Hmmm: Trump under 50% in poll of New York for first time this month

Via Red State, not a huge deal but worth flagging in case there’s another poll this weekend showing his numbers dipping a bit in New York on the eve of the primary. That would suggest a trend, and that would be a big deal given what’s at stake. To be clear: Trump’s going to romp in NY on Tuesday night, winning by 25 points or better, and will pick up something like 75 delegates even in a worst-case scenario. But since his path to 1,237 is so difficult, it matters a lot whether he ends up with 75 in New York or 95, which is what he’d get if he sweeps the state. Every delegate he leaves on the table now will have to be made up for later; finishing with 75 in New York means he’ll likely need to find another 10-20 somewhere in California on June 7th, where he won’t have home-field advantage.

The reason this poll is significant (apart from the enormous 14,000-person sample size) is that 50 percent is a magic number in New York. If you hit 50 statewide, you get all 11 of the state’s at-large delegates. If you don’t, the second-place finisher gets some of them proportionally. More importantly, if you hit 50 percent in a congressional district, you get all three of that district’s delegates. If you don’t, you get two delegates and the second-place finisher gets one. There are 27 congressional districts, meaning that the difference between Trump hitting 49 percent in every district and hitting 50 there is … 27 delegates. That’s a big haul and potentially crucial to his ability to reach 1,237. (To put it in perspective, Cruz’s prize for sweeping Colorado’s delegate elections was 37 delegates.) So when a poll drops showing him at 49 percent statewide, we sit up and pay attention. The margins matter on Tuesday night. A lot.

If we direct our attention to the figure above, we can see that statewide he is also polling at 49%, so whether he’s able to take the statewide delegates by “winner-take-all” rules outright is up in the air. The even better news for Trump is that he’s hitting the 50% threshold in 11/27 districts and is within three percentage points of six more (see figure below). Just by keeping 50% in those 11 districts and a plurality in the others, Trump would get 65 delegates…

Further, if we look at shifts between the opinion shares we observed this week (4.11-4.13) and compare them to our last poll (3.22-3.24), we don’t see monumental moves against Trump across numerous districts (see figure below). We do note a generally favorable Kasich trend of between 2 and 6 points in most districts. While this is generally good, these shifts are unlikely to change the order of results, and thus unlikely to shift all-important delegate totals on Election Day. In other words, while we believe Kasich appears to be making some progress in many districts, it is not enough to change delegate totals significantly.

If Trump were to finish below 50 percent in 16 districts, that’s 16 delegates going to Kasich or Cruz (assuming the second-place finisher gets at least 20 percent of the vote, which seems inevitable in a three-way race). That’s … not a great outcome for Trump. If he also finishes below 50 statewide, that would cost him another four delegates by Phil Kerpen’s estimation. The last survey by this pollster, Optimus, taken three weeks ago had him winning 15 of New York’s 27 districts with an outright majority, meaning that he’s actually slipped a bit this month. A few days ago, Nate Silver published a state-by-state roadmap to the rest of the primaries and estimated that Trump needs 91 delegates from New York to stay on the path to 1,237. Silver’s more conservative projections of how he might do there put him in the low 80s. Optimus’s new data has him in the mid 70s. If there’s such a thing as having a “bad night” when you win a big state primary by crushing your opponents, that’s what it would look like.

But look: How likely is it, realistically, that Trump’s going to fall short in New York on Tuesday? Optimus found 14 percent still undecided in this poll. Among that 14 percent, 17 percent are already leaning Trump — more than are leaning Kasich or Cruz — and another 59 percent are still making up their minds. There’s every reason to think the bulk of them will end up tilting towards the native son who’s on TV 24/7. His average in NY at RCP over the last few weeks is 53.4 percent, with one recent poll putting him at 56 percent and another placing him at 60(!). There’s every reason to think he’ll crack 50 statewide and plenty of reason, I think, to believe that he’ll easily pull 50 in a majority of New York’s districts. If we’re being real, there are probably eight to 10 districts where there’s some suspense about the outcome, and the only suspense is whether Trump will win them with a plurality or majority. If his realistic worst-case scenario is, say, 88 delegates, then he’s basically still where he needs to be to clinch.

Here’s video of Ted Cruz speaking last night at the New York City GOP gala and finding himself roundly ignored, presumably because of his crack months ago about “New York values.” Trump can stand onstage at a national debate and smirkingly assure the country that he’ll issue illegal orders to the military and still be applauded by his local GOP, but God forbid you insult their parochial community pride.

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