GOP elites are likely to breathe a sigh of relief tonight as Ted Cruz wins Wisconsin’s primary. But they shouldn’t make that breath a deep one: I think the result will be closer than most polls suggest, and nothing in polls taken elsewhere show any significant drop in Trump’s support.
The race will be closer than expected is simple: I suspect most polls are over sampling very conservative voters. The CBS/YouGov poll certainly is: it shows Cruz ahead statewide by 6 points while showing that very conservatives will significantly outnumber somewhat conservatives. That won’t happen: very conservative voters have always been smaller in size in the Badger State than somewhat conservatives, and exit polls this year show that the share of somewhat conservatives in the GOP electorate is UP, not down, from prior years. Since Cruz gets all of his lead and then some from this group (he’s ahead 68-22 among them in the CBS/YouGov poll and 61-25 among them in the FOX Business poll), over counting them means over estimating Cruz’s margin.
The poll whose estimate of the GOP electorate comes closest to prior patterns, PPP, not coincidentally has Cruz ahead by only 1 point.
I do nevertheless think Cruz will prevail. He is winning over the former Rubio voters, who skewed to the somewhat conservative faction, and thus is either running slightly ahead or roughly tied with Trump among that key ideological faction. This is a big improvement over prior states and is indicative of a successful campaign.
Accordingly, I think Cruz will win by about three points, 41-38. Kasich gets 18, and the rest is scattered among the dropouts. My ranges are Cruz 37-45, Trump 33-40, Kasich 16-23. I think it is likelier that Cruz wins by 5-7 than Trump ekes out a win.
Wisconsin gives 18 delegates to the statewide winner and three delegates to the winner of each of the state’s eight Congressional Districts. Trump should win the blue-collar, Democratic-leaning 3d, and he should also run strongly in the rural 7th. If he loses by only 3 he will easily carry both.
Cruz should sweep the suburban Milwaukee 5th, and small sample polls of the CDs show him well ahead in Paul Ryan’s 1st. If Cruz wins statewide he should also carry the 6th, which combines many medium-sized counties in the Fox River Valley with a high-income Milwaukee suburban county, Ozaukee. That leaves the 2d (Madison), 4th (Milwaukee city), and 8th (Green Bay and environs) as the swing CDs. Some polling has Kasich doing very well in Madison’s Dane County, so that CD might be a three-way race. If Cruz wins by 3 I think he will win the 2d and 8th and lose the 4th. If he wins by much more than 3, he carries the 4th too.
My best guess on delegate allocation is Cruz 33, Trump 9, Kasich 0.