Republican Race Tightens Nationally; Clinton Still Solid

| Tom Jensen

PPP’s newest national poll finds the race on the Republican side tightening considerably in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise loss in Iowa on Monday night. Trump’s lead has fallen to just 4 points- he’s at 25% to 21% each for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, 11% for Ben Carson, 5% each for Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and the now departed Rand Paul, 3% each for Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, and 1% for Jim Gilmore. Rick Santorum had literally zero supporters on our final poll including him.

Trump’s 25% standing reflects a 9 point drop from our last national poll, which was taken the week before Christmas. It reflects an overall decline in Trump’s popularity with GOP voters. Trump’s favorability has dropped a net 17 points, from a previous +24 standing at 58/34 to now just +7 at 48/41.Trump is particularly starting to struggle on the right- he’s dropped to 3rd place with ‘very conservative’ voters at 19% with Cruz at 34% and Rubio at 22% outpacing him with that group. He does still lead with moderates and ‘somewhat conservative’ voters to give him the overall advantage.

Rubio is the candidate with the real momentum in the race. He’s up 8 points from his 13% standing in our poll right before Christmas. Beyond that he’s seen a large spike in his favorability rating- it’s improved a net 28 points from +15 at 49/34 to +43 at 64/21. That ties him with Ben Carson as being the most broadly popular candidate on the Republican side.

Things also bode well for Rubio as the field gets smaller in the coming weeks. In a four candidate field he gets 32% to 31% for Trump, 23% for Cruz, and 8% for Bush. In a three candidate field he gets 34% to 33% for Trump and 25% for Cruz. And in head to heads he leads both Trump (52/40) and Cruz (46/40). As other candidates drop out of the race Rubio is the most likely destination of their supporters.

Cruz is actually pretty steady in his national standing even after his surprise victory in Iowa. His 21% standing is up just slightly from 18% in December and his favorability rating is basically unchanged- it was 59/27 then and it’s 58/28 now. One thing Cruz has going for him is that when you combine first and second choices he comes out ahead with 41% to 36% for Rubio, and 32% for Trump. That’s another metric indicating the difficulty Trump may have in growing his support. Additionally Trump trails Cruz 47/41 head to head, which bodes poorly for him if they end up being the finalists.

The race continues to be very fluid. Only 50% of voters say they’re firmly committed to their current candidate choice with the other 50% saying they’re open to changing their minds between now and the election. This is one place where there continues to be good news for Trump. 71% of his voters are firmly committed to him, compared to 52% of Cruz’s and 44% of Rubio’s. Among just voters who say their minds are totally made up Trump’s lead grows to 13 points at 35% to 22% for Cruz, and 19% for Rubio. Of course there was a similar dynamic in late Iowa polling, and that wasn’t enough to push him to victory there.

Rand Paul saw the writing on the wall and dropped out of the race yesterday but others with similar or even less support than him continue on. Bush continues to be unpopular with GOP voters nationally- only 37% see him favorably to 47% with a negative opinion. He continues to face intense distrust from conservatives with just 32% having a positive opinion to 52% who view him unfavorably.

On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders 53/32. Sanders does keep gradually moving closer- our previous couple polls had her leading 56/28 in December and 59/26 in November. But he still has some weaknesses that may make it hard for him to catch up. Primary among these is African American voters- Clinton leads 82/8 with them and has a 79/9 favorability compared to 27/23 for Sanders. That does suggest some possibility for Sanders to improve his position- part of his problem is just that black voters don’t really know him yet- but he’s starting at a tremendous disadvantage that will make the upcoming run of Southern primaries very difficult for him.

Full results here

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