Nate Silver notes that Donald Trump's poll numbers are improving in the home stretch of the primaries, and he suspects that that's because voters are buying Trump's "rigged system" argument:
Donald Trump has had a good run of numbers lately. While his victory in New York this week was expected, he got 60 percent of the vote, more than the roughly 55 percent projected by the polls. He appears headed for victories in Maryland and Pennsylvania, which vote on Tuesday. He’s gained ground in California and is narrowly ahead of Ted Cruz in the first public polls of Indiana. He’s added about 2 percentage points over the past two weeks in our national polling average.
... it’s possible that Trump has moved a few voters into his column with a series of process arguments that he’s been pressing recently. The more restrained version, as you can see in a recent op-ed published under Trump’s name in The Wall Street Journal, is that the candidate who gets the most votes should be the Republican nominee -- that delegates shouldn’t upend the people’s verdict. In public speeches, Trump has taken the argument a step further, describing the GOP’s nomination process as “rigged” and “crooked.”
Polling suggests that a majority of Republicans agree with at least the milder version of Trump’s argument....
It ... helps that Trump’s system-is-rigged message is relatively simple and plays into the media’s master narrative of the Republican race as a conflict between the Republican base and the GOP “establishment.”
The problem for Ted Cruz right now is that Republican voters now associate him with the establishment and with insider corruption. First the establishment urged voters to pick him as the anti-Trump candidate, particularly in Wisconsin. Then it became clear that Cruz is really good at delegate finagling -- his people have been at it again this weekend:
Ted Cruz notched another delegate landslide Saturday, stretching his advantage in a competition that might never occur: the second ballot of a contested Republican National Convention in July.↓ Story continues below ↓
Cruz won at least 65 of the 94 delegates up for grabs Saturday (he may have won more than 65, but Kentucky’s 25 delegates haven’t revealed their leanings)....
On Saturday, he nearly won 19 of 20 seats available in Maine, losing just one to a Trump backer: Gov. Paul LePage. He also won all nine delegates on the ballot in three Minnesota congressional districts, picking up support in the lone state won by Marco Rubio. Cruz also grabbed one of three delegates in South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, while the other two went to an uncommitted delegate and a supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Cruz’s biggest windfall, though, came from Utah, where at least 36 of 37 national delegates will be aligned with Cruz, who crushed Trump in the state’s caucuses on March 22.
Cruz seems to be in excellent shape if the convention goes to a second ballot -- but if Silver is right, it seems that reports of what Cruz is doing are drawing enough voters additional voters to Trump that he could win enough pledged delegates for a first-ballot victory, while persuading voters that Trump should win even if he comes in just short of a majority, as Silver notes:
Last week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 62 percent of Republicans thought the “candidate with the most votes in the primaries” should become the nominee in the event that no candidate wins a majority of delegates, compared with 33 percent who said Republicans should choose the “candidate who the delegates think would be the best nominee.” Only 40 percent of Republicans had Trump as their first choice in the same poll, which implies that there’s a group of Republicans who personally don’t prefer Trump but wouldn’t want to deny him the nomination....
If Trump wins this thing, I hope Silver or some other number nerd is able to quantify how much Cruz screwed himself on the first ballot by helping himself on the second ballot. Hey, Ted, you may have been too clever by half.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog