Fox: Trump extends lead in Iowa a week out from caucuses

Have late-breaking voters in Iowa thrown in with the national frontrunner, or is this still a case of an electorate in flux? Even if it’s the latter, Donald Trump has to be pleased with the trend. The latest Fox News poll shows him extending his lead significantly with a week to go:

Trump bests Ted Cruz in Iowa and now receives 34 percent support among Republican caucus-goers.  Trump was at 23 percent in the Fox News Poll two weeks ago (January 4-7).

Cruz is second with 23 percent — down a touch from 27 percent.  Marco Rubio comes in third with 12 percent, down from 15 percent.  No others garner double-digit support.

Among caucus-goers who identify as “very” conservative, Cruz was up by 18 points over Trump earlier this month.  Now they each receive about a third among this group (Cruz 34 percent vs. Trump 33 percent).

There’s been a similar shift among white evangelical Christians.  Cruz’s 14-point advantage is now down to a 2-point edge.

This poll does survey likely caucus-goers, although it’s a relatively small sample of 378 likely GOP voters. The margin of error goes up to 5% — not overly high, but perhaps not as reliable as other polling in Iowa. Pollsters with larger samples have seen a much closer race in the same survey period, such as KBUR (687 LVs, 27/25 Cruz) and Loras College (500 LVs, 26/25 Trump). On the other hand, a CBS/YouGov poll of 492 LVs also showed Trump in the high thirties, but Cruz only trailing by five, 39/34 (links via RCP).

This may be an outlier, but it’s still worth noting as a significant shift in a single polling series. Trump’s support jumped eleven points, outside the MoE of the poll, from 23% to 34%. The gains came at the expense of three candidates; Cruz dropped four points, Rubio three, and Jeb Bush another three as well. Those changes are within the MoE, but if this reflects changes on the ground, it would show the field falling back from Trumpmentum.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, Trump also leads the pack in absolute opposition, with 20% of respondents saying they will refuse to vote for Trump. Bush comes in second with 14%, but Cruz isn’t far behind at 11%. Cruz leads the second-choice option by a wide margin, 22% to 15% for Rubio, but the combined 1st-2nd choice response still gives Trump the edge, 48/45.

As if that wasn’t good enough news for Trump, Fox’s latest New Hampshire poll shows his lead in the Granite State holding steady. Unlike Iowa, this poll shows no dramatic changes; Trump leads Cruz and Rubio 31/14/13 respectively, a statistically insignificant change from 33/12/15 two weeks earlier. Once again, Trump leads the absolutely opposed, with 26% of Republican primary voters declaring that they will never vote for him, eleven points higher than Bush. In one interesting difference between the two states, 27% of Iowa voters say they want a true conservative, while 27% of New Hampshire voters want a strong leader. At the moment, it appears Trump is filling both requirements, at least among his supporters.

To return to the question at the beginning, does this show that last-minute voters are breaking toward the leader? Perhaps, but that assumes all other things are equal, and that may not be the case here. Trump has not spent a significant amount of money during most of 2015 to build the kind of organization that will bring people to the caucuses and the polls. In a crowded field, it may possible to win with a plurality on the basis of earned media and top-level messaging alone, but that won’t work in a general election — and may not work in a caucus state where a tight time frame and cold weather play against impulse participation. Trump’s ground game remains the big question.

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