The biggest problem in forecasting races is that political pundits think voters are paying attention to the same things they are. They assume an electorate is more focused on individual issues or any real issues than individual (physical) traits or personalities. They leave out the “science” that voters gravitate towards candidates that remind them of themselves, regardless of their policies. And that is why pundits are so continously wrong. [It’s one of the reasons they think young progressive voters actually care about Bernie’s agenda and ability to accomplish it instead of that they just don’t like Hillary and burned through hopes that Biden/Cuomo/Warren/Anybody else would run.]
It’s why I predicted Jeb Bush wouldn’t win a single state (in episode 5 of “A Year Long Conversation”) and Trump would win at least 15 to 20 when everyone said that was impossibly bullish. It’s why I’m kicking myself for agreeing with them that it would be hard for Trump to win, and Rubio would eventually take it in a squeaker. And it’s why they’re making an even bigger mistake now, swallowing a whopper of an assumption that voters even know—or care—that Rubio is “the establishment” candidate, and would vote for him in winning numbers if only Kasich and Jeb dropped out.
Well, Jeb is out, and that means his votes are going to come into play in Nevada and all the upcoming Super-Tuesday states, and Kasich is barely even campaigning in Nevada and in fact won’t even be there when results are announced. The typical media wisdom is that Rubio is poised to beat Trump now that Jeb is out, and as soon as Kasich and Carson make it official. The typical media wisdom is, as usual, dead wrong. This is a case of what they want to happen—Rubio being winner by combining his votes with Bush’s and Kasich’s and Carson’s—more than what is believable.
It ignores identity politics and demographic politics. In short: “I vote for people who look like me.” Pollsters are never shy to tell us that African-Americans overwhelming approve of the job Obama is doing and older women love Hillary, but they leave out the part where this applies to almost every group. Like Mitt Romney dominating the older white male vote in 2012.
They assume an old white male who practically vibrates “Midwestern” like Kasich is drawing from the same pool as the younger, Cuban, noticeably more “metrosexual” and urban Rubio simply because people keep telling voters that they’re both “establishment” candidates. In fact, a lot of casual observers I’ve talked to—people who don’t even know what channel MSNBC is—barely seem to know the difference between Rubio and Cruz. The same way I sometimes mix-up Ron Paul/Paul Ryan/Rand Paul or confuse Troy Gowdy and Gomer Pyle.
They’re both senators in their first term. They’re both from Southern states. They’re both Cuban, and argue about immigration. They both bring up abortion a lot. Both are artificial candidates prone to sound bites and being uncomfortable whenever spontaneity is called for. So you could see where casual voters would see “two Southern, Cuban, scripted first-term senators who don’t like each other and argue about immigration” and maybe get a little fuzzy on why they should care.
The Republican Party really cares about the difference between Rubio and Cruz, but I’m not sure the Republican base really does or cares to learn. Both Cruz and Rubio aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and I predict they’ll split more than enough votes in March, that it’ll be too late by the time one of them drops out in April or May. Because when two candidates that similar go head-to-head, people often choose the third option: enter Donald J. Trump, a guy nobody could mistake for anyone else.