Ted Cruz's moment: Texan gains national GOP support and positive reviews

January 09, 2016, 3:24 PM GMT+0

Ted Cruz trails Donald Trump in national support, but scores equally well or better on certain candidate qualities like readiness to be Commander in Chief and honesty

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has emerged as the Republican Party’s strongest challenger to frontrunner Donald Trump, inching up in Economist/YouGov Polls.  He is the second choice of 40% of Trump supporters among Republican primary voters, and his favorable ratings have climbed 20 points in the last six months.  

Cruz’s upward trajectory (nationally as well as in Iowa) helps to explain recent sharp attacks made by Trump against the Texas Senator.  So far there hasn’t been much negative movement against Cruz among Republicans.  As has been the case for months, about one in five Republicans don’t like Cruz.  But that’s lower than the level of unfavorable percentages for some of the other GOP candidates.  Three in ten Republicans don’t like Donald Trump, while nearly half have an unfavorable view of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.  Although Cruz is the most-liked Republican candidate at the moment, two in three Republicans express favorable opinions of Florida Senator Marco Rubio and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, as well as of Trump.

Among all Republican primary voters, Cruz is the clear second choice.  More than four in ten primary voters name Cruz as either their first or second choice.  But Trump is still ahead of both the senators: nearly half say the New York businessman is their first or second choice.  

Cruz runs well with self-identified conservatives likely to vote in the Republican nomination events, with those for whom religion is very important in their lives and with Tea Party supporters.  But even in those groups Trump currently has an edge.  

However, should Trump leave the presidential race, right now Cruz would become the new frontrunner: twice as many Republican primary voters choose him as choose Rubio, who is in second place in a race without Trump.

Cruz runs even with Trump among Republican voters in a head-to-head contest between only Trump and Cruz, and he leads Rubio by ten points when the two are pitted against each other.

But Trump continues to be seen by Republicans and non-Republicans alike as the party’s most likely nominee.

When it comes to electability in November, however, Republicans are just as likely to say Cruz could win a general election as to think Trump could.  Three in four Republicans view each as possible victors against the Democratic nominee.  Rubio is the only other GOP candidate a majority of Republicans view as a possible November winner.  Less than half say Carson, who has fallen dramatically in popularity in the last few months, can win and a majority believe Bush is unelectable.

With less than a month to go before the Iowa Caucuses, attention to the campaign is high among Republican voters.  74% of GOP primary voters say they are following the election campaign most of the time – a percentage 15 points higher than the share of Democratic voters saying that.   

Cruz’s performance in national GOP preference is being helped by the strong evaluations Republicans give him on a series of qualities and issues.  59% have confidence in Cruz’s ability to handle immigration.  More, 68%, score Trump high on this question.  Less than half of Republicans have confidence in Rubio, Carson or Bush on this issue.  And for Republican primary voters, terrorism matters more than immigration.  26% of primary voters say terrorism is the country’s most important issue, compared to 9% who name immigration. 

Cruz also scores just about as high as Trump does when it comes to GOP confidence on handling terrorism (51% of Republicans are confident in Rubio).   And Cruz outscores Trump on readiness to be Commander-in-Chief.  

62% of Republicans also describe Cruz as “honest and trustworthy,” more than say that about Trump, Rubio, and Bush.  Carson continues to do as well as Cruz on this measure.  The same percentage of Republicans, 62%, call Carson “honest and trustworthy.”  

See the Economist/YouGov results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.