The Pulse: What to watch out for in Nevada and South Carolina

William JordanUS Elections Editor
February 19, 2016, 10:50 AM GMT+0

Hello, I'm Will Jordan and welcome to The Pulse.

This Saturday Republicans vote in a primary in South Carolina, while Democrats vote in a caucus in Nevada. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Do we already know who will win in South Carolina?
    In South Carolina, the odds are heavily in Donald Trump’s favor for first place. Polls conducted since Monday put him 5 to 17 points ahead. Second place is even more uncertain. Most put Ted Cruz narrowly ahead of Marco Rubio – but these were also largely conducted before Rubio won the coveted endorsement of popular SC governor Nikki Haley. Aside from looking good for Trump and Rubio, this raises the stakes tremendously for Ted Cruz. Cruz is supposed to do best in Southern states with large evangelical populations – like South Carolina. If he can’t perform well in a state like this, it will raise big questions about his path to the nomination.
  2. Is the party deciding?
    Donald Trump continues to lead in the polls, and he has zero endorsements from national elected officials. But the Haley endorsement adds to a growing list of elected Republicans backing Marco Rubio. Especially if he performs much better than Jeb Bush in South Carolina, the party establishment might finally coalesce around a single candidate – something they have been reluctant to do. South Carolina could possibly tip the GOP closer to a two-person race, and remove one of Trump's greatest advantages – a divided opposition.
  3. Will Republican primary voters listen to the Pope? On Friday, the Pope, asked about Donald Trump, indicated that anyone “who thinks only about building walls…is not a Christian”. The remarks made huge news. Donald Trump called them “disgraceful”. Does it hurt Trump? Probably not in South Carolina, where most GOP voters are evangelicals, not Catholics. Besides, most Republicans like the Pope, but they also like walls. When YouGov asked about constructing a wall along the Mexico-US border last July, Republicans favored the idea by 64-19, evangelicals by 51-23 – even Roman Catholics backed the idea by 44-36.
  4. Will the Clinton "firewall" survive Nevada?
    Bernie Sanders has shown he can perform well in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, but these states have especially white and liberal electorates. That is not the case in Nevada or South Carolina, as Clinton supporters often point out. In polls Clinton has led by huge margins among African-Americans and Latinos, and Nevada is the first test of whether that support will hold up. There has been very little polling in Nevada itself, but what there has been shows a much closer race than anyone expected even throughout January.
  5. What’s next?
    The lack of polling in Nevada has also helped heap more attention on South Carolina, where Democrats vote on Feb. 27. There, Clinton has held onto a roughly 20-point lead, driven by 40- to 50-point leads among African-Americans. On Friday she won the endorsement of Rep. Jim Clyburn, the state’s only congressional Democrat, who had said he would stay out of the primary – a big get. However, amid such headwinds Sanders doesn’t need to win to make an impression. Coming within 10 points of Clinton in the state would terrify her campaign and give him momentum heading into the early-March contests, which otherwise look good for Clinton.
  6. One more thing: Was Trump right to attack the Bush legacy?
    Trump made big news in a debate last week for hitting George W. Bush on Iraq and national security. Pundits were, once again, sure he had finally crossed the line. But YouGov found that 28% of Republicans thought he won the debate, topping Rubio (24%) and Cruz (18%).Not only that, according to a brand new YouGov poll the number of Republicans who say Bush did a “good” or “excellent” job keeping the US safe has fallen to 66% from 81% last September. The share who say the war in Iraq was not a mistake has fallen from 54% last may to 45% now. However, only 18% of Americans agree with Trump that Bush deliberately misled the public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (overall Americans tend to think Bush did mislead the public on WMDs, by 46-31). Here are the full results for that poll.

And finally here is the primary schedule:

Monday, February 1: Iowa caucuses
Tuesday, February 9: New Hampshire
Saturday, February 20: Nevada caucus (Dem); South Carolina (GOP)
Tuesday, February 23: Nevada caucus (GOP)
Saturday, February 27: South Carolina (Dem)
Tuesday, March 1: Super Tuesday

Follow me for constant updates on the race.

The Pulse is a weekly newsletter YouGov has launched ahead of the 2016 primaries and general election to give readers a one-stop-shop for the latest polling-related news from the campaign. In addition to YouGov’s own extensive coverage of the election, The Pulse gives you the five things you need to know about the state of the campaign each week (and one you don't need to know but we think is worth knowing anyway!).