Ted Cruz edges Donald Trump in fifth Republican debate

William JordanUS Elections Editor
December 22, 2015, 7:23 PM GMT+0

Marco Rubio, victor in the previous two G.O.P. primary debates, came third

Last week’s debate in Las Vegas night was widely billed as a chance to see the G.O.P. frontrunner Donald Trump and rising challenger Ted Cruz go at it, but Republicans viewers liked both, according to a new YouGov poll.

Cruz did come away with a slight advantage. 29% of Republicans who watched at least debate highlights named Cruz winner, compared to 25% for Trump. Marco Rubio, who wrangled with Ted Cruz over immigration in one of the most talked-about moments of the night, came in a more distant third with 16%. All of the remaining candidates are in the single digits, with Rand Paul, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson named by 6% each, Chris Christie by 5%. John Kasich and Carly Fiorina, who decisvely won the third debate, failed to register even 1%.

This arguably Marco Rubio’s worst showing so far – the Florida senator was named the winner of the previous two debates, came second to Carly Fiorina in the third, and essentially tied Donald Trump for first in the inaugural G.O.P primary debate. This was the first debate where the focus turned directly toward's Marco Rubio's support of the 2013 Gang of 8 immigration reform bill, which failed in the face of conservative opposition. Cruz and Trump, on the other hand, each had their best nights yet.

Rubio also performed worse than usual on another metric. 19% said they had a more negative opinion of Rubio after watching, up from 5% in the November debate, while 26% say their opinion got more positive, down from 36%. By contrast, 43% of Republicans said their opinion of the Texas senator improved, against only 11% whose opinions worsened. Gov. Chris Christie also fared well, as did Trump.

Hosts CNN also impressed viewers. 63% of viewers overall, including 60% of Republicans, approved of how the debate was moderated. Wolf Blitzer moderated, with CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and radio host Hugh Hewitt also participating.

54% of Republican respondents said they watched at least clips of the debate, up from 47% for the debate hosted by Fox Business in November.

However, the debates may be losing some of their shine for voters at home. 61% of Republicans say they are looking forward to future Republican primary debates, down from 69% in November and 76% after the first debate in August.

Full poll results can be found here and topline results and margin of error here.

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