Nate Silver Forecast: A Bad Day for Newt Gingrich in the Florida Republican Presidential Primary

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has gotten some powerful new allies in his battle against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the Republican establishment: polarizing talk show host Rush Limbaugh, former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Ronald Raegan’s talks show/columnist son Michael Reagan and former GOP front runner Herman Cain. But Nate Silver — who has a good record when it comes to forecasts — doesn’t see this as being a very good day for Gingrich:

The shift away from Newt Gingrich in the Florida polls has been as significant as the one toward him in South Carolina. The first two polls released after South Carolina showed Mr. Gingrich with a lead of 8 and 9 points, respectively. But the news has gotten worse for him almost every day, and he trails Mitt Romney by nearly 15 points in the final FiveThirtyEight forecast of the Florida primary.

There is a relatively large amount of disagreement in the Florida polls — more than in the first three early-voting states. Some polls seem to imply a modest rebound toward Mr. Gingrich over the final 72 hours of the campaign, while others show continued momentum for Mr. Romney.

The disagreement may reflect, among other factors, the different ways in which pollsters handle early voting — perhaps one-third of votes in the Republican primary have already been cast by way of early or absentee ballots. And pollsters have different techniques for measuring the intentions of Hispanic voters, an increasing problem in survey research in Florida and other states.

Mr. Gingrich, however, has not held the lead in any Florida poll in roughly a week, and his odds of pulling off an upset are extremely slim. The FiveThirtyEight forecast model gives him just a 3 percent chance of victory.

Still the new media narrative in some conservative news circles of Gingrich picking up steam is a good, dramatic one. Who care if it’s flimsy? And then there’s this little factoid: a lot of GOPers already cast absentee ballots — some of them cast before Gingrich was “reborn” by pushing the anti-media hot button during the debate in South Carolina.

Although polls of primary elections are subject to much larger errors and anomalies than those of general elections, Mr. Gingrich would need to overcome roughly twice the polling deficit that Hillary Clinton did in her upset win over Barack Obama in the 2008 New Hampshire primary. And he would need to do so despite Mr. Romney having accumulated what is almost certainly a substantial head start in early voting.

Other than a more-or-less spontaneous revolt by Florida voters against the expectation that they will elect Mr. Romney, it is hard to see how that 3 percent scenario materializes.

In other words:
–If Romney loses it’ll be a huge upset.
–If Romney wins by a tiny bit it’ll be a huge upset.

But Newt (and Rush and Sarah etc) are NOT going away and we look as if we’ll be seeing a 21st century version of Teddy Kennedy versus Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan versus Gerald Ford — with the same eventual outcome.

The irony, of course, is that Gingrich’s new vocal allies are exactly the kind of Republicans who will scare away independent voters, moderates and centrist Democrats in a general election. If the real goal is winning the White House.

If…

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