Tea Leaves

Who Will Win South Carolina and Nevada? Here Are Seven Credible Predictions

Statistical models, betting markets, and the Internet weigh in. The most common pairing: Trump and Clinton.
Photographer: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Iowa went to Ted Cruz and (by a razor-thin margin) Hillary Clinton. New Hampshire went to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Now all eyes turn to Saturday's contests, the South Carolina Republican primary and Nevada Democratic caucuses, where candidates are hoping they can establish momentum to build upon for “Super Tuesday”—March 1, when 12 states and territories hold their primaries. After parsing everything from poll aggregations and betting markets to Google search data, a pattern is beginning to emerge. 

PredictWise: Trump in SC and Clinton in NV

The research project led by David Rothschild, an economist at Microsoft Research in New York City, successfully predicted the winner in 21 of the first 26 primary contests in 2012. As of Thursday, PredictWise gave Trump a nearly bulletproof 90 percent chance of winning in the Palmetto State. That estimate is way up from less than 40 percent before his solid win in the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary. Despite South Carolina's large evangelical population, Cruz, who has appealed aggressively to religious voters, has just a 5 percent chance of pulling out a victory, according to PredictWise.

Polls in Nevada show a neck-and-neck race between Clinton and Sanders, but the betting markets aggregated by Rothschild's model give Hillary a 62 percent chance of eking out a win.

FiveThirtyEight: Trump in SC and Clinton in NV

On Thursday, FiveThirtyEight.com, which is run by former New York Times stats guru Nate Silver, gave Trump an 85 percent chance of winning the South Carolina primary. Cruz, who is seen as having a 9 percent chance, is in a distant second place. An expanded prediction that tries to model the added impact of national polls and endorsements still has Trump in front, but only with 79 percent. 

On the Democratic side, the site gave Clinton a 64 percent chance of winning the Nevada Democratic caucus in its weighting of polls, which grows to 74 percent in the expanded version.

RealClearPolitics: Trump in SC and Democratic toss-up in NV

The site, which aggregates and averages polls, has Trump in the lead with support from 33.4 percent of likely South Carolina voters, nearly double second-place Cruz's 17.6 percent showing. He and Marco Rubio are within a point of one another, according to RCP. For Democrats, Clinton has a 2.4 percentage point lead in Nevada, but the average includes just three polls from 2016, and polls generally predict the outcomes of caucuses with less accuracy than they do primaries. 

Google Trends: Trump in SC and Sanders in NV

In South Carolina Trump accounted for the greatest share of candidate name searches on Google, with 35 percent of searches in the state. The next most-searched candidate was Cruz with 21 percent of searches, followed by Jeb Bush who narrowly beat Rubio for online interest, despite his protégé nabbing a coveted endorsement from South Carolina's popular governor, Nikki Haley. 

Sanders garnered 57 percent of Nevada search interest on the Democratic side.

Ballotcraft: Trump in SC and Sanders in NV

This fantasy politics game co-founded by two Stanford grads has thousands of players who, using fake money in an attempt to correctly predict debate and election results, buy shares in candidates. On Thursday afternoon, Ballotcraft put the chances of a Trump victory in South Carolina at 53 percent, up from around 35 percent before his win in the Granite State. He's followed by Cruz (26 percent) and Rubio (13 percent), whose odds fell from roughly 30 percent after Bush and Kasich's post-New Hampshire decision to stay in the race. Neither is expected to be the next Republican to drop out of the race, either. Ballotcraft's players are predicting that will be Ben Carson, instead.

Over in Nevada, Sanders went from trailing Clinton to opening up a clear lead in the past few days, with the site's users "anticipating Sanders' enthusiasm and growing appeal among minorities to overcome Clinton's advantage in demographics," says CEO Dennis Jiang. Sanders now has a 58 percent chance of winning the Democratic caucus there.

Facebook: Trump in SC and Clinton in NV

A look at who drove the conversation on Facebook during the past week reveals Trump was mentioned in nearly one million interactions by over 200,000 people in South Carolina, according to data provided by the company. Even combined, the other candidates attracted less attention and engagement on Facebook than Trump: approximately 800,000 interactions. In terms of numbers of people, Cruz was discussed by only 78,900 Facebook users and Rubio by 57,500.

Over in Nevada, Clinton was the focus of nearly 300,000 Facebook interactions by 69,300 people, beating Sanders on both metrics (261,000 interactions by 63,500 people).

Political Insiders: Republican toss-up in SC and Democratic toss-up in NV

Among Palmetto State elected lawmakers, Kasich has nine total endorsements, but all from state legislators, according to Bloomberg research. Rubio's six supporters include heavyweights such as U.S. Senator Tim Scott and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, not to mention the enormously important endorsement he received from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley this past week. Meanwhile, Bush's five backers include Senator Lindsey Graham, himself a presidential candidate until just a few weeks ago. 

Over on the Democratic side in Nevada, it's the lack of key endorsements that's most surprising. Neither U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid nor the state's most powerful labor organization, the Culinary Union, have decided to endorse.