Q-poll in Iowa: Cruz leads among previous caucus-goers, Trump among new

The big question behind the enthusiasm for Donald Trump has been whether that can be translated into turnout. In Iowa, Quinnipiac has attempted to answer that question by identifying the basis of that support. As expected, Trump brings in a significant number of new voters intending to caucus for the first time in Iowa, but he’s also nearly leading among more experienced voters:

The Iowa Republican Caucus is a two-man race going down to the wire with Donald Trump at 31 percent and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas at 29 percent among likely Republican Caucus participants, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is at 13 percent, with no other candidate above 7 percent.

This is virtually unchanged from results of a January 11 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University showing Trump at 31 percent, with 29 percent for Cruz and 15 percent for Rubio.

Today, 2 percent are undecided and 39 percent of those who name a candidate say they might change their mind.

Among Iowa Republican Caucus-goers, 24 percent say they “would definitely not support” Trump, with 24 percent who would not support former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Only 12 percent say ‘no way’ to Cruz.

The key to the big question comes in the internals. For those likely voters (identified by Quinnipiac by its polling) who will attend their first caucus in 2016, Trump has a double-digit lead over Cruz. 38/25. Cruz leads those who have attended previous caucuses, but only narrowly at 31/28. Marco Rubio comes in third in both groups at 15% and 12% respectively, and no one else comes close to the top three.

Previously, it has been assumed that Trump’s base consists of alienated voters who do not normally participate in primaries and caucuses. This distinction matters more for caucus states, as caucuses take place at specific times and require a more or less public declaration of support. Primaries take place all day long and use secret ballots. It takes more GOTV efforts to get first-timers to caucus than to a primary, and the results are a good test of organizational strength in the short and long term.

This Q-poll shows that a substantial portion of Trump’s support is coming from more regular voters. Those voters will take less effort to turn out next week, and are an indication that Trump’s appeal is broader within the party than some have presumed.

There are other interesting data points in the internals of the candidate question, too. For instance, despite recent analysis, the Tea Party vote breaks hard for Cruz, 50/34 over Trump, while Rubio gets his worst score at 4% in this demographic. Cruz leads Trump among voters who prioritize terrorism (31/28), shared values (45/19), and honesty (38/21, with Ben Carson third at 12%). Trump beats Cruz on the economy (33/19), foreign policy (37/24), and especially on strong leadership (49/12).

What will get Iowa caucus voters out to a meeting on a cold winter night? I’d guess the economy and a thirst for strong leadership. If Cruz wants to distinguish himself on those points, he’d better get started right now. But if Trump can actually get those new voters out to caucuses, and pull new voters into other primaries and caucuses, then he might end up foreclosing on the nomination faster than previously thought — even if that is still a mighty big if.