical polling metric. But it doesn’t matter.
 

This is another instance of Trump being a non-traditional candidate. I don’t know what to make of this. Cruz outperforms or ties Trump on every question about a candidate’s perceived qualities.

“Would you say ________ is trustworthy or not?”

  • Cruz: 81 percent YES, 13 percent NO
  • Trump: 63 percent YES, 32 percent NO
“Would you say that _________ has strong leadership qualities or not?”
  • Cruz: 78 percent YES, 16 percent NO
  • Trump: 81 percent YES, 17 percent NO
“Would you say that _________ cares about the needs and problems of people like you or not?”
  • Cruz: 81 percent YES, 14 percent NO
  • Trump: 64 percent YES, 29 percent NO

“Would you say that __________ has the right type of experience to be President or not?”

  • Cruz: 76 percent YES, 18 percent NO
  • Trump: 54 percent YES, 40 percent NO
“Would you say that __________ shares your values or not?
  • Cruz: 75 percent YES, 17 percent NO
  • Trump: 53 percent YES, 40 percent NO
“Would you say that __________ would have a good chance of defeating the Democratic nominee in the general election for President or not?”
  • Cruz: 69 percent YES, 25 percent NO
  • Trump: 65 percent YES, 30 percent NO
Cruz wins nearly all of those. So what’s going on? Why is Donald Trump doing so well when Cruz seems to possess better numbers on each of these important metrics?

Well, I have a theory.

Nate Silver wrote an interesting piece last year over at FiveThirtyEight about an economic term called “Pareto Optimization” and how it can apply to primary elections. You can read more about it here.

Silver used two variables to build his Pareto Frontier for the 2012 candidates: “electability” and “ideological fit” — i.e., who is more conservative. He hypothesized that this is what the average GOP voter considers when choosing a preferred GOP candidate.

Credit: FiveThirtyEight.com
Credit: FiveThirtyEight.com
I think Silver might be correct for one subset of voters. But in the 2016 primary, the data seems to indicate that there are different Pareto Frontiers for different subsets of voters.

Nearly everyone considers electability. That has to be a key factor. GOP voters want a winner.

And Cruz voters are likely applying something close to what Nate Silver hypothesized. They seem to believe Cruz is electable and that he is the candidate who shares their values the most, which demonstrates a strong “ideological fit.” Cruz voters also seem to believe that Trump is an inefficient data point in their personal Pareto Frontier… i.e., why would they vote for Trump, an ideological wild card, when they can vote for a genuine conservative like Cruz?

So what about Trump voters? What are they applying as the variables to their own personal Pareto Frontiers?

Electability is almost certainly one of their concerns. Trump voters definitely believe he will beat Hillary Clinton. But is ideological fit really a concern? Are Trump voters really concerned with his conservative bonafides? I’d argue not, and based on the shared values question from the Quinnipiac poll, it appears that voters conclusively believe Cruz is the better ideological fit.

Instead, I believe that the second variable Trump voters are prioritizing is a classic — likability and personality. Trump voters want to win, sure, but they also want to win with someone they like— someone to whom they gravitate — someone who is always going to be the biggest, baddest, loudest person in the room.

That’s Donald Trump in a nutshell. And how is Ted Cruz supposed to out-Donald the Donald? Under this Pareto Frontier, Ted Cruz becomes an inefficient data point and a non-factor to these voters, even if they have a favorable view of Cruz on other key qualities.

So who will win Iowa?

It comes down to what matters more to voters. If voters determine they care more about shared values — about who will best work to advance conservative principles in the White House — there’s no doubt Ted Cruz will win the Iowa Caucus and seriously compete for the GOP nomination.

But if it’s about likability and personality? If it’s about entertainment and our culture of celebrity obsession? Then Trump will win Iowa, win New Hampshire, win South Carolina, and win the nomination in a historic landslide. Nobody can compete with Trump on this. Nobody.

We’ll find out in three weeks.

Jon Schweppe is Deputy Director of Communications for the American Principles Project.