Donald Trump has a good chance to effectively wrap things up on March 15. Polls show him with a 20-point lead in Florida (where early voting opened as Marco Rubio was tanking), putting him on track to take all of its 99 delegates in the winner-take-all primary. If Rubio fails to win Florida, it’s difficult to see him staying in the race. Here’s how our model sees that race playing out:
Change four variables, though, and the race takes on a different flavor:
- Rubio drops out after Florida. His supporters go 75% to Kasich, 20% to Cruz, and 5% to Trump (yes, that’s a total guess).
- Kasich wins Ohio. This isn’t a huge stretch; he leads Trump in current polling averages, and the 6-7% Rubio numbers may heed his strategic-voting advice.
- Trump’s poll numbers are his ceiling. Until our last update, our model split the “undecided” votes (i.e. the difference between 100 and the sum of the candidates’ support) proportionally. We’ve added a number of different scenarios. The one that tracks most closely to reality is that Trump’s polls are his ceiling; the biggest difference in his favor, according to the excellent fivethirtyeight.com poll average, was the 3.3% miss in Massachusetts. On average, he comes in below his polls 1-2%.
- Cruz wins Illinois. He trails Trump by 6 points in the late fivethirtyeight.com average, but when we apply the “Trump ceiling” rule, he comes within a single point.
Based on that, Trump misses. the target by about 20 votes. Still not an ideal outcome for the #NeverTrump camp, but it doesn’t require too many logical leaps.
Stretching a bit further into supposition, Rubio’s dropout could broaden the gap:
- Kasich or Cruz win Pennsylvania. Rubio dropping out would put the three remaining candidates within a point or two of each other (possibly favoring Kasich, as Rubio still polls strongly here). Kasich may end up off the ballot, though.
- Kasich or Cruz win Maryland. There, they really would all get a third under our polling split.
This setup would already have Cruz winning Wisconsin and Kasich winning California, based on Rubio’s support pushing them over the edge. That’s about as close to a NeverTrump dream scenario that the numbers currently bear out. It would have the weird effect of an all-out fight in California (!), but perhaps March 15 will shed a bit more light on Rubio’s future, and on Trump’s ceiling.