Ted Cruz shot to a 10-point lead over Donald Trump in the latest Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, putting him in prime position to win the first-in-the-nation Republican caucus on Feb. 1. But the Texas Senator may be even stronger than the top-line numbers suggest. A deeper look into the poll’s crosstabs suggests that Cruz is poised to draw away even more of Trump’s supporters—and that Trump may have difficulty luring those who currently favor Cruz.
Until now, Trump’s great source of strength has been his support from voters without a college degree. One reason Trump has been able to maintain an overall lead in most national polls since last summer is that, as Ron Brownstein has pointed out, blue-collar workers have coalesced around him, while white-collar workers with at least a college degree have split their support among several candidates. However, the new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll shows that Cruz, for the first time, is winning both non-college voters (Cruz 32, Trump 23, Ben Carson 13) and college voters (Cruz 29, Trump 18, Carson 12) alike.
Of course, voter preference is fluid and the Iowa caucuses are still six weeks away. But Cruz’s strategy of embracing, rather than attacking, Trump—even after Trump makes controversial or offensive statements—appears to have served him well, at least so far. In the new poll, respondents who say they support Trump have an extremely positive view of Cruz: 73 percent view him favorably, while 18 percent view him unfavorably. Asked to state their second-choice preference, these Trump supporters overwhelming pick Cruz (49 percent), with Rubio (16 percent) a distant second. If Trump falters or alienates his current supporters, they appear quite open to supporting Cruz.
But the reverse is less true: Cruz supporters aren’t nearly as enthused at the prospect of backing Trump. Overall, they do view him positively. Sixty percent have a favorable view of Trump, versus 33 percent who view him unfavorably. Yet asked to state their second choice of candidate, Cruz supporters are about as likely to favor Ben Carson (26 percent) as they are Trump (25 percent). So Trump may have a hard time climbing back into the lead, especially if he goes on the attack against Cruz, as he did over the weekend when he told CNN he had "far better judgment than Ted."
Trump could, of course, look elsewhere to grow his support. But he may have a hard time luring people outside his base of anti-establishment male voters. Women voters, for example, could be a hard sell. Call it the “Megyn Kelly Effect”: women in the poll more commonly prefer Cruz (28 percent) and Carson (16 percent) to Trump (13 percent). As strange as it may sound, maybe Trump should consider a pivot to the center and a more moderate tone.
He still maintains a healthy lead among self-identified moderates, who prefer Trump (28 percent) to Cruz (16 percent), Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush (both 9 percent).
The Iowa Poll, taken Dec. 7-10, included 400 likely Republican caucus participants. On the full sample, it has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, although higher for subgroups.