The Debates Begin

Aug. 5, 2014 — The first joint 2016 presidential event occurred Monday night at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, NH.  Managing a record-high 14 candidates, the forum was well organized and brought more policy discussion than we see in most programs of this type.  All Republican contenders but Donald Trump, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and ex-Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore participated.

As publicized, Trump did not attend because of his anger at the main sponsoring organization, the Manchester Union Leader, for what he described as their unfair treatment toward him.  It was reported at the end of the debate that Huckabee was not included because he responded after the inclusion deadline.  Ex-Gov. Gilmore, who just announced his candidacy last week, became a candidate too late to be invited to this particular forum.

Each candidate was separately interviewed, and then given a short amount of time to speak about whatever subject they desired.  The moderator, local New Hampshire radio host Jack Heath, was strong because he simply asked the question and backed away, thus giving each candidate a chance at providing unencumbered answers.

The Fox News debate, scheduled for tomorrow, limits the number of participants to 10.  Those invited come from the results of what will be an average of the last five national polls released directly before the debate.  The final tallies will be used to eliminate candidates even though the entire field is within the margin of polling error of the tenth and final position.

Averaging poll results is something that no polling firm or statistician does because all individual methodologies are different.  Additionally, many of the polls used to determine the group composition will undoubtedly have very small survey samples.  Fox’s own poll, released yesterday, questioned only 475 Republicans to represent the entire nation.  Such a number is closer to the size of a congressional district sample rather than one that represents all eligible GOP voters.

Looking at this latest Fox poll (Opinion Dynamics Corp; July 30-Aug. 3; 1,306 registered voters; 499 likely Democratic primary voters; 475 likely Republican primary voters), Donald Trump’s lead now almost doubles that of his closest competitor.  Trump scores 26 percent of the Republican sample with ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush claiming 15 percent.  The two are the only ones to land in double-digits.  Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is next with 9 percent, followed by Sen. Ted Cruz and ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee tied at 6 percent.  Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio pull 5 percent, and all the other candidates follow with less.

Interestingly, Trump has the most committed support and is close to being the most negatively regarded candidate.  Just over one-third of his 26 percent voter share say they will definitely vote for him, while 33 percent claim they will never support him.  The candidate notching the highest “never vote for” score was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham at 40 percent of the GOP sample.

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton’s position declines 11 points before the Democratic electorate, but she still attracts majority support.  She leads Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 51-22 percent.  Vice President Joe Biden follows with 13 percent Democratic support.

Though her advantage is declining at this point in time, neither Sanders nor Biden are threatening Clinton’s early hold on the nomination.

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