Once confident Donald Trump would win the nomination, Republicans are now split between three candidates
Last week Ted Cruz notched an unexpected victory in the Iowa Caucuses – and now voters have a very different view of Donald Trump’s chances in the Republican primary, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll.
Importantly, voters are not ready to count Donald Trump out. Two-thirds of likely Republican primary voters describe his second-place finish in Iowa as more of a “temporary setback” than a sign of serious trouble for his campaign. 54% expect Trump to win the New Hampshire primary, where he remains ahead according to recent polls.
But when asked who is most likely to win the primary overall, only 27% of Republicans cite Trump, down 30 points from a poll conducted just days before caucus night. 29% now expect Marco Rubio to be the nominee, following the Florida senator’s surprisingly strong finish in Iowa. Last week, only 9% thought Rubio was most likely to win. Expectations for Ted Cruz, at 24%, are slightly behind Cruz and Trump. No other candidate is higher than 2%.
The same shift took place among the public at large. 43% of Americans thought Trump would eventually be the nominee pre-Iowa; that number has dropped to 24%.
Republicans have also come to see it as a four-person race. A majority of Republicans want all of the candidates except Cruz, Trump, Rubio and Ben Carson (who came fourth in Iowa), should drop out of the race.
The “drop out” preferences reflect the Iowa outcome, with candidates who performed poorly higher on the list, which suggests a strong finish in New Hampshire could put a candidate back in Republicans’ good favors.
While the fieldwork for the poll was underway, two candidates – Rand Paul and Rick Santorum – announced that they would be pulling out of the race.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s extremely narrow Iowa victory – or “virtual tie”, as many early press reports have called it – has done less to change the way people view the race. In fact, amid a slew of new polls showing Bernie Sanders with massive leads in New Hampshire, the number of Democrats who expect him to win the state’s primary has increased from 45% to 53%.
Yet just over half of Americans and two-thirds of likely Democratic primary voters continue to expect Clinton to win the nomination in the end, leaving sentiment essentially unchanged from before the Iowa Caucus.
The poll was conducted before the Democrats met on Thursday in their final debate before next Tuesday’s election, their first one-on-one clash since Martin O’Malley ended his campaign following a disappointing performance in Iowa.