I’m going to argue that Cruz fans shouldn’t freak out about this poll, but first let me grab a change of underwear.
Trump leads Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is in second place in the GOP race, among likely Republican caucus-goers, 37% to 26%. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is in third at 14%, the only other Republican in double digits. Ben Carson failed to register half of Rubio’s support and is in fourth place at 6%…
[L]ikely Republican caucus-goers are more divided when it comes to who would best handle foreign policy, with Trump (27%), Rubio (26%) and Cruz (25%) in a virtual three-way split. On the question of which candidate better represents Republican values, 29% choose Cruz, 28% side with Trump and 15% favor Rubio. Cruz holds an edge as the one who would better handle social issues, however, with 29% to Trump’s 18%, while 12% name Rubio, 10% Carson and 9% former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Asked which candidate better represents Republican values, immigration heretic Marco Rubio pulls barely half what conservative heretic Donald Trump does. Rubio has a 94 percent rating from Heritage Action. Turn that thought over in your mind a few times.
Time to panic? Well, yes, soon. But not yet. Another bit from CNN:
The sampling is key for both leaders: Only including voters who previously caucused in their party’s most recent competitive caucus, Cruz is neck-and-neck with Trump, with 30% for Cruz to 28% for Trump. Rubio is steady at 16% in that sample.
Of Democrats who caucused in 2008, Clinton leads Sanders, 55% to 38%.
Essentially the poll’s telling us what we already knew: There are many more Trump fans than Cruz fans among the broader population, including in Iowa, and if Trump can get them to turn out on caucus night he’s going to win. Whether he can get them to turn out is the great unsolved mystery of the primary. Cruz has the best organization in Iowa; Trump’s organization is more of a black box, but some of the glimpses inside haven’t been encouraging. On the other hand, Trumpmania’s bound to bring some people out to caucus who’ve never done it before even if Trump’s ground game is weak. If he’s already within two points of Cruz among people who caucused in 2012, how does he lose once those additional first-time caucusgoers are added?
There’s another reason to doubt this poll, though. Not only is the sample curiously small — just 266 likely voters when a typical scientific poll aims for 400 or better — but CNN has pegged Trump’s support conspicuously higher than other pollsters in the past. In late November, the last time they surveyed Iowa, they had Trump ahead of Cruz 33/20. (Which means, despite today’s gaudy topline numbers, that Cruz has now slightly reduced Trump’s lead from what it was before.) No other pollster had Trump up by as much as 13 points at that time. In fact, others were just beginning to show Cruz catching and passing Trump as part of his December surge. A Monmouth poll taken during the same period had Cruz up five; of the remaining seven polls taken in December, Cruz led in four, Trump led very narrowly in two, and one was a tie. The CNN poll, in other words, was an extreme outlier in its pro-Trump tilt. You may be seeing that again here, especially once you factor in the small sample size. Or, alternate theory: Maybe Trump really is quietly running Cruz off the field and he’s gearing up to run the table in all 50 states. Not enough horse tranquilizers in the world.
Since we’re talking polls, here’s another bit of data from today’s new YouGov national poll showing Trump leading Cruz 38/19. Cruz is working hard lately on his “Trump = establishment” message, but he may have to work a lot harder. Ahem:
Who’s the perceived establishmentarian, Cruz or Trump? You think if maybe Cruz had started making the case against Trump’s populism months ago, instead of hugging him as if he’d just won Powerball, these numbers might be a bit different now?
Elsewhere in the CNN poll, Bernie Sanders is leading Hillary 51/43 overall and 67/30 when Democrats are asked who would do more for the middle class. Seven weeks ago, when CNN last polled the Democratic race, Clinton led Sanders by 18 points. I’d guesstimate that Trump now has something like a two-thirds chance of winning Iowa and New Hampshire while Sanders has a three-quarters chance of winning both. In lieu of an exit question, I’ll leave you with this headscratcher:
If an avowed socialist + a guy who conservatives complain isn't a conservative are leading in polls, is this still a center-right country?
— Nick Riccardi (@NickRiccardi) January 21, 2016