Ted Cruz has been gathering support in Iowa, which has shown up in our research and public polling. His momentum isn’t uniform. In fact, Cruz’s standing in the polls has differed somewhat based on the surveys’ sampling universe.
Those with broader definitions of potential caucus attendees have tended to keep Donald Trump slightly ahead, while those with a tighter screen show Cruz jumping to the lead.
Given the unique nature of the caucuses in Iowa, we’d look at the tighter screens as the more accurate view of what’s happening. But while public polling differs on where to place Cruz and Trump, one thing they do have in common is the rapid fall of Ben Carson in the state. Likewise in our Trendency Research data, recent months haven’t been kind to the Carson campaign.
Less than two months ago, Carson was leading Trump overall and at every Threshold. As we have mentioned in previous articles, Trendency Research utilizes voter intensity Thresholds to measure how strong and stable a voter’s support is of a candidate. The higher the Threshold, the more likely they’re to actually vote for that person, while those at lower Thresholds are more likely to spread their support out over multiple candidates and shift their allegiances rapidly.
At the high 90 Threshold back in late October, Trump and Carson were tied, each taking 35 percent of the vote. Now, Trump has actually increased his support to 45 percent, while Carson has plummeted by 18 points to 17 percent. Now, this isn’t just a matter of Carson losing his strongest supporters. This pattern of attrition shows itself across all Thresholds with Carson losing about 50 percent of his overall support.
The race for the Iowa has clearly entered a new chapter. We not only see a shift in the support levels of the individual candidates, but also in how voters feel about who will be the eventual nomination.
Back when we first posed this question, the race was viewed as a three-way battle between Trump, Carson, and Marco Rubio. Since that time, we can safely lower the long-term expectations of Carson and instead replace them with Cruz. As he has done in public surveys, Cruz has rapidly filled the vacuum left by the Carson void.
But most voters on Trendency — and the public at large — are still not solid on the chances of any one candidate at the moment. In fact, just 18 percent of voters reside at the higher Thresholds (90 or higher) when it comes to which candidate they think will ultimately win. This means voters are still hedging and are open to placing bets on multiple candidates.
At the 50 Threshold, voters continue to believe that Trump will most likely be the eventual nominee. Moreover, 34 percent of voters at that Threshold believe he’ll be the ultimate winner. And while the 50 Threshold is somewhat equivalent to a coin toss, this number has barely budged in the past month. At the lowest Threshold of 25, Trump again comes out on top, with 29 percent of voters believing he’ll end up winning (up 3 points). Voters in Iowa continue to believe at some level in Trump’s viability, but that number hasn’t shown much improvement.
While Trump has remained in a similar position, the largest movement comes from Carson and Cruz. At the 50 Threshold, Carson has seen belief in his ultimate victory drop from 34 to 11 percent since mid-November. At the same time, Cruz’s numbers have risen 15 points from 6 to 21 percent.
This same movement occurs at the 25 Threshold, where Carson has lost 17 percentage points of support as compared to Cruz, who gained 11. Clearly, Cruz has supplanted Carson as the nominee-du-jour for a certain block of Iowa voters. That being said, Republican voters in Iowa are still not comfortable predicting a Cruz win.
It’s too early to gauge any real movement based on the Dec. 15 debate when it comes to the vote itself, but we did ask Iowans who impressed them that Tuesday evening in Las Vegas. Voters split their votes on the winner among many candidates, but Jeb Bush, Trump, Cruz, Chris Christie, and Rubio clearly resonated with voters.
Whether Bush received a much needed boost from his performance is yet to be seen, but he appears to have over performed according to Iowa voters. Overall, 21 percent of respondents think that he improved his standing because of the debate, which leads the field. This includes about a quarter of voters at the 50 and 25 Thresholds.
It may be a case of too little too late for Bush, but his attacks on Trump definitely caught the eye of Iowa voters, and explain why he continued his assault on frontrunner in the days after the debate.
Stefan Hankin is founder and president of Lincoln Park Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based public opinion firm. Follow him on Twitter at @LPStrategies.