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Analysis: GOP Nominations 2008, 2012 and 2016 – Polls vs Actual Outcome + My Prediction

National Polls

Donald Trump continues to dominate and is increasing his lead nationally over the rest of the field. In the latest CNN poll, Trump sets a new high mark at 41% with Ted Cruz a distant second at 19%. And a second just released poll from ABC has just about the same findings with Trump at 37% and Cruz with 21%. Over the past couple of weeks, the two have been going back and forth as the “truce” came to an end.

In the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Trump is leading with 36.2%, Cruz is second with 19.3% and Rubio stands in third at 11%.

Due to changes in the rules (explained below) primaries are later this year. In 2008 and 2012 Iowa held it’s caucus on January 3. So 6 days before the Iowa caucus in 2008 it was still December 2007. And the national averages according to RCP showed:

2008 National Average

Poll Date
RCP Average 6 Days To Go 21.5 17.3 15.5 14.5 11.8 4.3 Giuliani +4.2

2008 Election Synopsis

So at this point in 2008, Giuliani was leading in the polls with Huckabee second and the eventual nominee McCain in third place down 6 points. In 2008, Giuliani banked his fortune on winning Florida and did not actively campaign in the early states. Florida was the earliest state with a lot of delegates to win (57) and enough retired New Yorker’s that he hoped would give him the win and a lot of momentum. After a third place finish on January 29, 2008, Rudy was done and pulled out of the race. This left Huckabee, McCain and Romney.

Huckabee won Iowa, McCain New Hampshire. By mid January, Huckabee hit a dru spell and it looked like Romney was the top dog with McCain pulling up in second. Romney was pretty well positioned being born in Michigan, Governor of Massachusetts and a Mormon he got the New England vote and the Western States around Utah.

McCain’s win in Florida gave him momentum heading into Super Tuesday – February 5th where 21 states had primaries on that day. Huckabee managed just 155 delegates, Romney 189 and McCain came away with a whopping 605! So by February 5, 2008 the nomination process was over. Rudy Giuliani, although leading for a long time, not unlike Jeb Bush this year, picked a strategy that was doomed to fail. Huckabee did well in the South, but the number of southern states that were in on the February 5th primaries were not nearly enough to overcome the lead McCain amassed. the key to McCain’s victory was picking up his home state of Arizona and it’s western neighbor California. And with Rudy out of the race, McCain picked up New York. Those three states gave McCain nearly half of his 605 one day total – 295 delegates!

What did the polls reflect after the voting started? McCain lost in Iowa, but did manage a third place finish. And his poll numbers, Huckabbe’s and Romney’s were around 15% – 17% just before the Iowa caucus. During the next few days, Romney won in Wyoming, Michigan and Nevada as expected. McCain won New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. McCain’s polling went from 17% when the voting started in Iowa to 43% by Super Tuesday. Just before Super Tuesday Romney was at 24% and Huckabee was at 18%. McCain peaked on March 3, 2008 at 57%. And he went on to win the nomination.

So how accurate were the polls in 2007 – 2008?

Going back to February 2007 right up until the first primary, Rudy Giuliani led the field. He started out at 33% and peaked at 38% in March and leveled off in the mid 20’s right up until December 1. He continued to decline after the voting and dropped out. So the early favorite was not the nominee. Romney started out in single digits and low teens until the voting started and he had a brief uptick as he won a few states and after Super Tuesday he sputtered and dropped out. Huckabee got a bump coming out of Iowa where he did well with the Evangelicals. And he started a slide right up until Romney dropped out and Huckabee picked up a bit of steam as Romney supporters moved a bit towards him. McCain started in the mid 20’s and then settled in to the mid to low teens until the Iowa Caucus. His third place finish gave him some momentum going into New Hampshire. His win there started his track on a steep climb going from 17% to 43% during January. By the time Super Tuesday hit, McCain was on an incredible upswing in the polls that could not be overcome.

2012 National Average

Poll Date
RCP Average 6 Days To Go 27.6 25.0 12.2 6.6 3.8 3.8 1.8 Gingrich +2.6

2012 Election Synopsis

In 2012, Mitt Romney was the eventual nominee. Romney started out as the favorite in February 2011 where he was polling at just under 20%. Newt Gingrich started out in second place at around 10% with Ron Paul in third at about 6%. This was an interesting year as we saw several of the candidates rocket in the polls and burn out, like a signal flair in the night. This was mostly due to good debate performances, but was not a sustainable rise. Rick Perry, on the other hand, shot to the top when he got in the race and jumped to 31% while Romney dropped to 16.5%. And then there was the debate. Perry shot himself in the foot being unable to remember the three government agencies he promised to shut down. He never recovered. And Romney floated back to the top. The came Herman Cain who is a very articulate man who immediately grabbed the attention of GOP voters. No doubt his race was seen as a plus with many voters who thought a black nominee would match up perfectly with Obama. But for many, Cain simply had substance and experience. Then came the infidelity accusations that always seem to sink Republicans. And we stuck a fork in Cain. He was done. But before Romney could recover the lead, Newt Gingrich had his famous moment chastising the liberal reporters during a debate. His flare shot up to 35% in December and quickly went out, meanwhile Romney started an upward slope. So going into the Iowa Caucus, Newt still had a slight lead, but was headed down while Romney was rising.

Then the voting started and Rick Santorum, who was polling in the low single digits pulled of a shocking upset in Iowa. He actually won! Only by 34 votes as he manages 29,839 to Romney’s 29,805. It was Santorum’s turn for the flair. He went from single digits to 34% and then it became clear he had no money, no ground game and wasn’t listed on the ballots in a number of states. He did much like Giuliani had done in 2008 betting his ranch on one state. Although he won the state, he could not sustain a campaign long. The next flair would be the second for Newt Gingrich. Of course Romney won New Hampshire, but Newt managed to win South Carolina next to his long time Georgia home state. But Newt, also lacking funding, put his eggs in the Florida basket. If he could win Florida … but a second place finish did not swing the momentum his way.

Super Tuesday was March 6, 2012. It wasn’t as “super” as 2008 with only 10 states participating, but Romney was on the upswing in the polls at 38% and rising, Santorum was in decline in the mid 20’s with Gingrich at 15% and Paul at 10%. At the end of the day, Romney amassed 221 delegates, Santorum 97, Gingrich 81 and Ron Paul with 21. And at that point, the contest was essentially decided and Romney had won.

2016 National Average

Poll Date
RCP Average 1/7 – 1/24 36.2 19.3 11.0 7.8 5.0 3.7 2.8 2.4 2.2 1.8 0.2 Trump +16.9

2016 Election Analysis

In 2008 Rudy Giuliani let the entire way right up until the voting. In 2012 Romney led the entire way except for those flares that went up and came back down. And Romney took off for good just after the voting started. In 2016, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker looked like the top contenders. But within 3 or 4 weeks of entering the race Trump took the lead in July and except for about a day where Carson let by .2% (two tenths) he has held a strong lead ever since. We saw a few small flairs. Jeb went up to 18% just before Trump started his rise. And then Bush dropped to the low single digits. Fiorina had a small but short flair. then Ben Carson had a really good run, peaking at almost 25% before dropping loke a stone. Carson is now in single digits and not likely to rise again. As Carson fell, Trump continued to rise. But we also saw Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio start to rise. Right around December 7, 2015 we say a crossover where Carson, Cruz and Rubio were pretty much tied in the RCP average with Trump still ahead. It was there that Rubio joined Carson in a steady decline. Cruz and Trump have been on the rise with the gap between them remaining steady at about 15% in Trump’s favor. So as support drifts away from Carson and Rubio the voters look to be splitting between the two top candidates, Trump and Cruz.

But the last few polls seem to show Cruz in a stall and Trump seeing record highs as he continues to tick upward. The bad news for Cruz is that in the past 2 weeks he has gone from 20.7% down to a 19.3% average while Trump has seen a slight rise from 34% to 36.2%. It may well be that both of these are a blip, but I expect a lot more polls to be released over the next 6 days. And we will see if the trend continues.

Let’s take a look at two National polls that were released today to see where the two stand in them:

New CNN Poll:

Donald Trump has hit a new high in the race for the Republican nomination, according to a new CNN/ORC Poll, with more than 4-in-10 Republican voters nationwide now saying they back the billionaire.

And more than two-thirds of Republicans say he’s the candidate most likely to capture their party’s presidential nomination.

Trump has topped the 40% mark for the first time in CNN/ORC polling, standing at 41%. That more than doubles the support of his nearest competitor, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who notches 19% support in the poll. No other candidate hit double-digits. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio landed at 8%, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 6%, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 5%, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 4%, and the rest at 3% or less.

Despite the new high-mark for Trump, the GOP race remains fairly stable compared with where it was in the most recent CNN/ORC poll in late December.

In that poll, Trump stood at 39%, Cruz at 18% and Rubio at 10%. Carson’s 4-point dip, from 10% to 6%, between the two surveys is the largest change in the field, and it is not large enough to be a statistically significant change given the new poll’s 5-point margin of sampling error.

Trump’s lead is clearly significant, however, and the poll finds him well ahead of the field among a range of GOP subgroups. He leads among both men and women, younger and older voters, white evangelicals, conservatives and both self-identified Republicans and independents who lean toward the party.

There are two subgroups where Trump’s lead is less dominant: college graduates and tea party supporters. Even among those groups, however, he remains at the head of the pack. Among those holding degrees, 26% back Trump, 20% Cruz, and tea party supporters split 37% for Trump, 34% for Cruz.

Trump’s supporters are more likely than those backing other candidates to say that they’ve definitely made up their mind (70% of Trump’s supporters say they are locked in compared with 40% who back other candidates).

And the prospect of a Trump candidacy generates more enthusiasm overall (40% of Republican voters say they would be enthusiastic about a Trump nomination) than the possibility of Cruz (25% enthusiastic) or Rubio (18% enthusiastic) at the head of the ticket.

Trump’s dominance continues when voters assess which of the GOP candidates would best handle top issues.


One week before the first votes of the 2016 campaign are cast, Donald Trump has solidified his standing nationally, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Republicans see Trump as strongest candidate on major issues and by far the most electable in the large field of GOP hopefuls.

Amid this political climate, Trump has maintained his place atop the Republican field for six months. He currently receives the support of 37 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, almost identical to the 38 percent support he enjoyed a month ago.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas runs second in the national survey with 21 percent, surpassing his previous high of 15 percent in December. Third place belongs to Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at 11 percent, virtually unchanged from 12 percent a month ago.


These two polls may be the start of Trump pulling away. We will have to see more data to look at the trends up to the Iowa caucus. But it is Trump that is in the driver’s seat and Rubio is hitting Cruz hard, and Trump is as well.

So let’s look at the standings in the first four primary states:



The Iowa Caucus is later this year than in the past as the Republican Party cracked down on the practice of states jockeying for influence by trying to hold the earliest primary or caucus. In 2008 and 2012 the Iowa caucus was January 3. Which meant that Christmas in Iowa was disrupted by commercials, door knocks and phone calls. And in addition, the long drawn out primary season saw the Republicans “eating their own” for months as the process dragged out. The net result was that whoever the final nominee was, they would limp into the general election wounded and bleeding from the long, brutal nomination process.

So the Republican National Committee set harsh new rules to compress the process into a shorter time period. The earliest a state could caucus or primary was set for February, but only the historically first 4 states were allowed this “privilege”. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are the only states allowed to hold their nomination contest in February. The penalty for ignoring the rules is severe. Except for the “first 4 states” any state holding their nomination contest before March will be allowed only 9 delegates, or for states with fewer delegates, only 1/3 of their total. So a state trying to increase their influence by going first will actually lose influence.


Cruz has been working hard in Iowa. He has a top notch ground game and his rallies often resemble a church service as Cruz panders for the Evangelical vote. Several polls show that this is not working particularly well for him as his support is slipping among Evangelicals. A new NBC poll shows that Cruz is an astonishing 17 points behind Trump with this group of voters. And since Trump started a hard push in Iowa, the WaPo notes that Trump has seen a 15 point rise in the first caucus state:

Earlier this month, Fox News released a poll showing Ted Cruz leading Donald Trump by four points. The two had a sizable lead over everyone else in the state, and the poll was confirming what others were showing: Cruz had an advantage.

On Sunday, Fox released another Iowa poll, with substantially different results. Now, Trump is up by 11 points, a 15-point swing in the two weeks between surveys. This poll, too, mirrors the recent trend: Trump has regained the advantage.

On January 6, Cruz peaked in Iowa at 32% in the RCP average to Trump’s 27%, a 5 point advantage for Cruz. Today Cruz has dropped to 27.5% with Trump at 33.2%. Almost an 11 point turnaround for Trump.

One reason may be that Trump is doing a bit of pandering of his own saying he is in favor of the Ethanol subsidies that is a big deal to Iowans while Cruz flatly opposes them.

New Hampshire

On January 9th, New Hampshire becomes the second state to enter the process with a primary. Just a normal, go to the polls and vote affair unlike the Iowa caucus.


Trump has led by double digits in New Hampshire since he got into the race. He leads the pack now by almost 20 points. Cruz, Rubio and Kasich are all in a knot between 10% and 13% to Trump’s 33% average. In the last 3 weeks, the battle for second place has been pretty level with no one gaining much ground. Trump, however, has gone from 26% to 33%.

South Carolina

On February 20, 11 days after New Hampshire South Carolina will hold it’s primary.


South Carolina polling looks a lot like New Hampshire except that Cruz is doing a bit better there. Rubio, Bush and the rest are hovering arounf the 10% mark with Cruz at 19.5%. Trump is well ahead with 36%. In the last two weeks, Cruz has dropped from 22% to 19.5% while Trump has risen from 33% to 36%.


Nevada is another caucus state that will chime in on February 23.


Polling is very scarce in Nevada. The last poll was during Christmas and showed Trump up 13% and the previous poll, in October, showed Trump up 16%. As we have seen, the polls have been trending positive for Trump the las 2 to 3 weeks in particular so Nevada does not have enough recent information to give an accurate picture.


Looking back at the last two presidential nomination events, it is clear that the early states have a great deal of influence on the tone of the contest. If a candidate wins, places or shows in Iowa, they will see a bump. Or at least not too much of a slide for a second or third place finish. But the candidates that win 2 out of 3 are the heavy favorite going forward.

Trump has a chance to win all 3 of the early contests, and probably Nevada. As we have seen, Trump has a definite positive momentum going into Iowa and Cruz – at best – is in a stall or slight decline in these states.

If Trump wins all 3, or even 2 of the 3 it will be just about impossible for the other candidates to overcome this lead. Not so much on the Delegate count, but on the momentum, as we have seen from 2008 and 2012.

On March 1 we have 14 states and American Samoa having either a caucus or a primary. There has only been polling in 4 of those states, most of it old, but Trump has the lead in all of them. I expect we will be seeing polls after Iowa and New Hampshire. The picture may change then as we get real time data.

With Trump seeming to have the momentum going into Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada it is hard to not see a very likely possibility that Trump will win all four. And looking at past early primaries, such a run would seal the nomination as voters move to the winner.

The other wild card in the process is the candidates that drop out. Their supporters will go to someone. And most of these candidates are of the more left wing portion of the GOP. And recent signals from Bob Dole and others indicate that in a two way race between Trump and Cruz, most GOPe folks see Trump as far more likable than Cruz and more willing to work with the “establishment” end of the party. Cruz supporters will see GOPe support as a negative, and I would tend to agree from a conservative perspective, but the net effect will be a lot more delegates for Donald Trump. The number of undecided voters is dwindling and Trump and Cruz are likely to see a split with an edge to the populist Trump message. And as candidates drop, the largest move will be towards Trump.

Iowa can be a wild card. Santorum proved that, but there is no candidate that concentrated only on Iowa this year. Cruz has a great ground game, but Trump is drawing massive crowds. And he has a good ground game as well. And I believe that in any state, Trump supporters have shown a willingness to stand outside in the cold for hours hoping to get in. They will turn out for the caucus and the primaries.

The only place where Cruz has a shot is Iowa. And even if he manages a victory, it will not be by much. And the delegates are split. So even if Trump wins, I see Cruz as second place. Huckabee will likely be done after Iowa and possibly Santorum. Their voters will probably go to Kasich and Rubio for the most part.

In New Hampshire, Donald Trump is leading and should win by a good margin. The only question is who will come in second. Depending on who drops out, Kasich could come out as the second place finisher ahead of Cruz. And if Trump wins Iowa and Cruz comes in third in New Hampshire, the door will be swinging shut on Cruz.

And Trump should easily win South Carolina. Cruz stands to come in second, but a loss in Iowa and third place in New Hampshire will likely see Rubio or even Jeb Bush take a distant second.

I believe after South Carolina we will see either Bush or Rubio drop out, odds favoring Bush to be gone. If Rubio goes out before Bush, I doubt the Rubio support will go to Bush. It won’t go to Cruz either. Trump would be the logical move.

The order of attrition makes a difference as some supporters would move from one RINO to another.

Don’t count out Marco Rubio. If the candidates fall out in just the right order it isn’t impossible to see Rubio pass Cruz for second place. Odds makers in Vegas see a Trump nomination as very likely at -200 odds. For the non gamblers that means you would have to wager $200 to win $100 if Trump wins. Not a bet you would take. But Rubio comes in at +250 and Cruz a pretty long shot to win at +900.

But I will go out on a limb and say Trump runs the table in the first 4 contests and that sets him up for a big run on Super Tuesday.

Nomination: Trump.


About Tom White

Tom is a US Navy Veteran, owns an Insurance Agency and is currently an IT Manager for a Virginia Distributor. He has been published in American Thinker, currently writes for the Richmond Examiner as well as Virginia Right! Blog. Tom lives in Hanover County, Va and is involved in politics at every level and is a Recovering Republican who has finally had enough of the War on Conservatives in progress with the Leadership of the GOP on a National Level.

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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