Trump still ahead as Cruz gains

December 28, 2015, 9:57 AM GMT+0

Donald Trump's position in the Republican presidential nomination race remains dominant, but voters have warmed to Ted Cruz

Republican voters continue to favor businessman Donald Trump for their party’s presidential nomination, with just two other contenders – Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio – reaching double digits in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll. But Cruz may be better positioned than Rubio among likely Republican voters. He is the clear second choice of those Republicans who favor Trump, and has moved into second place when likely Republican primary voters name their first preference.

More than four in ten GOP primary voters name Cruz as either their first or second choice, nearly as many as put Trump in first or second place. And 38% of Trump supporters say they would choose Cruz second. The fieldwork for the poll was conducted from December 18-21.

In fact, when Republican primary voters are asked to choose between Trump and Cruz, they are nearly as likely to choose Cruz as to choose Trump. Cruz leads Rubio by 18 points when the two Senators are paired against each other.

Both neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are in single digits in this week’s poll, as they were in the last Economist/YouGov Poll. So is Tennessee Senator Rand Paul. Except for the emergence of Cruz this week, and Carson’s decline since the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks, the GOP contest has been remarkably stable.

But that turn after Paris towards a focus on foreign policy clearly hurt Carson. Although two in three Republicans view Carson as honest and trustworthy – more than say that about any of the other GOP leaders – Republicans do not see him as ready to be Commander-in-Chief, nor are they confident in his ability to deal with terrorism.

When it comes to Trump and foreign policy, Republicans have mixed views. Seven in ten GOP primary voters trust Trump when it comes to handling immigration, more than trust either Cruz or Rubio on that issue (most Republican voters trust Cruz on immigration, but only 45% trust Rubio). But Cruz leads Trump and Rubio when it comes to terrorism and readiness to be Commander-in-Chief.

The three GOP leaders score well, but not as well as Carson when it comes to honesty and integrity.

What Trump, Cruz and Rubio have in common among Republican voters is an expectation that they are all potential general election winners. Seven in ten Republicans voters think each of them could win the general election against a Democrat.

Hillary Clinton also is seen as more electable than her chief competition for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders, however, has made gains with Democratic primary voters in this week’s poll. This week, he is only 14 points behind Clinton among Democratic primary voters.

Sanders runs much better with this group than he does with only Democrats. That is in part because of his strength with independents who say they will vote in the Democratic primaries or caucuses.

Sanders also is strong when it comes to honesty: seven in ten Democratic primary voters say Sanders is honest and trustworthy, while only 53% say that about Clinton. However, eight in ten Democratic voters say she is ready to be Commander-in-Chief, while 58% think that about Sanders.

Clinton also fares better than Sanders in the other policy areas with Democratic voters: seven in ten are confident in Clinton’s ability to handle terrorism and immigration, while fewer (though still a majority) trust Sanders on those issues.

See the Economist/YouGov results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.