Two new polls show Ted Cruz in top tier of 2016 GOP field

Some high-five material for Cruz fans from WaPo and PPP. A little post-announcement bounce here or something more?

In the contest for the Republican nomination, Bush tops the field with 20 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents saying they would support him if their primary or caucus were held today. He is followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 13 percent and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 12 percent. Five other Republicans receive at least 6 percent support, with an additional six candidates at either 2 or 1 percent. Bush, Cruz and Walker are the only three to register noticeable gains since the last Post-ABC survey on the GOP race in December.

He was tied for third place at eight percent in WaPo’s December poll, so maybe this is just a bounce. Or, per PPP, maybe not:

PPP’s newest Republican national poll finds that Ted Cruz has the big momentum following the official announcement of his candidacy last week. His support has increased from 5% to 16% in just over a month, enough to make him one of three candidates in the top tier of GOP contenders, along with Scott Walker and Jeb Bush.

Walker continues to lead the field with 20%, although that’s down from his 25% standing a month ago. Bush continues to poll at 17%, followed by Cruz at 16%, Ben Carson and Rand Paul at 10%, Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee at 6%, Chris Christie at 4%, and Rick Perry at 3%.

Cruz has really caught fire with voters identifying themselves as ‘very conservative’ since his announcement. After polling at only 11% with them a month ago, he now leads the GOP field with 33% to 25% for Walker and 12% for Carson with no one else in double digits. Last month Walker led with that group and almost all of the decline in his overall support over the last month has come within it as those folks have moved toward Cruz. Cruz’s name recognition with Republican voters has increased from 61% to 82% since his announcement.

The key detail: Not only is Cruz eating up some of Walker’s conservative support, he’s also (predictably) now eating up some of Ben Carson’s and Mike Huckabee’s. Carson dropped from 18 percent in PPP’s last poll to 10 percent this month while Huckabee’s dipped from 10 percent to six percent. That’s exactly what Cruz needs to give him legs in the primaries. The more social conservatives decide they prefer the polished, full-spectrum conservative to the novice Carson or the squishier Huck, the likelier it is that Cruz will consolidate values voters. That would make him a legit threat in Iowa and South Carolina.

And yeah, granted, Cruz has a unique poll advantage at the moment in that he’s the only candidate to have officially declared that he’s running; Carson, Huckabee, Walker, and Paul will all receive bounces of their own when they announce, carving off pieces of Cruz’s support — in theory. In practice, I’m not sure that’s true: It’s easy to see why Christian conservatives would migrate from Carson to Cruz, who checks all the same values boxes and is far better versed on policy. It’s not easy to see why they’d shift the opposite way, even after Carson formally jumps in. I think Cruz and Huck and will consume most of Carson’s support over the rest of the year, with social cons left divided between the two of them. You would think that’d be an easy match-up for Cruz given how many tea partiers love him and disdain Huckabee, but I don’t know. Huck will be positioning himself as a full-spectrum conservative for the primaries too, with little daylight between him and Cruz on most foreign and domestic policy questions. Once that happens, it may come down to a choice between their respective personal styles for many social cons, which would be a bad omen for Cruz given how personally popular Huckabee is among Republicans. (His favorable rating is routinely among the best of all GOP candidates.) Cruz’s campaign strategy over the next six months will be to convince voters that Rand Paul is far too squishy on foreign policy to be trusted while Huckabee is far too squishy on domestic policy. That’s his best shot at becoming a consensus social-con choice.

There’s an X factor too that might help keep Cruz in the top tier even after everyone else has jumped into the pool. The brighter the spotlight shines on religious liberty after the RFRA wars in Indiana and Arkansas, the greater the opportunity for Cruz — and Huckabee — to impress conservatives by speaking out loudly and often as Christian champions of freedom of conscience. Dave Weigel joked on Twitter yesterday that he’s putting 20 bucks on Huckabee to be the first GOP candidate to show up in Walkerton, Indiana and buy a slice from Memories Pizza, but there’s political truth behind that gag. Huck and Cruz will spend the next nine months competing to be the most stalwart defender of values in the primary. The more the news involves conflicts over values, the more center-right voters may come to appreciate their message. And maybe not just center-right voters either.

Oh, by the way: According to PPP, Chris Christie’s favorable rating among GOP primary voters right now is … 24/57. Hillary’s probably isn’t much worse.

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David Strom 6:41 PM on January 26, 2023