Support for outsider candidate Donald Trump remains steady in the Quinnipiac polling series, but the other outsider’s standing took a big it. One month earlier, Trump was locked in a virtual tie with Ben Carson, 24/23, but Carson has dropped seven points since then to fall into a third-place tie with Ted Cruz at 16%. Marco Rubio edges them both for second place at 17%, which is better described as a virtual three-way tie:
Eleven months before the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump is the undisputed leader in the Republican field, as Dr. Ben Carson, in a virtual tie with Trump four weeks ago, drops to third place, according to a Quinnipiac University National poll released today.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton widens her lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to 60 – 30 percent, compared to 53 – 35 percent in a November 4 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has 2 percent, with 6 percent undecided.
Trump gets 27 percent of Republican voters today, with 17 percent for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, 16 percent each for Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and 5 percent for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. No other candidate tops 3 percent, with 8 percent undecided.
The change for Carson goes well outside the margin of error, and it’s not an outlier. Take a look at the RCP polling averages for the past 90 days in the Republican primary. Carson’s red line is heading south, while the trend lines for Rubio, Cruz, and even Trump head in the opposite direction. Carson’s not where he started in September, but he does appear to be in decline after peaking in late October and early November:
It’s unclear what specifically is causing the decline, but the rise of Rubio and Cruz as alternatives might have something to do with it. Note that Carson’s bubble in September got deflated when Carly Fiorina (dark gray line) suddenly caught fire. When enthusiasm for her waned, voters went back to Carson and he rose again in the polls to his late-October peak. As Rubio and Cruz built steam, though, Carson seems to be fading again. That suggests that voters are seeing him mainly as an alternative to both Trump and the other Republicans that have faded into the background.
Quinnipiac also ran its general election head-to-head matchups, and both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders improved their standing somewhat against Republicans. Carson had a 10-point lead over Hillary, but now she edges him 46/43. She runs ahead of Cruz by five points (47/42) after trailing him by three, and now edges Rubio 45/44 after trailing 41/46 last month. Hillary beat Trump in both polls, but extended her lead from three points to six, 47/41. That may be a measure of Hillary’s perceived improvement on the stump since the last debate, or it could be a measure of Republican stagnation — which would also explain why Bernie Sanders also does better in this poll, and in some cases better than Hillary.
Likability is a problem for both frontrunners, though. Hillary gets a -7 while Trump scores lowest with a -22, and both have over 90% of voters making choices on that question. Cruz comes in even-up at 33%, while Rubio gets a +9 at 37/28, with both Republicans showing plenty of upside. On honesty and trust, they also score much better than the frontrunners:
American voters say 60 – 36 percent that Clinton is not honest and trustworthy. Trump is not honest and trustworthy, voters say 59 – 35 percent. Sanders gets the best honesty grades among top candidates, 59 – 28 percent, with Carson at 53 – 34 percent, Rubio at 49 – 33 percent and Cruz at 43 – 39 percent.
Chris Cillizza looks at the Q-poll and concludes that Cruz is the real sleeping giant in the race:
In the ballot test, Cruz has 16 percent support — and is in a statistical tie for second place with Ben Carson and Marco Rubio. Carson is very much headed in the wrong direction; he was at 23 percent in a Q poll conducted a month ago and is down seven points. Rubio is moving in the right direction (up three points from last month, to 17 percent), as is Cruz (up three points). And, Cruz’s trend line is quite clear and quite good. He was at 5 percent in a Q poll in late July, 7 percent in a September poll and 16 now. Trend lines matter more than anything else in national primary polling, and no one this side of Rubio has a better trend line than Cruz.
Dig deeper into the findings and things look even better for the senator from Texas. Although Cruz is at 16 percent among all Republicans, he runs significantly stronger among three subgroups: “very” conservative voters, tea party supporters and white born-again/evangelical voters. Those subgroups are also the three most important and powerful when it comes to deciding the GOP nominee in 2016.
Among tea partyers, Cruz is tied with Donald Trump at 29 percent — well ahead of Carson at 17 percent and Rubio at 12. Among evangelicals, Cruz and Trump, again, are tied — this time at 24 percent — with Carson at 19 percent and Rubio at 13. Twenty nine percent of those who identify as “very” conservative choose Cruz, while Trump takes 25 percent, Carson 15 percent and Rubio 11 percent.
The Q poll also shows that Cruz has one very clear edge over Trump as the race moves forward: Almost no one said they wouldn’t support him. Just six percent said they could never back Cruz — a number matched only by Rubio, at 5 percent. By contrast, more than one in four Republicans (26 percent) say they could never vote for Trump, the highest of any candidate in the contest. (Amazingly Jeb Bush, who gets just 5 percent of the vote in the primary ballot, is second on the “won’t vote for” question, with 21 percent.)
That doesn’t amaze me; plenty of people have openly expressed that sentiment for a year now, and Bush has not been able to overcome it. I agree with most of the analysis above, except to note that Rubio’s in pretty good shape in most of these categories too, and where he isn’t — Tea Party support — he’s still in double digits, and New Hampshire and Florida might prove to be better for Rubio in the primaries. Cruz’ untold strength is in his Iowa organization, where he has quietly built a formidable campaign for caucusing.