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Monmouth University Poll shows Cruz now leads Trump

Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz
WEST LONG BRNACH, NJ – Ted Cruz commands the top spot in the latest Monmouth University Poll of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers – his first lead in any early state poll of the 2016 cycle. Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are within a few percentage points of one another for second place. The poll also found that an influential House member’s recent endorsement is only one factor behind Cruz’s rise, which has come primarily at Ben Carson’s expense.

Ted Cruz earns 24% support when likely caucusgoers are asked who they will support in the Republican contest. This marks a clear lead over Donald Trump (19%), Marco Rubio (17%), and Ben Carson (13%). Jeb Bush stands at 6% and Rand Paul is at 4%, while Carly Fiorina and John Kasich earn 3% each. None of the other six candidates tested in the poll draws more than 2% support.

Monmouth showed Carson on top two months ago, but his support has plummeted by 19 points since then. Cruz’s support, on the other hand, has jumped by 14 points. Rubio has seen his vote share increase by 7 points since October. Support levels for both Trump and Bush are nearly identical to two months ago.

Evangelical voters, who make up about half of the Iowa GOP caucus electorate, back Cruz (30%) over Trump (18%), Rubio (16%), and Carson (15%). In October, Carson held the advantage with this group – garnering 36% support to 18% for Trump, 12% for Cruz, and 9% for Rubio.

Cruz also has an edge among voters who call themselves tea party supporters. He commands 36% support among this group, compared to 20% for Trump, 17% for Carson, and 11% for Rubio. In October, this group gave their vote to Carson (30%) over Trump (22%), Cruz (17%), and Rubio (8%).

There is a notable gender difference among caucusgoers’ preferences. Men prefer Cruz (29%) and Trump (24%) over Rubio (12%) and Carson (12%). Women support Rubio (23%) and Cruz (19%) over Carson (15%) and Trump (14%).

“This marks the first time Ted Cruz has held a lead in any of the crucial early states. As Ben Carson’s stock has fallen, Cruz has been able to corral most of those voters,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ. “Congressman King’s endorsement may not be the primary reason for this swing, but it certainly put a stamp on the Cruz surge in Iowa.”

Nearly 1-in-5 likely caucusgoers say that Rep. Steve King’s recent endorsement of Cruz makes them more likely to support the Texas senator – including 7% who say it makes them a lot more likely and 12% a little more likely. This compares to 7% who say the endorsement makes them less likely to caucus for Cruz. The vast majority (73%) say King’s endorsement will not be a factor in who they decide to support at the caucuses. Among Cruz’s current supporters, 35% say King’s endorsement makes them more likely to caucus for Cruz.

Turnout will be a major factor in the final standings in Iowa. GOP caucus turnout over the past 35 years has ranged from about 87,000 to 122,000. Trump does better with more independent-minded voters, while Rubio’s support increases among those who regularly take part in the state’s Republican primary elections.

About 1-in-7 voters in the poll sample are non-GOP voters who say they are likely to caucus as Republicans in February. Trump holds 30% of this group’s support, compared to 21% for Cruz, 15% for Carson, and 10% for Rubio. About 7-in-10 voters in the sample, though, regularly cast GOP primary ballots. Among this more probable group of voters, Cruz (25%) and Rubio (21%) garner greater support than Trump (16%) and Carson (13%).

“Trump will need a huge organizational effort to get independent voters to show up in a contest where they have historically participated in small numbers. Without this dynamic, the underlying fundamentals appear to favor Cruz and Rubio,” said Murray.

One thing Trump still has going for him is that 6-in-10 GOP voters in Iowa would be content to see him as their party’s nominee – including 17% who would be enthusiastic about this outcome and 44% who would be satisfied. Another 20% of caucusgoers would be dissatisfied and just 17% say they would be upset. It’s worth noting that two-thirds (67%) of Cruz voters would be okay with Trump as the Republican nominee, but fewer Rubio (55%) and Carson (48%) supporters feel the same.

It is also important to note that few voters are locked into a candidate with less than two months to go before the caucuses are held. Just 1-in-5 (20%) Iowa GOP caucusgoers say they are completely set on their choice, which is basically unchanged from two months ago (19%). Another 49% say they have a strong preference right now, 18% have a slight preference, and 13% are really undecided.

Cruz, Rubio, and Carson currently hold similarly high positive ratings from likely caucusgoers. This represents a slight bump for Cruz and Rubio since the October Monmouth University Poll, but aclarge drop for Carson. Rubio holds a favorable rating of 70% – up 5 points since October – and an unfavorable rating of just 16%. Cruz holds a favorable rating of 67% – up 8 points since October – and a 19% unfavorable rating. Carson also has a 67% favorable rating, but this is down significantly from his 84% positive rating in October. His unfavorable rating now stands at 19%.

Trump’s rating of 54% favorable and 36% unfavorable is essentially unchanged from two months ago. Jeb Bush earns a net negative rating of 38% favorable and 45% unfavorable, which is similar to his October rating.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from December 3 to 6, 2015 with 425 Iowa voters likely to attend the Republican presidential caucuses in February 2016. This sample has a margin of error of +4.8 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

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