An edge in Iowa.

Photographer: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Republicans Have a Tougher Road to Unity

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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Iowa has exposed the schisms in both political parties. They are deeper, and probably more durable, among Republicans.

With the caucuses set to kick off the 2016 presidential race on Monday, Hillary Clinton has a small lead over Bernie Sanders -- 45 percent to 42 percent -- though both candidates are very popular among the state's Democratic caucus-goers, according to the Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll published this weekend.

Among Republicans, Donald Trump is leading with 28 percent, Ted Cruz has 23 percent and Marco Rubio, 15 percent. But the divisions are more pronounced than for Democrats: Trump gets negative marks from supporters of the other leading contenders.

"On the Democratic side, you just have a lot of mutual respect, says J. Ann Selzer, whose Iowa-based Selzer & Co. conducted the poll.

"The Republican side is more of a bitter war," Selzer said.  "Trump is leading for first choice, but he ranks seventh as a second choice. You either see him as 'the one' or you want no part of him."

These and other findings in the poll suggests that Republicans may have a much harder time coming together around a general election nominee, at least in Iowa, a swing state.

A few other illustrations of this divergence: Only 20 percent of Democrats are less comfortable than they were with the idea of Clinton as president. On the Republican side, 45 percent of respondents said the same about Trump, and 28 percent feel that way about Cruz.

The political rhetoric and advertising have been more negative on the Republican side and sharp attacks were leveled against Trump, Cruz and Rubio.

The Clinton-Sanders contest could heat up in a protracted battle. So far, the exchanges between the two have been have been tame by any historical standard, contained to issues such as reining in Wall Street and the 2003 Iraq War. The Republicans have traded attacks that have been personal -- in Council Bluffs on Sunday, Trump called Cruz "so dishonest" -- and their fights have been more ideological than on the Democratic side.

Both Sanders and Clinton get favorable marks from more than 80 percent of likely Democratic caucus attenders, the poll shows. By an overwhelming margin, they say it's the right time for a female president and the vast majority has no objection to a president who is a democratic socialist, as Sanders describes himself.

Trump, whose hard-core support could propel him to victory Monday night, gets a negative rating from 47 percent of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers. Cruz has a 65 percent favorable to 28 percent unfavorable rating: That's still a sizeable drop from only a few weeks ago, reflecting the damage wrought by the attacks he has endured.

Rubio is best at bridging the party's diverse factions, with a 70 percent favorable rating. The better he does, however, the more Trump and Cruz are likely to attack him on immigration, a touchstone issue for the Republican right. Several years ago, the Florida senator was a key member of a bipartisan coalition that passed an immigration reform bill that included a pathway to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally. Conservative opposition killed the measure in the House.

An emerging problem for Trump, who also is favored to the New Hampshire primary next week, could be eminent domain, which allows government to force property owners to sell land that has been designated for development. This is common practice in the real-estate industry, and some of Trump's projects have benefited from it. But Iowa Republicans, 60 percent to 35 percent, say they are bothered by the idea, the Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll shows.

"Issues like eminent domain serve to separate him from more of the electorate than he attracts," Selzer said.

Trump and to some extent Cruz have effectively relied on a populist message of hostility to Wall Street and the wealthy, as well as toward government and Washington. Almost 40 percent of the mainly conservative Iowa Republicans expected to go the caucuses say they believe the system is rigged against all but the very rich and powerful.

However, both the Trump and Cruz tax plans would result in a huge redistribution favoring the very rich.

Establishment and mainstream Republicans are clamoring for a consensus candidate to take on Trump and Cruz. Rubio is the current favorite to fill this role. But the Selzer poll shows that even if Rubio could count on the backers of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich, he would still have less support than Ted Cruz and would be six points behind Trump.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net