Trumping Incentives: Why Trump hasn’t been stopped but still might be

Much has been written about why Donald Trump is on track to become the Republican presidential nominee. Theories range from Trump as a response to Obama’s upending of racial hierarchy to Trump as an authoritarian figure to economic anxiety presenting itself as support for Trump. Frankly, our technical approach to punditry has very little to offer as to why Trump has appeal and so we won’t bother analyzing Trump through that lens. However, an equally interesting question is why he hasn’t been stopped. For the first several months of the Trump candidacy, pundits, politicos, and even our team were all convinced that Trump’s early support was an anomaly. It was quickly chalked up to another Santorum/Gingrich-type early surge. The thinking went that because Trump was so extreme and so despised by GOP elites, his support would drop. Man, were we wrong.

Although Trump still struggles to win majorities in most states, he is consistently winning pluralities and is well on his way to the nomination. Admittedly, it isn’t entirely clear that he will win the required majority to win on the first ballot, but he may have a sizable enough plurality to win over unbounded delegates and still pull it off. So why is it that nothing has been able to significantly stop Trump?

One of the reasons may be that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, people don’t think that differently about putting a check in a box and answering a question on the phone. Kristen Soltis Andersen at National Review summarizes the conventional wisdom as such: “Some people may say they plan to vote for Trump, but, in reality, they haven’t had to deeply consider the question and so they just say the last name they heard on the news.” (It is important to note that Andersen does not actually take this view as the truth, she merely says that it is the view held by many.) However, it is pretty clear that this is not the case. In fact, as actual elections have started and the primary calendar continues on, Trump’s support nationally continues to climb.

So why is the conventional wisdom flawed on this point? Well, the core assumption behind this theory is that when someone enters a polling place (or caucus site) and puts that check mark next to a name, they think more about the ramifications of their vote than they do when called up by a pollster. However, thinking about the voters’ incentives in the two situations reveals that there is no reason for a different thought process. When asked by a pollster1 to state their preference, the external cost of doing so is zero: polls don’t actually decide outcomes. On the other hand, the conventional wisdom is predicated on a nonzero external cost to casting a ballot2. While the cost may be nonzero, it is essentially zero, as the probability of a single voter’s vote deciding an election is so small, that any costs associated with casting a ballot can be considered zero3. This means that there is very little reason to think that people have significantly different thought processes when casting a ballot and when answering a poll.

With the idea that people would change their mind as election day approaches, the other assumption that many made was that the party would decide. This line of thinking posits that in general, candidates who are broadly acceptable to party leaders tend to win elections because they have easier access to the party’s resources. Well, kind of. There is a lot more complexity then that to the argument, which was first presented in the 2008 book The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform. In this election cycle, the rise of Trump has prompted possible reevaluation of this work. Daniel Drezner, a professor at Tufts University, posits that in fact, The Party Decides is why the GOP has not stopped Trump. Drezner argues that because the broad punditsphere was so convinced that the party would stop Trump, the party forgot that it actually had to stop Trump.

This idea may be a bit far fetched and is not necessarily true, but it starts to hit at something: Trump is succeeding because the party is failing. Specifically, the party is failing at coordinating. In economics, a coordination failure occurs when a group of firms in an industry is capable of achieving multiple equilibria. However, in order to reach the highest equilibrium, they must coordinate, which they fail to do, forcing them down to a lower equilibrium. The same concept can be applied to this election: Trump may represent an equilibrium in the GOP, but he is certainly not the highest equilibrium. However, because the party failed to coordinate, it failed to achieve a higher equilibrium, such as Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush.

So why did this coordination failure occur? Well, staying in the realm of economics, this coordination failure is likely because the costs of coordination were high and the costs of not coordinating seemed low. In order for GOP leaders to coordinate, they would have had to settle early on one particular candidate and pour resources into that campaign in order to beat Trump. This is costly because it would have required them to force other well-qualified candidates out and for much of the campaign, GOP leaders seemed unwilling to settle on a candidate. Even now, as many GOP elected officials are endorsing Ted Cruz, they are doing so rather reluctantly. On the other hand, because of a belief that Trump could never win and a low probability of support from a single person making the ultimate difference, individual GOP leaders were presented with a low cost of not coordinating. This meant that for much of the campaign, the cost of a coordination failure was seen as small compared to the costs of coordinating.

Now however, the cost calculus seems to be changing. Ted Cruz is slowly picking up more and more endorsements, indicating that many party leaders are viewing him as the last best hope to stopping Trump. But even if Cruz picks up steam, it may be too little too late: Cruz is still incredibly unlikely to win the nomination before the convention. But, the hope for many is that Cruz may be able to prevent Trump from wrapping up the nomination before the convention, leading to a contested convention and the possibility of nominating someone else.

Which leaves one last question: if it comes to a contested convention, isn’t the same coordination failure going to repeat itself? That seems unlikely. Once again, we can take a look at the incentives of delegates at the convention4. Delegates to the Republican National Convention are not normal voters; instead, they frequently have deep ties to the GOP. This may mean they are related to big donors, are elected officials or people who have a large stake in the GOP. This is important because they have a different set of incentives: Most importantly, many delegates have a selfish incentive for a strong party. Many within the party view Trump as an existential threat to the party, and therefore the cost of nominating him is astronomical. If the delegates hold that view, which is likely given the composition of delegates, then the cost of a coordination failure is equally astronomically high. Additionally, with less than 2,500 delegates at the convention, the probability of any one of them casting the deciding vote is much higher. Especially if Trump gets close to the required 1,237, the cost of any one vote becomes very high, providing further incentive to coordinate.

Of course, there is a potential cost, both to individual delegates and the party of denying Trump the nomination. Many in the base may see that action as undemocratic, putting the political careers of individual delegates and the future of the party at stake. However, it seems like many believe that denying Trump the nomination may be a necessary evil to securing the future of the party. It may be close, but a close examination of the incentives at play will continue to provide valuable insight.

Footnotes   [ + ]

Nevada Democratic Caucuses and South Carolina Republican Primaries: The New State of the Race

Yesterday, 735,000 Republicans in South Carolina and about 80,000 Democrats in Nevada1 headed to the polls and voted or caucused in the third day of voting in this year’s primary cycle. Here, we break down what exactly happened yesterday and what it means going forward.
 
South Carolina Republican Primary

Coming out of New Hampshire, Donald Trump had won big, John Kasich pulled out a surprising second place finish, Jeb Bush was riding high on beating Marco Rubio, who was suffering after an embarrassing debate performance, and Ted Cruz still confident after his win in Iowa. New Hampshire and Iowa had served to narrow the field a bit, forcing Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie out. In South Carolina, Trump looked poised to pull off another large victory, leaving Cruz and Rubio vying for third and Bush just not wanting to finish too far behind them. Kasich had absolutely no expectations going in and Ben Carson is somehow still running. And, as expected, Donald Trump ended up the big winner of the night.

Candidates Pct. Delegates
D. Trump 32.5%
50
M. Rubio 22.5%
0
T. Cruz 22.3%
0
J. Bush 7.8%
0
J. Kasich 7.6%
0
B. Carson 7.2%
0

Trump won all of the delegates from yesterday’s contest, giving him a big lead heading into the Nevada Republican Caucuses and Super Tuesday. Rubio and Cruz ended up pretty much tied, but more importantly, Rubio showed that he has mostly recovered from his poor debate performance and is once again the conventional wisdom establishment-backed candidate. More unfortunately for Cruz, South Carolina is an example of why the delegate math is going to be challenging for him; Ted Cruz is expected to do best in many Southern states going forward, a large chunk of which are winner-take-all in each congressional district, meaning that a close second may not mean much in terms of actually winning him delegates.

But the biggest news coming out of South Carolina on the Republican side is that Jeb Bush has announced he is suspending his campaign. This is significant for two reasons. Although there are myriad think pieces dissecting why the Bush campaign failed, I will a chart which contains just one more reason.

Jeb Bush's Advertising

This chart adds together all of the advertising minutes from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina of TV ads from both the Bush campaign and Right To Rise, Bush’s primarily supporting SuperPAC. The biggest take away is that the campaign failed to really advertise until Bush had largely slipped in the polls and had little chance of recovery. It poured money into the first three states, but only right before they were to vote, meaning that they could only sway late-breaking voters. While there certainly are many late-breaking voters, they tend to vote strategically, meaning that if their primary focus is say, stopping Trump, they are more likely to vote for someone like Rubio than Bush. Bush’s advertising campaign simply came too late to substantially change public perception of him as a viable candidate.

Bush’s dropping out is significant for both electoral and monetary reasons. On the electoral side, it frees up the “establishment lane” of the GOP. With Bush and Christie now both out, more moderate, establishment-minded Republican voters really only have a choice between Kasich and Rubio. Taking a look at polling2, we can see specifically that this helps Rubio the most.

Jeb Bush Supporters Second Choice

We can then take the 6.3% of support that Bush had in the latest HuffPost Pollster average and split it up to the different candidates.

Polling with Bush support split up.

Clearly, Rubio is the biggest beneficiary to Bush dropping out, but that 6.3% being split multiple ways means that it honestly does not have a huge difference on pure polling numbers.

The second effect of Bush dropping out, freeing up big donors, is much more significant. Although Bush never got very far off the ground enticing voters, he was very successful in enticing donors. However, with him out of the race, many of these donors will be able to move their money around freely. And the general thinking is that many will move their money over to Rubio who can then use it to execute the same kind of attack-ad heavy campaign that allowed Romney to knock out his rivals in 2012.

Ultimately, the general thinking is that Bush’s dropping out leaves more room for Rubio to win over establishment support and use that support to win the nomination. However, with Trump and Cruz still putting up strong performance, even if Cruz cannot win many winner-take-all states, it seems increasingly likely that this race will drag on well past Super Tuesday.

 
Nevada Democratic Caucuses

On the Democratic side, yesterday brought more of a return to status quo than any substantial change. Although Bernie Sanders did better than expected in Iowa against Hillary Clinton and followed it up with a demanding victory in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton has steadily been a strong favorite to win the nomination. Going into Nevada, it seemed as if some nebulous “momentum” might be on the side of Sanders, although little was certain because of a dearth of polling in the state. However, Hillary Clinton pulled off a convincing win over Sanders.

Candidates Pct. Delegates
H. Clinton 52.7%
22
B. Sanders 47.2%
16

Although her victory was not the 20+ point lead that was seen in the polling last fall, reflecting the overall growth of Sanders as a competitor to Clinton, it likely effectively stopped any momentum that Sanders had coming out of New Hampshire and Iowa. And heading into South Carolina, it will likely prevent the downward trend in Clinton’s polling there that she has experienced since December. Nevada also showed that Clinton’s lead among Latino voters is not as commanding as it was eight years ago3 and South Carolina will let us know if her lead over Sanders among Black voters is as strong as it is assumed to be.

All in all, the Nevada caucuses did very little to change the Democratic race drastically; rather, it restored it back to the conventional wisdom that Clinton will win the nomination. South Carolina will be another test of this hypothesis. If Clinton is able to come away there with a commanding lead, she will have the momentum, and demographics, behind her.

Footnotes   [ + ]

Iowa Preview: Playing the Expectations Game

After months of speculation about who will run, many debates, and discussion of candidates’ chances, tomorrow, February 1st, we get to learn the first results of the election cycle as Iowa heads to the caucuses tomorrow evening. Although we will be providing rolling analysis as results come in tomorrow, we have also put together this article to help you know what to watch for tomorrow.

Arguably the most important thing to watch for tomorrow is how the candidates do relative to expectations. The first way to track expectations is by looking at win probabilities; if a candidate who is given a small chance of winning the caucuses wins, that win will mean much more than an expected win. FiveThirtyEight has put together what they call a “polls-plus” model1 to assign a probability of winning Iowa to each candidate. PredictWise uses betting market data to derive a similar probability for each candidate.
Win Probabilities for Iowa: Republicans
Win Probabilities for Iowa: Democrats
These two methods produce fairly similar results, but both are worth noting. FiveThirtyEight’s probabilities represent what the polls are showing may happen, so those who follow polling closely will build their expectations to be similar to that model’s. On the other hand, PredictWise uses betting markets, so those probabilities more closely represent the “common wisdom” of what will happen. Because the “common wisdom” is affected so much by media portrayals and how the media spins Iowa will be crucial, it is especially worth paying attention to.

So, what do these probabilities actually tell us? Well, on the Republican side they tell us mainly that Donald Trump is a favorite to win the caucuses. That means that Trump needs to win Iowa or else his campaign will be seen as falling apart. Similarly, despite close polling between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win Iowa. However, because she has only a small lead in the polls, a loss by Clinton would probably not affect her as much as a loss by Trump would affect him.

In addition to looking at the probabilities of winning, another key part of playing the expectations game is how a candidate does relative to their polling. To understand this effect, we looked at all candidates in the last three cycles (2004, 2008, 2012) and averaged the three Iowa polls released closest to the Iowa caucuses. We then compared these to actual results of Iowa result to get an “Iowa Result against Expectation.”2 We did a similar three poll average of New Hampshire polls prior to Iowa held their caucuses and a three poll average of New Hampshire for the days after Iowa held their caucuses. This allows us to detect a change in New Hampshire’s polling which can, in part, be attributed to the results in Iowa3. Using this data4, we created the following chart. In this chart, the dot size indicates the actual share of Iowa vote that each candidate won.
Iowa: The Expectations Game
While not incredibly strong, there is clearly a positive correlation between Iowa results against expectation and changes in New Hampshire polls. By looking in the upper left quadrant, it is also very clear that candidates who beat expectations significantly and win a fairly large share of the vote tend to get the strongest boost in New Hampshire. However, to quantify this relationship a bit more, we can run a linear regression through this data.
Iowa: The Expectations Game
By running this linear regression, we find that a candidate who beats expectations by 1 percentage point in Iowa can expect, on average, to improve their standing in New Hampshire by 0.583 percentage points5. So, the effect is not huge, but it is distinct. Certainly, Trump’s and Sanders’ leads in New Hampshire polling are large enough that it seems unlikely for this boost from Iowa to propel anyone ahead of them. However, in the Republican race, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie are all so tightly packed that a stronger than expected showing in Iowa (or a weaker than expected one) could change the race significantly.

So, tomorrow when the results start to come in, while everyone will be watching mainly to see who wins, make sure to pay attention to how the candidates perform relative to current polling in order to see how New Hampshire and the rest of the race may shake up. And, of course, join us for our liveblog!

Footnotes   [ + ]

The Murkiness of the Minimum Wage Debate

Last weekend, the Democrats running for the presidential nomination gathered in Des Moines, Iowa for the second Democratic debate of this presidential election cycle. The field was notably smaller, with Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb dropping out between the first and the second debate. The debate was fairly uneventful, with most analysts agreeing that the debate will do very little to change the direction of the contest. However, there was at least one important exchange during the debate on the topic of raising the minimum wage. Although all three candidates agreed that it needed to go up, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley want to raise it to $15 an hour, while Hillary Clinton only wants to raise it to $12 an hour. When asked about the potential consequences of a $15 minimum wage, Sanders responded:

Real inflation accounted for wages has declined precipitously over the years. So I believe that in fact this country needs to move toward a living wage. … So I believe that over the next few years, not tomorrow, that over the next few years we have got to move the minimum wage to a living wage $15.00 bucks an hour. And I apologize to nobody.

O’Malley then chimed in with support for a $15 minimum wage and then said that while he was governor of Marlyand, the state raised the minimum wage:

$10.10 was all I could get the state to do by the time I left in my last year. But two of our counties actually went to $12.80. And their county executives if they were here tonight would also tell you that it works.

Clinton defended her proposal for a raise to $12 an hour, explaining:

That is why I support a $12.00 national federal minimum wage. That is what the Democrats in the Senate have put forward as a proposal. But I do believe that is a minimum. And places like Seattle, like Los Angeles, like New York City, they can go higher. It’s what happened in– Governor O’Malley’s state. There was a minimum wage at the state level. And some places went higher. I think that is the smartest way to be able to move forward because if you go to $12.00 it would be the highest historical average we’ve ever had.

It makes sense that all Democratic candidates want to stress their plans to raise the federal minimum wage, which is currently at $7.25 an hour. Roughly 70% of Americans support raising the federal minimum wage, and just over 90% of Democrats are in favor of a minimum wage hike. The problem is, no one is really sure how much.

The motivation behind the moderator’s question in the debate was a recent New York Times opinion piece by Alan Krueger, a Princeton University economist and the former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, which suggested that a minimum wage greater than $12 would set the country in uncharted territory and could be potentially runious for the economy. However, Alan Krueger’s view is far from the consensus among economists. The Initiative on Global Markets at the Chicago Booth School of Business surveyed 42 prominent economists and found that most economists remain uncertain about the effect of a $15 minimum wage while the rest are pretty evenly split. In spite of the uncertainty of economists in how to raise the minimum wage, the Democratic candidates all came out on Saturday staunch in their policy positions. Only Hillary Clinton acknowledged some level of nuance by admitting that different states have different levels and that may be the best way to do things.

Part of the reason that the minimum wage debate is so complex is because the cost of living is drastically different across the country. Take, for example, my home county of DuPage County, Ill. According to The Living Wage Calculator, a project of Amy Glasmeier of MIT, the living wage1 for a single person is $11.66 an hour. Travel just an hour and a half southwest to La Salle County, Ill. and the living wage is just $9.84 an hour. And yet in both counties, the Illinois minimum wage is $8.25 an hour.

The anecdotal evidence is one thing, but this trend is prevalent across the entire country. In that vein, I have created a series of maps2 to demonstrate the variance in wages across the country. First, we can take a look at the current minimum wage in each state.3
Minimum Wage in Every State
We can compare this to a map of the living wage in every state:
Living Wage in Every County
What is immediately apparent, just by comparing the two maps (which are on the same color scale), is that in most counties, the minimum wage is not nearly as high as the living wage. The exception seems to be some parts of eastern Washington, where the minimum wage is the highest in the country and the living wage is not too high. To get a fuller picture, we can take the difference between the living wage minus the minimum wage to get the following map:
Living Minus Minimum Wage in Every County
There is clearly a lot of variation from county to county in this difference. The county where the living wage most exceeds the minimum wage is Honolulu County, Haiwaii, where the minimum wage is $7.25 and the living wage is $14.66, a difference of $7.41. On the other hand, 21 of the 3143 counties have a minimum wage greater than the living wage, with the largest difference in Pend Oreille County, Washington, where the minimum wage of $9.32 is $0.65 greater than the $8.67 living wage. The mean difference was $2.45, which is fairly clear from the prevalence of green counties in the map.

The point is not to offer any concrete policy prescriptions for how to deal with the minimum wage, although this map shows that by and large, it needs to be raised in order to keep up with the living wage, but rather to suggest that this issue is a lot more nuanced than most politicians are willing to admit. While I can hardly blame Sanders, Clinton or O’Malley for really wanting to get into the messiness of this policy debate when they are only granted 90 seconds to speak, it is important to recognize the complexity of the issue. An additional layer of complexity, which I did not even address in this post, but which is included in Glasmeier’s data, is that the living wage also depends on your marital status and whether or not you have children. The data used in my maps is only for a single person without children, but the minimum wage is the same across the board regardless of if that is the case.

Although last weekend’s debate was fairly clear cut as $12 versus $15, in order to have a productive conversation about this issue on the national level, more nuance and murkiness must enter the conversation. It is hard to say that, across the board, $15 is a living wage or that $12 is a living wage, when really it depends on where you are. Although little will likely change about the rhetoric of the Democratic candidates, we can at least hope that when actual policy is hammered out, lawmakers take advantage of the data available, such as Glasmeier’s, in order to make more informed policy.

Footnotes   [ + ]

Just How Important is the House Freedom Caucus?

The House Freedom Caucus has been huge in the news recently. They brought down Speaker John Boehner, ended Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid to replace Boehner, and their blessing was the final step for Rep. Paul Ryan to go ahead with his bid for the speaker’s gavel. But given all of the press surrounding the HFC, just how influential are they?

Because we are statistics junkies here at Electoral Statistics, we of course are going to turn to numbers to answer this question. For now, we are going to put aside their influence in the Speaker’s race (which was visibly large) and consider whether they are all that influential legislatively. When talking about the House, most activity goes on behind closed doors, so the public is only able to understand a certain amount of the influence of any one legislator. However, one of the primary points of influence for the HFC is their supposed position as obstructionists. For this, we can look at roll call data1 to find when certain legislators voted against their party leaders. Because we are looking at the HFC, we will focus on Republican leaders (although I may apply this same technique later to Democrats). “The leadership” is a broad, nebulous term, but in this case we looked at the two main GOP House leaders: Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steven Scalise.2 It turns out that this year, Scalise and McCarthy voted together all but one time on the final passage of bills. That one time, Scalise did not vote, so it can be ignored.3 Because of the similarity in the voting records of Scalise and McCarthy, we choose McCarthy’s voting record to be the main point of reference to represent the GOP House Leadership. The most simplistic analysis is to look at how often legislators vote against McCarthy.4 By this metric, the top five dissenters are:

Legislator (District) Percent of Dissenting Votes
Jones (NC 3) 34%
Amash (MI 3) 25%
Gibson (NY 19) 25%
Massie (KY 4) 21%
Dold (IL 10) 21%

Amash (bolded) is the only member of the HFC in the top five. However, many of these votes are simple procedural ones or votes on amendments. The more powerful vote a representative has is on the final passage of bills, so we can narrow it down to just these votes and find the following:

Legislator (District) Percent of Dissenting Votes on Bills
Jones (NC 3) 47%
Amash (MI 3) 34%
Massie (KY 4) 28%
Sanford (SC 1) 22%
Gibson (NY 19) 21%

By this more specific metric, only Amash and Sanford (again bolded) are HFC members. So clearly, HFC members are not the most contrarian Republicans, but they still occupy some of the top seats. In total, the average HFC member votes against the leadership 10% of the time, while the average Republican only does so 7% of the time. The difference becomes starker when again restricting to just votes on the final passage of bills, where the average Republican dissented only 5% of the time while the average HFC member did so 10% of the time. Furthermore, of all the votes cast against the leadership, 20% came from HFC members, who only make up 14% of the Republican House Caucus.5 Again restricting to votes only on the final passage of a bill, HFC members cast 33% of votes against the leadership, which is double the portion of the House GOP members in the HFC. Clearly, although HFC members are not much more contrarian than your average Republican in the House when looking at all votes, they are significantly more willing to vote against the leadership on a bill.

However, this simplistic analysis ignores a key fact: not all votes are created equal. For example, votes taken on the big budget deal that just passed the House is of significantly more importance than, say HR 623 which established a “Social Media Working Group” in the Department of Homeland Security. As such, a dissenting vote on the budget was probably a bigger deal than HR 623, but such judgements of the importance of bills (or amendments or any other business that the House votes on) is rather subjective. Moreover, the House has had about 580 roll call votes to date, and just under 80 were on the final passage of bills. Indexing the importance of these bills individually is therefore not very feasible. However, we are not just interested in how important a singular vote is, but specifically how important a dissenting vote is. For example, if a bill passes by just one vote, every dissenting vote is a lot more meaningful than a bill that passes with 217 votes to spare, meaning that the dissenting vote was the only dissenter. From this idea, we have created something called the Dissent Importance Index (DII). This is a simple, linear model that maps how important any singular dissenting vote is. If for a particular vote, a representative votes on the same side as the leadership, their DII for that vote is a 0. If they vote against the leadership, their DII falls between 0 and 100, where 100 means that that representative was the deciding vote and 0 meaning that the only impact of that dissenter was to rob the leadership from a unanimous vote. We treat the relationship between the margin of victory6 and DII as affine.7 In this way, we assign each legislator a DII for each vote, which we can then sum or average over all votes in order to draw some conclusions about how often representatives vote against leadership in important votes.

The HFC member has a DII average of 7.06 across all votes, while the average Republican has a DII average of 5.67 across all votes. Restricting to just bills, HFC members average a DII average of 6.56 across votes on the final passage of a bill, compared to 3.04 for all Republicans. Although when considering all votes, HFC members only have a slightly higher DII average than an average Republican representative, their record of voting against the leadership remains much more steady on the final passage of bills than the average Republican. We can also give each representative a DII sum, meaning their DII from each vote added together. While this is not entirely informative in the abstract, we can use it to find how much of the total DII of the House GOP the HFC makes up. This is still a bit abstract, but it gives us insight into how impact the HFC is as a whole body. On all votes, the HFC makes up 18% of the total GOP DII, which is not much more than the 14% of the House Republican Caucus that makes up the HFC. However, on just the final passage of bills, the HFC makes up 32% of total GOP DII, double its membership portion. Using the DII confirms the story told by just the raw percentages, which is that the HFC is definitely slightly more willing to vote against the leadership than the average Republican, but when it comes to the final passage of bills, they are much more likely to vote against the leadership.

In the end, the House Freedom Caucus is clearly a body which is hostile to the leadership of the House GOP Caucus. At a macro level, they appear to be no more hostile than any other Republican group.  However their influence clearly stems from their willingness to disobey the leadership on key votes concerning the final passage of bills. While many Republicans are willing to diverge from the leadership on procedural votes or amendments, when it comes to the final vote for a bill, they tend to fall in line. The HFC does not follow this same pattern, and in their willingness to compromise on the passage of bills, they find their power.

Edit (November 13, 2015): You can now check out our data and the code we used to scrape the data on our GitHub.

Footnotes   [ + ]

Jeb Bush’s Chance at Nomination May Be Overstated

Set aside for a moment the media frenzy surrounding Donald Trump and the recent rise in polling by Ben Carson, Jeb Bush remains seen as the frontrunner in the Republican presidential nomination race. The folks over at FiveThirtyEight subjectively give him the best chance to win the nomination, the prediction markets are giving Bush the best chance to win, and until August, a plurality Republicans thought he was the most likely to win. Despite the recent success of Donald Trump, many still believe that after Trumpmania dies down, Bush will be left standing and will eventually become the inevitable candidate. To be clear, no one is particularly excited about Bush and pretty much everyone realizes that, but many seem to think that Bush will eventually get the nod from the Republican party. However, looking more closely at the numbers tells a completely different story.

This early in the race, polls tell us virtually nothing about the race. Candidates tend to take turns getting caught in a sort of feedback loop: their polling surges a bit, the media begins to talk about them more, leading their polling to surge and so on. Because of that feedback loop, polls months away from the first caucuses and primaries are virtually useless as predictors. Instead, many tend to look towards endorsements from party elites in what is known as the “invisible primary.” However, these endorsements have failed to produce any level of consensus in the Republican party this year. In 2012, Republican elites fairly quickly coalesced around Mitt Romney, so even though his polling fluctuated, he was the favored establishment candidate. This year, Jeb Bush has more endorsements than any other candidate, only barely edging ahead of Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker.

However, while voters may change the candidate they support between now and February, how voters feel about candidates is less volatile. Because of the high level of variability in polls, polls which  When it comes down to it, there are certain metrics that may indicate how well a candidate can expect to do.

The first, most publicized of these metrics is favorability. Polls often ask the public if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of many public figures, including the President, Congressional leaders, certain Cabinet members and political candidates. In our case we are concerned with these opinions as they pertain to the Republican primary candidates. Rather than talk about pure favorable or unfavorable percents though, it is often more useful to look at what is referred to as “net favorability,” which is simply the percent of people who view the person as favorable less those who view the person as unfavorable. For example, 40% of Americans view the Democratic Party as favorable, while 49% view them as unfavorable, resulting a net favorability of -9%. The net favorability for each of the Republican candidates, as aggregated by HuffPost Pollster are in the chart below.

Republican Net Favorability

Bush is very clearly at the bottom of the pack, with a Net Favorability of -28, while Ben Carson sits at the top of the pack with 12. Carson’s result and Carly Fiorina’s 1 are the only net positive favorability ratings of all the candidates. Trump, for his supposed polarizing, sits near the middle of the pack with a -8. The median net favorability is -11, while the mean is -11.33. However, for some of these candidates, their net favorability is not incredibly informative because of a general lack of knowledge surrounding them. To get a feel for name-recognition, we can look towards the same favorability ratings and look at the percent who respond with “Undecided” to each candidate. While not a perfect reflection of name-recognition (some may legitimately be undecided), it gives us a fairly good idea of it. The graph below represents that data for each candidate.

Republican Undecided Favorability

What this tells us is that for certain candidates, net favorability is not very informative since so many respondents of favorability polls simply don’t know enough to form an opinion of the candidate. So Jim Gilmore’s -14 net favorability and George Pataki’s -16 is not incredibly significant in view of the 68% and 51%, respectively, of those asked in polls who simply do not have an opinion of these candidates. However, since only 14% of respondents are undecided on Jeb Bush, his -28 net favorability is incredibly damning. Certainly, many associate Bush with his brother and father and may change their minds as they hear more about Jeb’s life story and policies, but he will be fighting an uphill battle in trying to do so.

The one potential downside to drawing inferences about the primary from net favorability is that net favorability reflects the entire American populace, and the primary only reflects Republicans. However, by many metrics, Bush is not more well liked among Republicans than others. For example, we can look at questions fielded by pollsters which are asking how Republicans would feel about each candidate winning the nomination. Each pollster asks this question in a slightly different way, so it is difficult to aggregate the results or compare them directly, but we can still examine each and draw a conclusion from them collectively. However, because each of the results is from a single sample of around 300-500 Republicans, they have a fairly large margin of error (~3-5%).

The first result comes from a poll fielded by CBS, which asks “Regardless of how you intend to vote in 2016, which one of these Republican presidential candidates would you be most dissatisfied with as the Republican nominee?” and the results are in the following chart.

Republican Dissatisfied

While Bush is not the candidate that the most Republicans would be dissatisfied with, he is second only to Donald Trump. He also is the highest of any of the establishment candidates, a group which includes Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham.

We can look at another poll released by CNN which asks Republicans if they would be “Enthusiastic”, “Satisfied but not enthusiastic”, “Dissatisfied but not upset” or “Upset” with each candidate if that candidate won the nomination. Looking first at the net result of the negative responses, we notice that almost half of Republicans would be dissatisfied or upset if Jeb Bush were to win the nomination.

Republican Dissatisfied/Upset

Bush leads the other candidates by 15%, outside of the margin of error of the poll (reported to be 4.5%). Similarly, when just looking at the percent of Republican voters who would be “Upset” with Jeb Bush’s nomination, Bush is leading, albeit by a smaller margin and within the margin of error.

Republican Upset

The CBS and CNN poll indicate a high level of dissatisfaction that many Republicans would feel with the nomination of Jeb Bush. Not only would a Bush nomination be disliked by many Republicans, Bush also faces a ceiling in the level of support among Republicans he can gain. A poll by Quinnipiac asked “Are there any of these candidates you would definitely not support for the Republican nomination for president?” yielding the below results.

Republican Would Definitely Not Support

18% of Republicans said they would definitely not support Bush, and while he could win the nomination without 18% of the votes (Mitt Romney won 52% of Republican primary votes), the fact that so many voters are already ruling out supporting Bush this early in the campaign does not bode well for him. A poll by NBC/WSJ asking “For each one, please tell me, yes or no, if you could see yourself supporting that person for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.”, putting Bush more towards the middle of the pack, but still with 40% of Republicans saying they would not support him.

Republican Could Not See Supporting

However, despite his being in the middle of the pack, Bush is still is ahead of all other leading establishment candidates except for Christie. Moreover, of the 11 candidates who will be debating on Wednesday, 5 of them are behind Christie, with Carson and Walker almost half of Bush’s result. Again, this does not by any means indicate that it is impossible for Bush to win, he can easily win with 40% of Republicans not supporting him, but it does severely limit the size of the base from which Bush can draw supporters, making his candidacy very difficult.

While it may seem like many things are going Jeb Bush’s way, from his $114 million war chest to his tentative frontrunner status in the endorsement primary, he is ultimately not that well liked by the general voting population and his own Republican party. Even if Jeb Bush does win the nomination, the lack of enthusiasm around his candidacy and the many Republicans who would never support Bush in the primaries may translate into a lack of excitement in the base during the general election. One of the biggest arguments for Bush is the electability argument, an argument which becomes moot if he fails to turn out Republican voters, let alone swing independents.

Right now, candidates like Carson, Fiorina and Trump are doing fairly well in the polls. However, these candidates are liked for their personality and not any set of substantive policies. As the first caucuses and primaries draw closer, the Republican elites will likely throw most of their weight behind a candidate, and this candidate will likely be an establishment candidate. Essentially, the elites will be choosing from Bush, Walker, Rubio, Christie and Kasich. But while the conventional wisdom seems to indicate they would throw their weight behind Bush, if these elites are looking at the same numbers as the ElectoralStatistics team is, they would do well to first recognize the myriad limitations that Bush faces in his quest to become the Republican nominee for president.