Nobody Is Leading Yet

Photo from NPR

Many people in the news are touting polls showing who is currently leading the presidential race. In reality, nobody is leading at this time. Polls are a good snapshot in time of a sample of a population’s opinions at the time the question was asked, but people often change their minds within five months.

Samples are sometimes different than the sample that is voting in the election. In many states, the primary electorate turnout is 20-35% compared to 55-70% in a general election. That is a major reason why primary polling is less reliable and more difficult than general election polling. Dozens of events happen between September and February. Ideology is not the deciding factor in a candidate’s electability. Both moderates and conservatives can win. Better to look at which committee is doing the things that are needed to be done to win next year, not in 2015. This is the pre-season.

So who has the best chance to win? There are three major factors to consider.

One factor is candidate quality. Candidate quality is sometimes obvious. If your candidate is a bad candidate, it doesn’t matter how much money is spent or what kind of organization the campaign committee has. It is akin to putting lipstick on a pig.

Candidates who say dumb things usually do not win. Candidates who are lazy usually do not win.  Candidates who do not know how to run a campaign usually do not win. Candidates who are unknown to voters usually do not win.

Candidates who speak with credibility, are personable, and are visible to voters tend to do better as long as they aren’t in the news for major blunders. This will sort itself out and narrow much of the field.

Another factor is fundraising. Everybody talks about fundraising and it is as important as everybody says it is. There were approximately one million Republican presidential primary voters in Michigan in 2012. A post card stamped direct mail piece sent to each of those voters would cost $350,000. That’s a single mailing. Bulk rate would be cheaper, but direct mail is still very expensive.

Television and radio advertisements are not cheap in urban media markets. Signs are not cheap. That does not take into account employee salaries, consulting contracts, and all other parts of a campaign committee. The October fundraising cash-on-hand numbers will be telling for the candidates and their unconnected independent expenditure committees (Super PAC). You do not need to necessarily lead in fundraising, but need to be able to fund a campaign.

The Republican leaders in hard money receipts as of June 30th are Senator Ted Cruz, Former Governor Jeb Bush, Dr. Ben Carson, and Senator Marco Rubio. The Republican leaders in cash on hand (receipts minus spending) are Rubio, Cruz, Bush, and Carson. Governors John Kasich and Scott Walker along with Donald Trump did not have committees until after July 1st so they did not have their numbers reported. Candidates who have large Super PACs supporting them are Bush, Cruz, Walker, and Rubio. A lot of the TV ads you will see are from Super PACs.

The last factor to consider is organization. Organization is the biggest key to any win. It can cause an underdog to win, or a frontrunner to lose. In a close race, it often makes the difference. The key to win the nomination is to win the most RNC delegates. Good campaigns will not set up fly by night organizations in states, all of which are different. Good campaigns instead will have their infrastructure in place early with as many volunteers as possible. They will know the rules for the primary/caucus in each state.

Some primaries are decided proportionally by congressional district. This caused Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney to almost tie in Michigan despite Romney winning statewide.  Some are open primaries. Some are caucuses. Some are closed primaries. Those significantly change the electorate in each state.

In some communities, over 50% of the vote is cast before Election Day via absentees. Absentee votes are often out as early 45 days before the election. Michigan’s March 8th earliest ballots will actually be out in January, before Iowa has their caucus. Those concentrating on New Hampshire and Iowa only may be costing themselves absentee support in early March states. Any campaign worth anything has a plan to reach absentee voters. Good campaigns have supporters going door to door to likely voters. Good campaigns have presence at community events. That is a good counterbalance to the media favorite candidates and TV ad campaigns.

If you are looking to see who is leading at this point, look at the candidate quality, the fundraising of the committee, and the organization of the committee. Those three factors show the greatest likelihood for a candidate to be considered for the long haul. Over the next few months, we will take a close look at the early states and potential paths to winning those states in the 2016 nomination campaign.