Trump Leads Iowa; Some Rays of Hope for Cruz, Rubio

| Tom Jensen

PPP’s new Iowa poll, conducted in partnership with Progress Iowa, continues to find Donald Trump leading in the state. He’s at 31% to 23% for Ted Cruz, 14% for Marco Rubio, 9% for Ben Carson, 4% each for Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paul, 3% for Carly Fiorina, 2% each for Chris Christie and John Kasich, and 1% each for Jim Gilmore and Rick Santorum.

Since we last polled Iowa two and a half weeks ago Trump and Cruz are the only candidates to see their support move by more than a couple points- Trump’s seen a 3 point gain in his support from 28% to 31%, while Cruz has seen a corresponding 3 point decline in his support from 26% to 23%.

Cruz has seen a large drop in his favorability rating over the last few weeks, from 69/18 down to just 56/35. Trump’s continued focus on the ‘Canadian birther’ issue may really be a big part of what’s helping him at Cruz’s expense. We found on our last Iowa poll that only 32% of Republican voters thought someone born in another country should be allowed to serve as President, and attention to Cruz’s birthplace has been a constant since that last poll.

There are still a lot of votes on the table in Iowa- 31% of likely caucus goers say they could change their minds between now and Monday. Trump benefits from having the most firmly committed support though- 80% of his voters say they’re firmly committed to him compared to 71% of Cruz’s and 65% of Rubio’s among the other leading contenders. Among voters who say their mind is totally made up, Trump’s lead over Cruz grows to 12 points at 36/24. The only other candidate whose supporters are as committed to him as Trump is Rand Paul- that should help Paul to finish 5th or maybe even slip into 4th if enough of Ben Carson’s supporters peel off to other candidates in the closing stretch.

There are reasons within these numbers to see the possibility of both Cruz and Rubio out performing their current standing on Monday night. Currently 30% of the likely electorate is supporting someone among the also rans- the 9 candidates in single digits. But 43% of those voters are open to the possibility of changing their minds- possibly casting a strategic vote. And among that group supporting the also rans 35% say they would pick Rubio, 25% say they would pick Cruz, and 17% say they would pick Trump if they had to choose between the leading contenders. That creates a real possibility if enough of those people really do end up peeling off for Rubio to get a surprise 20 or 25% on Monday night that gives him the momentum to be successful further down the road. 

Cruz is smart to try to frame the race as a one on one choice between him and Trump. Among supporters of the also rans, 50% say they’d vote for Cruz if they had to pick between the two leading contenders to only 21% who say they would cast their lot with Trump. Overall Cruz leads Trump 47/40 head to head- supporters of all 10 other candidates say they would vote for Cruz before they would vote for Trump. That means Cruz still has the real potential for victory if he can get enough of those people to gravitate to him in an effort to stop Trump. 

There continue to be some big splits in where Trump and Cruz’s support is coming from. Cruz leads 38/24 among ‘very conservative’ voters, but Trump makes up for that with a 34/17 advantage among ‘somewhat conservative’ voters and a 32/6 one with moderates. Trump leads Cruz only 25/24 with women, but has a much more substantial advantage with men at 35/21. The candidates are knotted among Evangelicals at 29%, but Trump has a 32/14 lead with non-Evangelicals. Trump is up 30/24 with Republicans but broadens his lead thanks to a 34/16 edge with independents, so he will be counting on them to show up and change their party registration to really take advantage of that.

Other notes from Iowa:

-There will be some temptation to credit Sarah Palin for Trump’s rise in the state, but she only has a 45/40 favorability rating. That may not have a lot to do with it.

-He’s not going to win the caucus but Ben Carson will leave Iowa as the most broadly liked of the candidates. 72% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to only 20% with an unfavorable one. The next closest person to that level of popularity is Mike Huckabee at 60/28. Taken together those numbers may suggest that favorability numbers don’t mean everything.

-Even though their vote shares haven’t changed much, several candidates have seen big shifts in their favorability ratings over the last few weeks. For Jeb Bush it’s a move in the right direction- his net favorability has improved by 17 points, going from -27 at 26/53 to -10 at 38/48. Those are still not good numbers by any means but they may reinforce a general improvement in the state of his campaign over the last few weeks that’s starting to manifest itself in some New Hampshire polling. Heading in the wrong direction is Chris Christie who had entered positive favorability ground at 45/33 on our last poll, but has now seen a 27 point net drop back to negative territory at -15.

Full results here

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