Repeat after me: There is no such thing as momentum. Two weeks after Ted Cruz’s unexpectedly large victory in Wisconsin, New York Republicans look poised to deliver exactly the same blowout in favor of Manhattan’s own Donald Trump as they were before the Badger State supposedly changed the race. In fact, Cruz is now doing slightly worse in the RealClearPolitics New York primary poll average than he was when the day after the Wisconsin primary.
This will inevitably surprise pundits and casual commentators, but it shouldn’t. Careful reading of exit poll data show that candidates reach a relatively fixed share of the vote in each of the party’s major factions quite early in the race. Almost all of the variations we see are due to three factors: demographic and ideological differences in the GOP electorates of different states, candidate departures from the race, and whether a candidate is in his home state.
New York was always going to be difficult for Cruz because its electorate is both less conservative and less evangelical than most other states. Add in the fact that Trump is a New York native and Cruz was always fighting uphill.
Trump’s massive strength should also come as no surprise. He has always been doing better in states with large numbers of non-religious and Catholic voters, and New York’s GOP electorate have large shares of both. He also does much better with moderates and somewhat conservatives than with very conservative Republicans, and New York’s Republicans are decidedly to the left of the national party. Simple demographic analysis would always have suggested he would win with well over 40 percent of the vote; add in the home state advantage and you get the landslide margins that are about to unfold.
The RCP average has Trump a shade above 53 percent and there’s no reason to doubt that. Only one poll since Wisconsin has him below 50 percent — and that poll had a very high 15 percent undecided rate. Once the undecideds were asked whom they leaned toward, Trump’s share of the vote in that poll again exceeded 50 percent.
That 50 percent threshold is crucial because of the rules apportioning the Empire State’s delegates. Trump gets all fourteen statewide delegates if he exceeds 50 percent of the statewide vote, and he gets all three delegates from each of New York’s 27 congressional districts (CDs) if he breaks that level in that CD.
Data from the 2012 and 2008 races suggest that Trump should easily pass that level in 50-80 percent of the state’s CD’s if he reaches it statewide. I looked at every competitive race where a candidate received a share of the vote in the high 40s or low 50s and where CD-level data were available on the Green Papers. While there is regional variation, one should expect a candidate to receive within a a few percent of his statewide total in about 70 percent of the CDs. So if Trump gets the 53 percent he’s currently polling, expect him on past data to get 50 percent in about 19 of the state’s CDs.
That’s roughly what the only poll with a large enough sample to produce credible CD-level results shows. The Optimus poll had Trump ahead in all 27 districts, and in real danger of missing the 50 percent cutoff in only ten. Four of those were in New York City: the Manhattan-dominated Tenth (Upper West Side) and Twelfth (Upper East Side), and the heavily Black and Latino 13th (Harlem) and 15th (South Bronx). Six were in central and west New York: the 20th through the 25th, taking in all the territory north of the New York media market to the Canadian border and heading west until the Buffalo media market. Polls that break out the state’s regions confirm that this region is Trump’s weakest, and past election data show this is also the most conservative areas in the state.
I think it likely that Trump wins between 51 and 56 percent of the vote, with Kasich taking between 20 and 25 percent and Cruz between 18 and 25 percent. My best guess is Trump 54, Kasich 24, Cruz 20.
Winning 54 percent should give Trump majorities of the vote in between 17 and 22 CDs. My best guess is he will get all three delegates in 19 CDs.
He should win all the others, giving him two delegates each. Kasich should finish second in six of those seats, giving him six delegates. Cruz will finish second in two, giving him two delegates. The delegate totals should be Trump 87, Kasich 6, Cruz 2.
If Trump loses a district, it will likely come from the Tenth, Twelfth, 15th, 20th or 24th. The first two districts have large numbers of the very high income and highly educated Republicans who loathe him (indeed, the 12th is home to many of the GOP’s largest donors). The 15th has a tiny GOP electorate and could be swayed by evangelical Hispanics who cotton to Cruz. Trump also tends to do less well in university towns and state capitals, and the 20th (Albany) and 24th (Syracuse) fit one of these two categories.
The media will probably trumpet The Donald’s win as a game changer, a momentum shifter. Don’t believe them. It is simple the latest example of what we have known from the early days of the race: Donald Trump is the preferred candidate of the moderate, less-evangelical Republican. Since the states that vote on April 26 also have large numbers of moderate, non-evangelical Republicans, we should expect large Trump wins in those states as well. And nothing about the margin of Trump’s win today will have any effect at all on those races – or on the outcomes in the more Cruz-friendly states which will vote in May.