For what it's worth: Trump 29, Rubio 18, Cruz 13 in new CNN poll of New Hampshire

During election season, a new poll beats a “Quotes of the Day” in the overnight slot anytime — even if that poll is essentially garbage, which this one is. CNN’s pollster started the survey last Friday, three days before Iowa, and kept polling right on through until yesterday. Result: Two separate mini-polls divided in time by the results on Monday night. That would be helpful if they had large samples before and after the caucus so that we could reliably track which candidates improved and which declined due to the results. But they don’t. Their sample of Republicans post-Iowa is just 209 people, producing a margin of error of … 6.8 percent. As Steve Deace noted, that means Ted Cruz at 13 percent here could actually be anywhere from second place at 19-20 percent, slightly ahead of Rubio, to seventh place at 6-7 percent, behind Jeb Bush. That’s useful information, no?

But hey. The media’s all about “momentum” narratives this week and CNN’s data does show major momentum for Rubio, so that’s worth a pixel or two for your consideration.

Behind Trump’s field-leading 29% support, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio climbs to second place with 18% following his strong third place finish in Iowa, followed by Ted Cruz (13%) and John Kasich (12%) in a near-tie for third. Jeb Bush holds fifth place at 10%, a hair behind Cruz and Kasich, with Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina well behind at 4% each. The fight for second place between Cruz, Rubio and Kasich remains within the survey’s margin of sampling error…

In the new poll, the share who say they expect Trump to win the primary on February 9 has declined a bit since before the Iowa caucuses, dropping from 66% in the pre-caucus survey to 61% now, though he’s still the odds-on favorite among likely voters in New Hampshire. 11% think Cruz will carry the state, 9% Rubio, with the rest of the field at 1% or less.

Trump has also been ruled out by more likely voters than any other Republican in the field, 37% say they would never vote for him. Cruz is second on this score, with 13% saying they would never vote for him, followed by Bush at 7%.

In the four days before Iowa voted, Rubio was plodding along at 11 percent. Since then he’s up seven points, the only candidate in the field to show a gain that’s (slightly) outside the margin of error. During the same period, Christie dropped from nine percent in New Hampshire to four percent, suggesting a total collapse. Which is not implausible: He’s been at five or six percent in various polls of New Hampshire lately, and it may be that his poor showing in Iowa combined with his aggressive shots at Rubio this week have turned off some voters. As I say, that’s something to look for in the next round of polls. Likewise, while Trump has always led big in the dubious “would never vote for” category, CNN has him climbing six points there between the period immediately before Iowa and the rest of this week. That’s a bad trend, even if his overall level of support — 29 percent — was steady.

All great news for Rubio so far. What’s not so great is Trump still being favored by 60+ percent of voters to win. A lot of ink has been spilled the past three days over the theory that Trump’s strong polls are essentially a mirage and the numbers won’t be there for him when people go to vote, as was true in Iowa. New Hampshirites aren’t buying it yet. Meanwhile, check out how (relatively) strong Rubio’s center-right competition is. Bush and Kasich are both polling double digits even after Iowa. This week is supposed to see their supporters peel away and crown Rubio as the one true establishmentarian knight who’s going to slay the Trump and Cruz dragons, but if you believe CNN’s data, Bush and Kasich actually gained slightly after Iowa. (At a minimum, Rubio wants/needs a disastrous Bush finish in New Hampshire so that Team Jeb will be less inclined to go on to South Carolina and continue bombing him with ads.) Rubio has presumably picked up a bunch of Christie’s defecting fans but there’s not much meat left on the bone among Christie, Fiorina, and Carson given their low levels of support. Cruz, as the Iowa winner, is probably also near his floor at 13 percent. If Rubio’s going to surge further, it has to come from Bush and Kasich or from Trump fans peeling off at the last second. And Rubio isn’t an obvious destination for populist border hawks who no longer believe in Trump for whatever reason.

One more point, this from Steve Kornacki: Independents in New Hampshire are free to vote in either party’s election. Normally, in a year where both parties’ primaries are competitive, you’d expect indies to split roughly half and half between the two. This year, though, thanks to his (near) home-field advantage, Bernie Sanders is crushing Hillary in the polls. Some small but potentially important cluster of independents may conclude that the Democratic result is a fait accompli and will choose to vote in the GOP’s election instead. That’s good news for Trump, who’s an independent in all but name. FiveThirtyEight currently gives him a 62 percent chance of winning on Tuesday. I think they’re lowballing him.

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