PPP's new North Carolina poll finds yet another state where Donald Trump holds a double digit lead- but also shows the path if establishment Republicans are ever going to be able to stop Trump.
Trump leads with 29% to 19% for Ted Cruz, 16% for Marco Rubio, 11% for John Kasich, 9% for Ben Carson, and 7% for Jeb Bush. Trump's actually seen a 9 point decline from his standing in the state last month. Kasich has the most momentum, with a 9 point increase in his support. Rubio is up 5 points and Cruz is up 3 points compared to last month, while Carson and Bush have pretty much stayed in place.
The race in North Carolina is pretty fluid though. 47% of voters say they might still change their minds between now and the primary in four weeks. The field could be smaller by then too, and that could give Trump trouble. Getting the candidate pool down to 3 or 4 might not be enough though. In a four person field Trump gets 34% to 24% for Cruz, 19% for Rubio, and 11% for Bush. In a three candidate field Trump holds on to a double digit advantage as well, getting 37% to 26% each for Rubio and Cruz. In a one on one with either Cruz or Rubio things get a lot tougher for Trump though. He leads Cruz only 43/42, and trails Rubio 49/43 one on one. Rubio wins over supporters of Cruz (73/25), Kasich (64/17), Bush (61/24), and Carson (48/38) overwhelmingly if the field gets down to the two of them. A one on one race may be the only thing that can actually stop Trump.
Rubio's the most viable challenger to Trump because he's the most popular of the three serious candidates. His 58/26 favorability is far better than Cruz's 47/36 or Trump's 46/43, and that makes it easier for him to absorb other candidates' supporters. Carson has the best favorability in NC at 63/21- showing the limits of favorability ratings. Kasich comes in at 45/24 and Bush continues to be under water at 35/45.
One big thing Trump has going for him is that he has the most committed supporters. 68% of his voters say they'll definitely end up casting their ballot for him, while none of the other candidates have more than 51% of their voters saying they're 'firmly committed' to them.
On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton still has a substantial lead, but things are tightening. Clinton has 52% to 35% for Bernie Sanders. The race is essentially tied among white voters- Clinton 43, Sanders 42- but Clinton continues to have a substantial advantage with African Americans at 64/24. Those splits are very similar to what we found for Clinton and Sanders in South Carolina. Clinton led 59/26 a month ago and Sanders is making progress in the state both with white and black voters.
The Democratic numbers show the customary gender and age splits we've become accustomed to. Clinton's up 57/28 with women, but only 46/44 with men. And Sanders is up 51/40 with younger voters, but down 61/26 with seniors.
Republicans continue to be favored in the general election in North Carolina. Clinton trails the major GOP hopefuls by anywhere from 1-9 points. Easily the strongest Republican for the general would be Rubio, who leads Clinton 49/40. The weakest would be Trump, who leads Clinton just 44/43. Cruz (46/43) and Bush (44/42) lead Clinton by small margins as well. Sanders does better in the general election contests, trailing Rubio 45/41 and tying Cruz at 43 while holding small leads over Trump (44/42) and Bush (43/42).
We also looked at how Michael Bloomberg and Deez Nuts would do as potential independent candidates. Bloomberg gets 16% against Sanders and Trump, and 14% against Clinton and Trump. Bloomberg would hurt Democrats if Sanders was the nominee- the folks who say they would support him go 52/16 for Sanders if the choice was just between him and Trump, pushing Trump from trailing Sanders by 2 points head to head to leading him by 6 points in a three candidate field. Deez Nuts gets 10% against Clinton and Trump, and 9% against Sanders and Trump so at least in this poll Bloomberg is about 5 points stronger than a replacement level independent candidate.
Finally a couple sports notes:
-Our annual UNC/Duke poll- running 9 years strong now!- finds North Carolinians rooting for the Tar Heels 39/29. Even with Duke coming off a national championship, the Tar Heels continue to have the advantage on the court of public opinion. North Carolina is an incredibly divided state right now politically but pulling for the Heels is something everyone can agree on across party lines- they lead 42/30 with Democrats, 40/30 with Republicans, and 34/25 with independents. Mike Krzyzewski (50/10 favorability) and Roy Williams (49/12) are both pretty popular figures statewide with numbers that certainly any politician would die for.
-The Panthers lost the Super Bowl and already North Carolinians are jumping off the bandwagon. In December when the team was undefeated 60% of voters in the state said they were Panthers fans. Now after the disappointment in the big game that's down to 54% although that certainly laps the 6% for the Cowboys, 5% for the Redskins, and 4% for the Steelers by a wide margin.
Full results here