Monmouth poll of Iowa: Trump now leads Cruz by seven, 30/23

We’ve now had a long enough stretch of polls showing Trump ahead in Iowa that, if Cruz wins on Monday night, the likely takeaway is this: “The guy who was clearly preferred by a plurality of Republicans and leaners couldn’t turn out enough of them to caucus!” Still a nice win for Cruz if it happens, but any illusions that he was going to sail past Trump in Iowa as the full-spectrum conservative choice are long gone. No wonder Steve King sounds desperate.

Here’s Monmouth with the latest numbers, showing Trump up 11 points since last month while Cruz has slipped a point from 24 percent. Trump’s favorable rating is down four points to 50 percent — but Cruz’s is down eight points, which jibes with yesterday’s Gallup data showing Cruz’s numbers sliding sharply since Trump started attacking him earlier this month. (Wasn’t it inevitable that some Trump fans would turn on Cruz once the “bromance” ended?) Trump has now led Cruz in six of the last seven polls taken in Iowa that are tracked by RCP. In four of those seven, his lead is seven points or better. If his voters show up, he wins in a rout. The only mystery on Monday night is whether they will.

Cruz does particularly well among registered Republicans who have a history of voting in state primaries. He leads Trump by a 28% to 23% margin among this group of regular party voters, with Rubio at 14% and Carson at 13%. Trump does better among those who do not have a history of taking part in party elections. This includes 44% support among registered Republicans who are general election voters and 50% support among registered independents who say they will attend their local Republican caucus on Monday. Rubio comes in second among non-primary GOP voters at 20% with Cruz at 13%. Rubio also places second among independents who will caucus at 14% with Cruz at 10%

Since Trump draws a disproportionate amount of support from voters who are not political diehards, he will need a strong turnout to emerge victorious on February 1st. Based on past voting history and voters’ stated intentions to attend this year’s caucuses, the current poll estimates turnout will be approximately 170,000 voters, which would far surpass the 122,000 record GOP turnout from four years ago. Increasing the poll’s turnout projection to 200,000 voters widens Trump’s lead to 32% over 21% for Cruz, with Rubio at 16% and Carson at 9%. Decreasing the turnout projection to 130,000 voters, which would still be a record level, puts the race in a tie at 26% for Trump and 26% for Cruz, with Rubio at 15% and Carson at 12%.

There’s the whole election in two paragraphs. Lots of newbies means Trump coasts, few newbies means a jump ball. The early signs, per a jittery Team Cruz, is that turnout will be smaller than Trump is hoping:

The number of active voters registered as Republicans has actually dropped in Iowa by 11,000 since January 2015 (shortly after a competitive Senate race in 2014). The uptick has been minimal in the months leading up to next week’s caucuses, with just over 2,600 new Republican registrations between September and the beginning of January. In order to participate in a caucus, an Iowan must be registered to vote as a Republican. Voters can do that on caucus night, but Tyler says the trends aren’t good for the type of new-voter wave Trump would need.

There’s a case-study for this: the 2008 Democratic caucuses. That year, the state party reported nearly 230,000 participants, a record for Iowa. The high turnout has been considered a key part of Barack Obama’s victory there, with the Obama campaign’s focus on turning out first-time voters or caucusgoers. In the three months leading up to December 2008, more than 8,000 new Democratic voters were registered—better than this year for the GOP, but not that much better. But in the final days before the caucuses, which occurred on January 3, another 58,000 (you read that correctly) registered as Democrats.

There can be, and will be, many new Republican registrants on Monday night to caucus but any Trump fan in Iowa could have registered already. As it is, fewer than 3,000 people statewide have. Trump fans like to say to skeptics of his turnout capabilities (which I’m not) that if you’re willing to stand in line for hours to get into a Trump rally, you’re willing to stand in line to register. Fair enough, but Team Trump would obviously prefer to have his supporters registered ASAP rather than roll the dice on having everyone do so on caucus night. Keep an eye on Iowa news reports for new data this week on people signing up. Maybe they’re going to make a big GOTV push in the final days.

Meanwhile, here’s a rare I-told-you-so from me on Trump’s behalf: According to an independent survey, Cruz’s “New York values” attack on Trump at the debate might have backfired:

In a survey conducted by Qualtrics, an enterprise survey platform, and political research firm Evolving Strategies, 1,200 self-identified Republican voters were shown one of four ads: one supportive of Donald Trump, one by a pro-Cruz super PAC criticizing Trump, one supportive of Cruz, and a ‘placebo’ ad with no political content.

While Cruz’s attack on Trump did appeal to middle-class voters, blue-collar voters doubled-down in their support for Trump after watching it…

“People who who are loyal to Trump may not only find it not convincing,” said Jon Krosnick, professor in humanities and social sciences at Stanford University, but could see it as an act of desperation by Cruz.

That’s not a survey of Iowans, where “New York values” probably plays differently, but Cruz is going to have to win some other states to beat Trump for the nomination. Expect to hear less about “New York values” after the SEC primary on March 1st — assuming Cruz is still in the race after that. Gulp.

By the way, since I made a point of noting Rubio’s bad numbers in New Hampshire in the Jeb post, let me note how well positioned he is in Iowa if Monmouth’s data is accurate. He’s at 16 percent here, fully 12 points better than his closest center-right competitor in New Hampshire. In fact, he’s a lot closer to Ted Cruz for second place than he is to Jeb Bush. Re-read the excerpt above and you’ll see that he’s also stronger than Cruz among first-time caucusgoers and independents. Everyone’s expecting Trump and Cruz as 1-2 or 2-1 in Iowa, but if Cruz continues to sink this week and new registrants who aren’t caucusing for Trump break more for Rubio than for Cruz, we could end up with Trump winning easily and Rubio finishing surprisingly close to Cruz for second place. That would mean momentum for Rubio in New Hampshire and bitter disappointment for Cruz. Don’t write Rubio off yet.