Hmmm: Final Emerson College poll of Iowa puts Rubio within five points of first place

I don’t buy that he’s as close as this, but (a) I blogged the last Emerson College poll of New Hampshire poll showing Jeb surging past Rubio so I’m duty-bound to blog this one and (b) as Ed noted earlier, Marcomentum does appear to be real — even if EC is probably overstating the extent of it.

If Rubio shocks the world tonight by finishing first or second in Iowa, this is one of the polls that everyone will be citing tomorrow as having detected the surge — Trump 27, Cruz 26, Rubio 22. Imagine: There’s a teeny tiny chance that we’ll see “Can Rubio run the table?” hot takes sprouting across the Web this week.

For Trump, the results represent a 6-point drop in just 10 days. In an Emerson poll released on January 21, Trump won 33% of the vote. His decline appears to be Rubio’s gain; during the same 10-day period, Rubio was up 8 points from 14%.

The poll found that Trump’s decision to skip the last Republican debate had a negative impact on his support. Nearly four out of 10 likely GOP caucus participants (39%) said they were less likely to vote for Trump as a result of the boycott, while 14% said his absence made it more likely they would vote for him. Fifty-two percent (52%) said it would have no impact on their vote.

“Since our January 21 poll, Trump’s favorability has decreased by 10 points,” said ECPS data analyst Matt Couture. “His decision to skip the debate seems to be a factor in this decrease.”

Trump’s not the only candidate who’s tanked over the last 10 days. Carson is also down six points in EC’s polling, from nine percent to three, which seems plausible as his fans reluctantly give up on him as a lost cause and vote strategically. Who are they breaking towards, though? Emerson suggests Trump is shedding support to Rubio, but that seems unlikely: Not only do many populists dismiss Rubio as Mr. Insider, he’s the most glaring heretic on immigration in the race for border hawks. It’s more likely, I think, that Trump has shed some votes to Cruz — he’s up three points in Emerson’s polling of Iowa in the last 10 days — and Carson is shedding votes to Rubio. Think about it. If you’ve stuck with Carson until late January, it’s probably because you find both Trump and Cruz unacceptable for whatever reason. Rubio’s the logical place for someone like that to land. And stylistically, Rubio has more in common with Carson than Cruz does. They’re both soft-spoken and neither has had his Christian piety questioned, as Trump and Cruz (via his “tithing” shortfall and Huckabee’s endless attacks) both have. They share similarities in tone too. The theme of Carson’s campaign, per his profession, is “healing” while Rubio has run on optimism (well, until recently); each of them has mostly ducked the sort of nasty punch-ups that Trump and Cruz have been consumed with over the past month. If it happens tonight for Rubio, I’ll bet Carson defectors have a lot to do with it.

Interestingly, this isn’t the only last-minute poll showing a jump ball in Iowa. Opinion Savvy has the race … Trump 20, Cruz 19, Rubio 19.


I’m … pretty sure Trump and Cruz are both going to crack 20 percent, but the interesting number there is Rand Paul’s. Paul hasn’t seen nine percent in a poll of Iowa since June, but he did have a strong final debate last week by acclamation. Cruz, his main competitor for libertarian votes, had a relatively weak one and has been trending downward in various polls of the state over the last two weeks. It’s not implausible that some Ron Paul fans who’ve been flirting with Cruz decide to come home to Rand at the last minute. And if they do, that makes Trump’s chances of winning tonight even better. Lots has been written about Jeb Bush, the establishment’s favorite candidate, enabling Trump the insurgent in ways large and small, but that grand irony will have competition tonight if Rand peels enough votes away from Cruz to push him into second place. Trump is as overt a repudiation of libertarianism in a serious contender for the nomination as the GOP has seen in years — and Paul could, with a strong finish, propel him towards victory.

Don’t put too much stock in either of these polls, though. Emerson has a C+ rating from FiveThirtyEight and their sample consists of just 298 likely Republican caucusgoers for a margin of error of 5.6 percent. (Which, technically, means Rubio might actually be leading.) Opinion Savvy, which Nate Silver says is essentially the same shop as Insider Advantage, has a D rating. If you’re making any bets, I’d stick with Selzer and Quinnipiac.

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